Nov 7, 2011

Posted in Opinion | 6 Comments

GOTY? Guess again.

You don’t need to be psychic to predict how the media’s GOTYs are going to turn out this year. Yes, there have been big budget hits and long awaited sequels. There have been exciting new franchises, returns of characters long left in stasis, and multiplayer gaming of a quality possibly superseding any year before.

But despite the big guns, the money makers, the games that are pushing gaming further into (and beyond) previous levels of cinematic mastery, there is one huge curve-ball. A game that has entertained, educated, scared, challenged, inspired and awed people of all ages. A game so wide in scope and purpose that to explain it to a prospective player is surprisingly difficult.

Polar opposites?

If you hadn’t worked it out already I’m talking about Minecraft. The fan response to Minecraft has been off the charts. Over four million players have bought the game despite it being in beta, and who knows how many more will buy it once it’s released in full next week. The game has made it’s primary creator Markus “Notch” Persson a household name in tech-savvy circles. Even MineCon, a convention dedicated solely to Minecraft, sold out its 4,500 seats within weeks. The sales of Minecraft would be strong even if it was a AAA big budget title, yet it started as a one-man indie project and got its sales through word of mouth.

Should Game Of The Year be decided by what games garner the best critical response? What else should be important? Which game has moved things forward? Which games have helped the industry the most? Or which games have benefitted most people?

What Makes Minecraft special?

From small beginnings...

Gaming is an intensely personal experience. No two people come away from a game seeing or feeling the same things. Games like Uncharted, Call Of Duty and Gears Of War hold your hand through a fixed narrative with a strict set of rules. This is no bad thing, and the games are executed exceptionally well. Because they excel in spectacle, action and direct story-telling everyone comes out of those games with approximately the same framework of experiences as handed down by the writers and level designers.

A game like Minecraft in contrast, has exploring, collecting, mining, farming, building and hunter-gathering as tent-poles of the single and multiplayer experience, but gives you freedom to create or do pretty much whatever you like, alone or with friends. These are approximations of the routines you’d have to perform to survive if you were really dropped in Minecraft’s virtual worlds – the resulting experience is more intimate. When playing Minecraft you never feel like you’re playing a character. You ARE the character. I’ve never felt like that in any game with a fixed narrative, even ones with an open world like Skyrim and Fallout 3.

Naturally occurring weirdness

When you explore those games you sit and admire the beauty of the hand crafted environments, knowing it’s all been set up that way for you to discover. You’re never going to stumble on truly new sights – it had to be built for you by someone else! In contrast, Minecraft generates it’s terrain on the fly. The joy you experience from discovering something noteworthy is palpable, your attachment to the environment and your achievements feel greater as the world, however blocky, is more tangible than the slick “film sets” of other games. Nobody has ever visited the bizarre mountain-range or underground catacombs you stumble into by mistake.. It IS your world. (unless you’re sharing it on a multiplayer server)

How does any of that make it worthy?

Thanks Darryl, you crazy.

Some of Minecraft’s accomplishments are well outside the realms of what “normal” games can achieve: It has been used in schools to teach teamwork, used to stimulate disabled children to open up and interact, it can be an elaborate chatroom, a way of building sculptures, a tool for mocking up and visualising architecture, a basis for virtual sporting events, player vs player turf wars, roleplaying, creating simple logic programs. It’s also very flexible and open to modders, who’ve done everything from add new animal and terrain types and to implementing complex magic and economy systems. (mods obviously don’t count when considering GOTY status, but it’s definitely part of the appeal to many gamers), it’s even won its fair share of awards pre-release, including arts prizes.

Possibly most importantly, it appeals to a very wide range of people. It’s a game that attracts attention to gaming as a positive activity without dumbing things down or leveraging physical fitness or any other subject that’s not really furthering games design. In my opinion Minecraft has done more for individuals, families, indie developers, children and gaming as a whole than any other game in a very long time.

 

What do you think? Does it deserve the award/s or acclaim?

NB: I’d never hate on any of the big titles this year. I wish Arkham City, Uncharted 3, Portal 2, Skyrim, Skyward Sword all the luck in the world, but all I see each of those doing is refining formulas and polishing tropes that haven’t radically changed in over a decade. I believe Minecraft and certain other titles point to a future for the industry which is much richer, and more empowering for the developers and players alike. 

mixel

mixel

Lead Writer at GameBlob
Gaming since the 8bit days on the BBC Micro, through Commodore Amiga and now console/PC/iOS. A big horror fan who spends his time drawing, running a webcomic, doing indie game design and enjoying his awesome family.
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  1. jordankid93 says:

    While Minecraft is an amazingly good game (I still play from time to time), I dont think it’ll win because its not a memorable package to me. The only time I end up launching it is when im waiting for a large file to upload/download and need to kill 20min without leaving my chair. When it was first released it WAS more fun to just build things, but just like the legos it reminds people of, its TOO simplistic in my opinion. There aren’t enough “WOW” moments or connections to things in the game for it to win GOTY IMO. While im sure some people/companies will award it, I feel the majority of the media will look to more complete experiences than Minecraft has to offer.

    • One thing I like about MC is it supports that sort of casual dipping in occasionally but can be more in depth if put the time in too. I do think its a bit too inpenetrable to be as successful as it could be. On a survival based server or even alone, finding dungeons or making your first trip to the nether can be amazing. With all the different biomes and geographical oddities I find it rewarding just exploring.

      I don’t seriously expect the IGNs and VGAs of the world to give a GOTY nod to MC, But it deserves recognition for its acievements, regardless of how well it reviews now its coming out of beta.
      Shame there isn’t the equivalent of a lifetime achievement award for games, haha.

  2. GOTY is so obvious, it’s Portal 2.

  3. MC is an amazing game and where it really shines is like you said ANYONE (if they put more than 20 min into it) can pick the game up play it and really really enjoy themselves after that learning curve..  MP in my opinion just adds to the experience it allows you to join up into servers like the Mine Craft Middle Earth project and see all the amazing structures etc that MC “Pros” have built.  Alot of the game for some people is just about building and seeing what others have built and not even about the mining and for others they just like the mining hahah all in all im sure no major network will award it with GOTY but the game is great and will look forward to having it on my xbox aswell haha.   Great article

    • Thanks! Yeah I hope the learning curve is addressed somewhat in the release version.. a manual maybe? I don’t know.. I think the dependance on wikis to find out the complex stuff is a bit odd and  it could do with some in game way of learning things instead. Do NPCs tell you stuff? I havent played new builds enough to have met any!

      How on earth would anyone work out how to make nether portals etc by trial and error? lol.

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