The virtual box of Minecraft blocks has been in existence for ten years. Time to look back at the cultural influence of the best-selling computer game of all time. It’s like throwing a bucket of virtual lego on the floor: good luck with it, dear player. That’s how the computer game Minecraft started in May 2009. You stack blocks and experience adventures in the world that you stack by yourself, that’s all it takes. Ten years later, Minecraft is the best-selling game of all time and it’s hard to escape. Four areas in which the cultural impact of Minecraft can be felt.
1. Influence on social media
The Greek temple Acropolis, Manhattan in New York, the continent Westeros from the fantasy series Game of Thrones. These are just a few of the impressive creations that players have recreated with the virtual box of blocks. Make up a famous building or a film location and chances are that it has been recreated in absurd detail. As a player, you want to show such structures to others with pride.
Luckily for all digital architects, social media such as Facebook and YouTube became commonplace at the time Minecraft was launched. They were flooded by Minecraft images and references like this one:
Not only did an endless series of videos of impressive digital buildings end up on YouTube, but also complete film scenes and parodies that had been recorded in the world of blocks. The complete trailer of Star Wars: The Force Awakens was rebuild in the world of blocks:
Or take this detailed parody on the music video of Taio Cruz’ pop song Dynamite:
‘Minecraft was one of the first games you regularly found on social media,’ says Martin Verschoor, editor-in-chief of game magazine Power Unlimited. Not so strange, he says, it’s very easy to record it. Even ‘Wie is de Mol’ (Who is the Mole) is imitated in Minecraft.
In this way, the game largely contributed to the popularity of game videos on social media, which in 2019, thanks to advertising income, will form a billion-dollar business in itself. Last year, more than 50 billion hours of game videos were watched on YouTube, says the video platform to tech website Venturebeat. Minecraft remains one of the most prominent sources of such videos, next to, among others, shooting game Fortnite. Just last April, Minecraft was the world’s number 12 most searched search terms on YouTube – including all other topics.
MINECRAFT IN NUMBERS
176 million people have bought Minecraft so far. This makes it the best-selling video game of all time.
4 billion square kilometers is the total area within the game. This makes Minecraft’s surface area eight times larger than that of the earth.
90 million players are active in Minecraft every month.
$2.5 billion is the amount for which Microsoft bought the game and its publisher Mojang from the creator of the game, Markus Persson, in 2014.
2. References far beyond the game world
The Minecraft style – in which everything consists of blocks that have been intentionally designed with almost ridiculously large pixels – is recognisable, so that the game lends itself gratefully for references outside social media as well.
The characters Rick and Morty of the animated series of the same name play the game several times and in an episode of South Park the parents of the main characters become addicted to Minecraft. An episode of The Simpsons opened completely in the style of Minecraft:
The game can also be seen in the video clip of the song G.U.Y. by Lady Gaga. Not surprisingly, there is Lego Minecraft for sale, for those who prefer stacking blocks in the real world. Even a film about Minecraft is in the making, which is said to be released in 2022.
3. Useful in the classroom
Getting started with the periodic system. That may not sound attractive to many students, but when you do it in Minecraft, it becomes a different story. At least that’s the idea behind the Minecraft educational edition, released in 2014 and now in use by thousands of teachers worldwide, according to the makers of Minecraft.
Because the game, in which more or less everything can be recreated, appears to be popular in the classroom. For example, Minecraft is used to teach children how to program or to let them walk around in cells of plants and animals. In one of the chemistry modules it is possible to combine atoms into new molecules, which in turn create new building materials.
An enormous number of educational projects have arisen in the virtual block world. In this way, children with RoMeincraft were able to copy Roman buildings on the basis of archaeological facts, as a history lesson. Museum GeoFort is leading the GeoCraft project, in which the whole of the Netherlands is copied in Minecraft, from the Dam to the Euromast to the neighbourhood around the corner. This is used for online educational activities such as treasure hunts and workshops to develop spatial insight.
4. The game industry changed forever
For a long time, game builders thought that you should always take people by the hand and guide them through an adventure,” says Martin Verschoor. Minecraft gave people resources and a world and let them go.
A lot of players like to play around themselves, without control or an underlying story, as it turned out. According to Verschoor, the popularity of this so-called sandbox model had an impact on video games after that time. From Mario Maker, which is all about designing the Super Mario game levels on your own, to the ability to create your own playing field in the popular shooting game Fortnite.
Or what about the many ‘clones’, games that more or less adopted the playing style of Minecraft, with names like Creativerse and Total Miner.
It was also influential that Minecraft wasn’t so much a complete package that you could play off, Verschoor continues. It’s more of a platform, which also has the characteristics of a social medium. Players meet each other in their self-made worlds. This social component was followed up in online games such as Fortnite, the best-earning game of the moment, in which recently even a digital concert was given by a DJ:
But according to Verschoor, Minecraft’s characteristic appearance also had an impact on the gaming industry. Ten years ago, computers became increasingly powerful, and everyone tried to make their games more beautiful and realistic. And then Minecraft, with its clumsy blocks and huge pixels, suddenly became a huge success. Players don’t always think it’s important that a game is extremely beautiful, as long as it’s good, as it turned out.
This article was written by Niels Waarlo and appeared in the Volkskrant. Niels is Tech Editor and can be followed on Twitter through @nielswaarlo.