Its a big statement to say that Minecraft is the greatest apocalyptic wasteland video game of all time, not least of all because most people wouldnt even place it in that genre. Since Fallout 3 the video game industry has been engaged in a seemingly endless war to create the most successful apocalyptic wasteland game of all time. So its funny that a creation game is up there with the best of the wasteland genre. As a feature in modern gaming, post-apocalypse exploration is right up there with zombies, wooden crates and red barrels for the ‘most overused attribute in gaming’. This is probably due to attraction of a wasteland. The sense of exploration you get from navigating a dangerous land of ruin is unparalleled and although most games add a unique spin to their wasteland, they largely contain the same elements: ruins built by a civilisation now dead; the danger of evil creatures lurking in the dark; and, above all, a will to survive against all odds. Before I start relating this to Minecraft let me first list off some of the recent post-apocalyptic games: Darksiders, Tokyo Jungle, Metro 2033 (and Last Light), Wasteland (the 1988 game that started it all), The Walking Dead (along with Every-Zombie-Game-Ever), S.T.A.L.K.E.R, Fallout, Rage, Bioshock, Enslaved: Odyssey to the West, I Am Alive. The list goes on and on, but I’m very aware of the fact that lists aren’t fun to read and you’ve probably already skipped to the end of it.
To allow me to explain why, in my eyes, Minecraft beats all these titles (and wins the coveted Post-Apocalyptic Wasteland Champion award) I must first explain why it even falls in to the genre. It happened one evening a few months ago when, bored of my own Minecraft world, I ventured onto some random servers. If you’ve ever played Minecraft with strangers then you will understand why I soon got fed up of being in servers full of people (they kept killing me and I rage quit), so I found myself I nice quiet server that was, well… empty. Except for me of course. As I walked through the spawn area I could see that the surrounding town was like countless other Spawn-Towns in Minecraft, built to perfection before being locked so that it could not be ruined. Naturally, I made my way to the wilderness where I could get down to the usual Minecraft business of making my first shelter. But something stopped me in my tracks. Or rather, kept me making much longer tracks.
I couldn’t stop and build my home anywhere; there were just too many creations already here. I found myself exploring each hut, village and tree house that I passed. An experience that was some of the most fun I had ever had on Minecraft. Sometimes I would find signs explaining what the creation was, or giving the name of their creation. Sometimes these signs would give the name of the person who made the structure. However, most of the buildings went un-logged and, as I soon realised, forgotten. Blocks were missing from their rightful places and many homes had the tell-tale signs of a creeper explosion, one creeper-crater had resulted in the whole home/castle being flooded by its own moat. As darkness began to fall outside, I began to feel like a classic adventurer like Marco Polo or Francis Drake, except instead of finding civilisations and new worlds I was studying the ruins of somebody’s creativity. Sure, the people who built the structures are (probably) not dead, but they are also never going to be returning to their homes in that server. Just like most Minecraft players – I know I have left my fair share of huts for somebody else to find.
What I realised since playing, and what drove me to write this post, is that the reason I adore the wastelands of empty servers far more than those of ‘real’ post-apocalyptic games is because the things that I have found and explored were created by real people. Not people working in a developers studio thinking about how to make the sandbox the most realistic; but REAL people who have since become extinct to the world they once built on. In that way, Minecraft is the closest you can get to a real wasteland in video games, it makes it that must better to look through a ruin when you know that sometime ago (maybe a week, maybe a year?) someone stood in the same place you did and made something.
Empty Minecraft servers aren’t just a playground; they are a graveyard for imagination.