About a year ago, I ran into an old friend on the drive home from one of my classes. Given the state of the world in 2021, that trip was, of course, entirely virtual and involved simply moving a cursor from the big red “Leave Meeting” button in Zoom to the power off button in the Windows start menu. But during my cursor’s brief virtual transit across the screen, it passed by a familiar face, somewhat unchanged in the years since we’ve met: the “Minecraft” launcher icon.
It had been at least a year since he had played or thought about “Minecraft”, and that day he was looking forward to playing again. Gaming was a big part of my childhood, so I was hoping to get a part of my life back. my youth. However, as much as I remember loving it, the gameplay didn’t enthrall me like it used to. Despite the amount of time that had passed since I last played “Minecraft,” I still remembered exactly how to progress, which, by the way, made my achievements feel trivial. It’s hard not to compare this lackluster experience to my Herculean memory of my younger self, whose existence was largely defined by overcoming the game’s various obstacles. I sped through the start of the game with ease, but my game ended abruptly, not because I made a mistake in the game, but because I pushed too hard on the technical capabilities of my underpowered laptop. Trying to load Nether Dimension destroyed the game’s graphics performance and allowed a low level enemy to kill me before I could see it. I pushed the game to its limits; I broke it, and it broke me. Frustrated and disappointed, I closed the game for what remains, to this day, the last time.
Although I was disappointed in the gameplay of “Minecraft” during my last game, something else unexpectedly captivated me: the music, composed by Daniel Rosenfeld (aka C418). I had never cared much for the “Minecraft” soundtrack, but when I first heard C418’s smooth piano arpeggio “wet hands” fade in my most recent game, I was instantly transported from a soulless, resource-gathering game to another realm, one far beyond the chores (both in-game and in real life) that kept me tethered to this time dimension. I was instantly lost in old memories of the game, memories I didn’t even know I had. Inside my mind, I casually wandered between entire years of my life: I had become unstuck in time. I remembered the first few times I played the game, coming home from school and building big buildings on my own in creative mode. I remembered staying up late to play survival mode with friends and the genuine fear we felt while killing monsters. I even remembered the loneliest last few years, going back to playing alone while my friends gradually lost interest in the game, just before I did too.
Despite its strong emotional impact, the “Minecraft” soundtrack can be accurately generalized as ambient music in the strictest sense of the phrase. About him grades for his seminal ambient album Environment 1: Music for AirportsMusic visionary Brian Eno conceived of the term “ambient music” to describe music that is “as ignorant as it is interesting.” The soundtrack to “Minecraft” is certainly ignorable – I actively ignored it for the first few hundred hours I spent playing it as a kid – but as Eno described it, it manages to be equally interesting despite its harmonic and textural simplicity. With rich, minimalist piano chords reminiscent of Erik Satie and Philip Glass and a contextually appropriate mix of conventional sounds and futurism akin to Vangelis’ soundtrack for “Blade Runner,” the “Minecraft” soundtrack is stellar.
Of course, I didn’t give a shit about ambient minimalism when I first played Minecraft. Frankly, I didn’t even choose to listen to the “Minecraft” soundtrack in the first place: listening to it was simply a byproduct of playing the game. It was a consequence that seemed completely arbitrary, but what I never realized was that constant environmental exposure to the same handful of piano songs would amount to something significant: those songs burrowed deep into my brain, effectively becoming time capsules of my childhood.
When I dig up those time capsules and listen to “Minecraft” songs today, I immediately find warm memories. I can feel the joy of triumphing over overwhelming obstacles; I can imagine the worlds I dedicated my heart to building from scratch; I can remember the fun parts of growing up. But when I listen to the “Minecraft” soundtrack in isolation, listening to those big, empty chords without the game’s visual stimuli or auditory distractions, I can’t help but reflect on the experience of growing up and internalizing the uncomfortable passage of time.
There is the terrible realization that while my memories of “Minecraft” are alive and well, the game is dead, maybe not for the millions of people who still play it, but for me. All the worlds I made as a child are no more, as they were removed at some point or another. The servers and processing units that once housed those worlds have long since outlived their usefulness and are almost certainly gone, unless someone else has repurposed them for extract different imaginary resources than those found in “Minecraft”. But even more upsetting than the inevitable entropic decay of physical and digital structures is the ability to see change in myself, change often referred to as “growing up” that doesn’t always feel like a simple upward climb. Measured only by my ability to enjoy “Minecraft”, you could say that I grew up in the last 10 years.
Was “Minecraft” the peak of our gaming society, at least in this century? Maybe not. Perhaps conditions will improve, and the static but vibrantly green appearance of the “Minecraft” overworld will stop. adrift of the real world that vaguely inspired it. For now, “Minecraft” is the moon landing of our generation. Just as Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins left Earth merely decades after the Wright brothers did, “Minecraft” represents an equally rapid technological evolution for gaming.
In just 25 years, open-world video games went from “The Legend of Zelda,” a game that struggled to process sound effects and music simultaneously, to “Minecraft,” a game that could process online play in worlds. pseudo-infinities along with an uncompressed, fully realized soundtrack. Technological innovation has enabled better spaceships than the Apollo modules and more sophisticated open world games than “Minecraft”, but in the same way that seeing people walk on the Moon must have been unreal, exploring the limitless world in 3- D from “Minecraft” blew me away. That’s why I think it’s so hard for me to come to terms with my lost enjoyment of “Minecraft” – it completely blew me away and shaped much of my childhood, and now that sense of wonder is gone .
In the end, I don’t think growing up is a bad thing. I’m sorry I can’t enjoy “Minecraft” like I used to, but I’m not sorry for my equally lost ability to enjoy, say, Macklemore and Ryan Lewis (in that particular case, I actually really appreciate it). What I take away most from revisiting “Minecraft” is not that everything has gotten worse as I’ve gotten older, but simply that what I choose to appreciate has changed. I’m no longer excited about opening my computer to dig up rocks, and probably never will again. But when I hear the piano go into C418’s”introduction,a theme that does not even appear in the game “Minecraft” but that closes the ambient album of two and a half hours Minecraft – Beta VolumeI have a gloomy but hopeful feeling. The feeling is reminiscent of how I felt the first few times I played “Minecraft”, which I think I can now describe: the feeling that the next chapter of my life is about to begin.
Daily Arts writer Jack Moeser can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.