I know how to make a leather cap in Minecraft and I’m not going to tell you.
Because you probably either stumbled upon the crafting recipe yourself or you just looked it up on the internet. Also you probably advanced to gold hats years ago, anyway, having tossed out whatever leather gear you didn’t need for Dungeon Night fetish wear. I bet creepers are really submissive what with all that self destructive behaviour. Aaaanyway…
I happened upon the ‘recipe’ (i.e. correct 3 by 3 pattern of empty space and leather) by trial and error. When I started playing Minecraft I got engrossed by just trying things out. I knew about punching trees. And had probably seen people make crafting tables. Also the annoying putdown ‘mining like a baby’ pops into my head from time to time, so I obviously read this piece on RPS. From there on I just had a go at it. When I got stuck I horsed around some more. When I got really stuck I started needlessly enlarging my mansion. When I got really, really stuck, I quit and played Spelunky for a while to get back to real life and real priorities. You know, stuff like ‘winning’ and ‘beating the game’.
I’m not sure when it became a dogme-like rule. But it’s there now. Sort of. No internet. No wikis. No outside-of-the-game hints (I do take some guidance from the in-game achievement map though). If I’m living in a cave with no electricity it stands to reason that I’m not just hopping online to learn how to make shoes, gates, or bread. Man, I wish I had bread. Rotten monster meat is nice and all but it gets a bit samey samey after a while.
So that is why I don’t have nice things. Not because anybody breaks them but because I – like a half-crazed dad on a family vacation – insisted that it would be more ‘fun’ and more of an ‘experience’ if we didn’t bring luxury amenities. Like food and clothes and furniture.
I realize that I’m not making a very good case for this game of Cavemancraft and I don’t know if or when I’ll break with it. But I do think it has some positives.
Knowledge is power
When you can’t do everything at the outset, it makes every little nugget of know-how that much more valuable. And suddenly being able to do something you could not do before makes you feel powerful, like when you level up your RPG character. Minecraft has some sort of weird character level progression but I have yet to understand what if anything you level up to. In my experience its true levelling up is gains in knowledge. If you get it all at once by downloading it from the internet, I doubt that you get that feeling. Hard-earned trial-and-error knowledge also naturally comes in drip-feeding tempo as opposed to instant Matrix–like download knowledge. This makes for a more naturally developing game with an organic sense of history. See that horrible set of stairs up that mountain? Yup, that was before I learned to make ladders.
One morning I find myself with nothing but the clothes on your back standing in a field/valley/mountain/desert/archipelago with not another human being in sight. Why? I don’t know. Where do I go from here? Noone answers so I’m left to my own devices. What’s the story in Minecraft? You can fill in your own post-apocalypocrypha here but in most cases it will not nicely accomodate incidentally knowing everything needed for your post-apocalyptic adventures. (“It was the day before everybody but me would be turned into zombies and all traces of human civilization wiped from the face of the earth so I went online and printed out the entirety of the wikipedia. How fortunate that it was me that was not turned into a zombie. Those other guys would have been totally screwed.”) Roleplaying as an idiot without shoes or the ability to fry a goddamn bloody egg on the same hot stone that seconds before turned his beef into steak seems both more reasonable and more me.
I tried a lot of things before that leather cap emerged from the crafting table. Or (spoiler!) before realising that the cobble in cobblestone melts in the furnace and stone comes out. That makes you feel like you earned it. Sure it was useful but I bet Neo didn’t have much fun flying helicopters.
A game of discovery
When you roam the land in Minecraft you’re on a tour of discovery. You can name the various bits like explorers of old. Which reminds me that I really have to find out how to craft signs. You feel you have the right to do so because you travelled there on a perilous journey. So why should it be any different for knowledge exploration? Looking recipes up on the internet seems to me to be the equivalent of installing a teleporter mod that instantly takes you anywhere. Which would be lame. Now, if I had found out how build a teleporter however, that would be awesome.
I guess what I’m doing is playing the game like an RPG. An RPG in which I hide behind doors and do interior decorating instead of killing monsters but still. Am I missing out on all the creative options the game has to offer? Yes, for a time. But because you haven’t been given a grant from day one does not mean you cannot be creative. It just means you have to paint on a smaller canvas. A small hundred foot cliff face canvas.