Working in a Coal (and Redstone) Mine


Minecraft is a relatively new game for PC and Mac that allows users to build their own world out of virtual cubes that are 1 meter in volume. It differs from traditional first-person shooter games in that the environment the player inhabits is constructed on the fly when the player starts the game. The player “spawns” into a randomly generated world of mountains, lakes, deserts and caves which construct themselves based on programming algorithms. This means each player’s experience is unique, and as they explore the environment the landscape builds itself out of thin air.

Just as the world builds around the player, the player must build an inventory of tools from scratch. This involves cutting down trees for wood to make a pick-axe to mine cobblestone to make a stone pick-axe to mine coal to smelt iron ore to make an iron pick axe to mine gold ore, diamonds, redstone, etc. Inventory management is an important part of the game, but rather than having the linear progression of bigger and more powerful guns that a first-person shooter would have, Minecraft allows players to develop their own narrative and build items of their choosing using resources readily found nearby.

While the look of the game is charmingly blocky, the complexity of play is deep and satisfying. When the user starts digging each block of material is captured and can be used to construct buildings, bridges, stairs, etc. at the click of a button. It’s like being reincarnated as a Lego person with the ability to pull out and rearrange each block. You can construct train tracks using iron and wood, then power them using circuits built of redstone dust and gold.

Being able to inhabit a virtual world is one thing; being able to farm, breed animals and build within that environment is an experience on another level. Minecraft demonstrates simple concepts of geology, architecture, electronics, physics in a playscape that is both fun and challenging. Just watch out for the Creepers.

LINK: Minecraft

LINK: Minecraft wiki tutorial

LINK: The Minecraft Experiment: A journalist explores and lives to tell the tale.

BONUS: Lee Dorsey, “Working in a Coal Mine” and Devo

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