Minecraft is a revolutionary game in that it changes the rules of motivation and goals. All though there might be exceptions, games have always been about reaching a goal. These goals can be a great many things, like reaching the end of the game or beating a high score, be it your own or someone else’s.
Reaching a goal has also been an important part in many of the various attempts to define games. Jesper Juul claims that goal orientation is the inner layer of his three frames of looking at games. Brian Sutton-Smith sees a game as finite, fixed and goal-oriented, and David Parlett suggests that games consists of the two components ends and means, where ends is the idea that a game is a contest to be won (Egenfeldt-Nielsen, Smith and Tosca 2013, p. 31-37).
The idea of winning a game is usually thought of as reaching the game’s end-state, or finishing the game. This way of thinking is similar to the narrative functions of traditional movies, which are about watching the entire presentation until the end.
The other way we think of winning a game is by performing better than others, or our own previous performances. Both of these ways of winning are dependent on the rules of the game, which define both when the game is over, and how to score points and how many are required to win.
When the player plays a game to reach these external goals that have been set by the game designers, their motivation is external as well. They play the game to beat it, and once the external goals have been reach the game is over (all though, if they really like the game they may choose to play it again).
Minecraft is a game with no obvious external goals. It’s a first-person sandbox-game with no instructions on how to play or what the goal of the game is. Depending on the mode the player plays in, the game is about surviving and building whatever the player wants to build.
Because there are no external goals set in the game one might think that the player would have no motivation to play it. And though it is true that the player might not have any external motivation, playing Minecraft does provide the player with an internal motivation. The player set his or her own internal goals (“I want to build a castle”) which provide internal motivation to play the game in order to reach the player’s goals.
Psychological research has shown that internal motivations for doing something are much stronger than external motivations (Myers, Abell, Kolstad and Sani 2010, p. 171-173). When a person does something for no obvious reason, when there are no external goals or motivations, he needs to justify his actions by creating his own internal motivations. And where an external motivation, like finishing a game by reaching its end-state, disappears when the goal is reached, an internal motivation is long-lasting because an internal goal is both personal and can change to become more complex (as is often the case when playing Minecraft).
What makes Minecraft such a revolutionary game is that it plays on the power of internal motivation for doing something. And because the game is essentially endless our internal goals and motivations can have us playing it for a long time.
This is the end of my essey. So if you will excuse me, I have a castle to build.
Egenfeldt-Nielsen, Smith and Susana Pajeres Tosca. 2013. Understanding Video Games – The Essential Introduction. New York: Routledge
Myers, Abell, Kolstad and Fabio Sani. 2010. Social Psychology. Berkshire: McGraw-Hill Education.