Few things have brought me more comfort and joy during the pandemic than a video game beloved by millions of adolescent children. I’m a grown-ass adult who does Very Adult Things, like paying taxes and drinking whiskey straight, and yet Minecraft consumes a not so insignificant portion of my brain space. You might say my interest in the game is equal parts pandemic-induced boredom and standard millennial escapism, but that’s only a half-truth. In reality, I started playing Minecraft years ago, when my life and sense of self were a nebulous cloud. Minecraft helped give it a shape. For the first time ever, I’d found a way to decompress by actually using my brain instead of failing miserably at trying to turn it off.
Minecraft is known as a sandbox game; players are dropped into a randomized world of varying landscapes made up almost entirely of square blocks. There are no set rules or a hero’s journey to follow. Players are free to do what they want, how they want, in a world where the laws of physics and gravity only sometimes apply, and the slow-moving monsters are vaguely cute. I’d say only 15% of the game mechanics are naturally intuitive; Ikea furniture has more of a user manual than Minecraft. But stumbling through figuring out how to actually play the game is half the joy. It was entirely up to me to turn this sandbox into a zen garden.
It turns out a video game marketed toward children is actually the perfect salve for an existential identity crisis, if not a boot camp for how to survive an apocalypse. (Or maybe that’s just me projecting.) A few years ago, I was burned out and paralyzed by my own ambition. It’s as if I went from being a recklessly carefree twentysomething to an insecure homebody almost overnight. In the process, I became a ghost to everyone I knew, trapped in an extreme social isolation of my own making.
Bumbling my way through Minecraft, constantly discovering novel ways to fall into lava and die, didn’t unlock some magic self-help formula. It simply rewired my mindset by rejecting the idea that rules are made to be followed and games are something to win. Minecraft became a…