Changes in Perspective (Thoughts on Metroid in First Person)

For all of the love that Metroid Prime received upon its release and the status its held as one of the best games in the series, it suffers from a myraid of design choices and elements that make it a very good game, but one that ultimately leaves a glaring rift between the 2D iterations and the 3D. At the center of this was the decision to change the game's perspective from a side scrolling 2D platforming game to a first person adventure. The sheer number of things that had to be accounted for took their toll when it came to cohesiveness, where every single element plays a role in conjunction with all of the other elements to inform the player's game experience.


One of the really wonderful things about Metroid Prime is the game’s environment. To being with, the levels are very interesting visually. From lava pits filled with glowing magma to the hazy blue watery depths of the sunken frigate, Prime is a great example of what time and care can do for a game’s aesthetic design. Here is where the first person perspective really takes its toll on the player, however. Stuffed inside Samus’ helmet, so little of the world is viewable at one time. On a technical level, I don’t actually know whether the level of detail shown in Prime would be possible from a third person perspective or not on the GameCube, but the game is practically teasing you with its beauty while you play. The visor views make things even worse by complicating the screen at nearly every opportunity. At all times there are various alerts or cursors popping up in front of your face trying to get your attention. When a game has as much information to convey to the player as Metroid Prime does, screen real estate becomes extremely important, which is why it’s really a shame that the visors demand so much of the screen. The scanning visor, in particular, is distracting with its outlined focal screen within the overall screen of the visor. For ninety percent of the game, this surprisingly doesn’t turn into much of a problem, but every moment where the player must be focused in order to combat enemies or track down particular items to scan, ignoring the on screen graphical indicators becomes nearly impossible and the player has a good chance of taking damage or making platforming missteps because the screen is busy with things that block the player’s view.

Prime’s information overload makes it so that the player must do a lot to find the the specific piece they are looking for, a problem that just doesn’t exist in the 2D incarnations of Metroid. Aside from the in-game map, all of the information that’s needed to be accessed by the player is already on-screen. Your available weapons are all listed at the top of the screen out of the way with the selected one highlighted. The 2D Metroid games also give you a wealth of visual knowledge due to the relative size of the character’s sprite compared with the size of any individual screen. It does a great job of getting the player to feel very small in a very large game environment and encourages the player to strike out in a direction and explore. Metroid Prime, on the other hand, does its best to make the player feel as claustrophobic as possible. I think this was actually done purposefully by the developers and it actually recreates what it would probably feel like to be inside a mechanical suit. On that level, I understand why such a decision was made. Giving the most accurate first-person experience was a full commitment to this style of game. Unfortunately, it has the side effect of me wanting to use the Morph Ball as much as possible just so I could get a third person view and see what was going on around me (While I want to stick with just talking about Metroid Prime as much as possible, I can’t help but mention Nintendo’s attempt at a third person perspective in Metroid: Other M. That game faces similar perspective limitations in that what the player is able to see is so much less than what is actually there. In Other M’s case, this is caused by a fixed camera angle. Rather than having the camera follow the character around the screen from behind the head like was done for the 3D Zelda and Mario games, the player is stuck watching Samus move around a 3D world as if from the sideline of a football game).

One of the least fun activities I have yet to experience in a game is the constant scanning of anything and everything that the player must do in order to collect data, find enemy weak points and solve puzzles. From a design perspective, I understand why it exists. The player has to have some way of deciphering what can be interacted with and what can’t be. Because everything is all rendered with pretty much the same visual quality in the game, it would be an endless task trying to navigate without something guiding the player. By using the scanning visor, important items or objects are pointed out with little orange and red boxes that can have data scanned and downloaded. The unfortunate side effect of this scheme  is that too much information about the world is revealed, taking away a great amount of discovery. In addition to the necessary controller commands required to use the function, full descriptions of the items and abilities are included. This essentially removes the need for experimentation within the game. All the player has to do is find a red cube using the scan visor, scan it, and the solution is revealed. This problem isn’t completely exclusive to Metroid Prime, but it feels most blatant here compared to Super Metroid (Super Metroid gives clues to the player about what ability to use by showing icons that represent the various abilities). Probably the most frustrating part about scanning things in Metroid Prime has to do with its relationship to combat. The player cannot scan objects and fight off enemies at the same time. Since scanning enemies is practically a requirement, must be done in relatively close proximity and takes a fair amount of time, it doesn’t take long before the desire to scan is almost completely killed in the player.

While I’m on the subject of the uses of visors, the game implements a few different types. There is the regular combat visor, there is the heat visor used for finding hidden passageways or enemies in dark areas, the x-ray visor which allows the player to see otherwise unviewable things, and the aforementioned scan visor. There is no really easy way to switch visors. The small d-pad placed below the left analog stick is used and the player must hit the correct direction to pick the desired visor. This can be a steep challenge when trying to avoid enemy fire as the placement of each visor has to be carefully memorized. Due to the limited number of visors, it’s curious that the player can’t simply shuffle through them by pressing right or left on the d-pad. With enough practice, competence and even mastery of this mechanic can be had, but the barrier to entry is very high. What’s most frustrating about the visors is that they add very little to the game. For particular enemies, certain visors must be used to find weak points or to see them in the first place. This type of gameplay only exists because the game is in first person. Where Metroid classically been about finding ways to enhance your platforming abilities, Prime complicates its fair share of well implemented platforming abilities with visual tricks that are not only unnecessary, but also the worst designed parts of the game.

Metroid Prime’s controls are quite unique for what is essentially a first person shooter. While the left hand is busy moving Samus around, changing visors and locking on to targets using the left shoulder button of the controller, work is far from monopolized on that side. In addition to jumping and shooting, there are also many tasks to manage when it comes to Samus’ weapons. Some of the attacking options are straightforward. You can shoot a regular shot using a single button. Shooting missiles uses a second button. But then, in the same way the visors are made confusing, Prime gives you multiple beam options as you acquire those abilities during the course of the game. You change beams using the small C analog stick below the face buttons. Also like the visors, the player can’t easily toggle them moving the stick in one direction or the other. Instead, each visor must be selected using a particular direction. Shooting the more powerful super missiles means the correct beam must be selected, a shot must be charged and then finally the missile button must be pressed. When you combine trying to decide what kind of beam to use on particular enemies (since not all are susceptible to every kind of weapon), charging your shots to make them more powerful, pressing an additional button to shot a missile and all of the jumping and dodging you have to do in order to avoid some very powerful enemies, it’s really a wonder that combat is possible at all.

When talking about game controls, it’s important to try to consider the intentions of their design. Some games are designed to be difficult, sacrificing intuitiveness in favor of allowing a nearly endless amount of possibilities. A game like Dwarf Fortress comes to mind. Metroid is difficult to get used to, but unintentionally so, I think. That certainly doesn’t mean that it’s impossible. It does mean that it took me longer than I’d like to admit to become adequate (and that may just reflect my own abilities as a video game player). What Metroid Prime actually does an amazing job of is translating just how difficult it would be to occupy the role of Samus Aran. Were the Metroid universe to exist and a bounty hunter do the things Samus Aran does, it would require a very determined individual to spend thousands of hours of training just to  get used to controlling the power suit that makes bounty hunting on alien worlds possible in the first place. Without dedication, extensive muscle memory training, and an already super human athletic ability, making it through even the most poorly guarded enemy zones would be impossible. For a game, it translates to the player spending a great amount of time just going over the basic controls so that each enemy encounter doesn’t end with a chilling scream and Samus’ visor going dark. While all of this actually makes for an interesting game that comments on the way games take impossible tasks and makes them seem effortless, I can’t help but feel that it was an unintended consequence of trying to include too many design elements into a game that just didn’t need them.

In a lot of ways, comparing Metroid Prime to any 2D Metroid game is unfair. Without Retro Studios taking a chance with this game and trying to make the series relevant in a world where first person games were really beginning to dominate, it’s unlikely that any more Metroid games would have even come to pass. Nintendo’s lack of strong internal direction over the last decade has left many great game series’ with few or no worthwhile entries in the recent past. Now, for many, Metroid Prime does fulfill all of their needs for this series and Prime really is a good game worth playing. For me, it just feels like Metroid’s chances to ever really break into 3D in the proper way died with the Nintendo 64.

Embracing Archetype

Some time ago, there was a story I wanted to write about an event that happened in my life. In writing it, there were some things I knew would need to be addressed, particularly because the urge to write the story occurred long after the event had taken place. The first issue raised is that my memory is fairly poor, so the dialogue would have to be largely recreated with the essence of what happened kept in mind. That didn’t bother me so much as actual living conversations and well crafted dialogue are rarely the same thing. The second thing that was important to me was capturing the realities of a character that was based on a human being I had interacted with. While the story itself would be fictionalized, the reality of this character being based on a living individual concerned me. I wanted to write this character as well as I could.


The story, in short, was about a young high school student who gains the attention of an upper-class girl during track practice. For reasons that are unclear to the protagonist, this girl takes a liking to him and the two form a bit of a bond. The story was meant to evoke a kind of uncertainty that is very specific to newly teenage boys. Throughout the story, the girl gives the boy an incredibly generic nickname, “Kid”, talks to him about the kinds of music he should enjoy while offering him rides home, and plays a little into a provocateur personality. Writing this character was a challenge because while the inspiration did stem from a real person, I never did really get to know that person. All I had to go on were the few conversations that took place, the few moments shared in the midst of rapidly changing life events.

I finished writing the story, but was never really satisfied with it. Although I had tried my best to tell a story I thought was worth telling, none of it ever seemed to fit together in a way that felt compelling to read. I think it’s because of archetypes, or more accurately, a lack of them. Because of the nature of the story, it hadn’t ever entered my mind that the characters I was writing fit into a mold. In truth, it’s nearly impossible not to write into archetypes. Since storytelling has its roots set very deep into the social nature of our existence, it’s come to the point where the vast amount of material to draw from contains just about everything we are capable of coming up with as storytellers.

A happenstance rewatching of a Japanese animated show I had enjoyed in my youth called Outlaw Star brought me to realize that not only was my story tired, but so were my characters. In that show, there is a character who goes by the name “Hot Ice” Hilda. Using a pseudonym, Hilda employs the main characters, Gene and Jim, and ends up being the catalyst for the entire series. It turns out Gene has dreams of becoming an outlaw and making it big, but lacks a spaceship, as well as the inner drive necessary to go after his dream. His brash attitude basically acts as a barrier to hide his underlying fears of going into space. For Gene, Hilda encapsulates what we wants to become. She’s a serious force to be reckoned with. He constantly hears about her through the mouths of peripheral characters, and her reputation really has an effect on how he views himself in relation to the universe.

Hilda, herself, is a compilation of archetypes and tropes. While all of them have their own parts to play in making up the entire character, her relationship to Gene is the one that caught my attention. Hilda appears to be between five and ten years older than Gene, she does what Gene hopes to do to a large degree, and she doesn’t have any qualms about her place. She is genuinely confident, intelligent and feared. It dawned on me so suddenly that this was a lot like the character I had written. Like my character, Hilda openly criticizes the main character, Gene, with little regard for his feelings, yet there is a healthy dose of endearment to all of the criticisms. Hilda also takes Gene under her wing a bit in preparing him for life as an outlaw the way the character in my story acted as a bit of a life coach to an upcoming young high school student. Additionally, it is heavily suggested in Outlaw Star that at one point Hilda and Gene sleep together. While the story I wrote was devoid of any sexual encounters, there is certainly an aura of physical attraction, at least from the protagonist’s perspective. Both of these characters not only shared some personality traits, but also were ultimately created to serve as a catalyst for the protagonist to become something he wasn’t yet.

I did a fair bit of searching and was unable to come up with a name for the specific archetype I had stumbled into, but I am convinced that the archetype exists. Once the archetype had been realized, it made that story I had written so long ago seem much more interesting. Again, it was because of Hilda. Although created completely as a means to an end in setting the story in motion, Hilda goes far beyond the confines of cliche. Her personality is far reaching. The reputation she has, all of the bit characters that know who she is, and the thoughts she conveys all speak to an individual motivated by her own desires. While she ends up sacrificing herself shortly into the series to allow Gene and the rest of the crew of their newly stolen ship to escape (a popular trope in its own right), you never get the feeling as a viewer that she existed solely for this reason. In a flashback to a night that Hilda and Gene spend together, she tells him that “You can never count on anyone but yourself, but sometimes you just want to feel the warmth of another body, you know?”. It might not be the best line, but it carries enough weight with it to suggest that a full person is there.

It came time for me to figure out whether or not my own characters had gone beyond the archetypes that had been the platform. In terms of the main character, no. He was about as lifeless a protagonist as once could write, completely missing any redeeming qualities. The attempt to put the reader in his perspective by having very little dialogue himself felt far more alienating that inclusive. Of course, looking back, that story never really was about that character, anyway. So what of the girl? Well, my story spanned about three pages, so based only on how much time the character had to develop, she doesn’t stack up to Hilda. She was created with serving the needs of the “main character” in mind. One of the biggest gaps is a result of the two characters never really interacting with anyone else. The story was supposed to be about a unique connection between two people, but unfortunately, those two people alone were not written in a way that made them compelling enough on their own.

Unlike Hilda’s reputation being spoken by a breadth of other characters, the boy in my story never has an outside source about this girl to supplement what he takes in from their direct interaction. The world of that story is so confined that a thorough exploration of character was impossible. The reader is left trying to interpret the cues from the very bland third person narrator as well as what’s spoken by the character. What they get are the archetypes without the variations that can make them truly unique. That’s what writing is supposed to do. Since it’s a foregone conclusion that you won’t be able to write a person that shares no similarities with uncountable other characters, the point then is to give them life in a way that only you can. In my case, it might have been that the girl rolled her socks down one handed after putting on her track spikes. That is the essence of characterization, finding the space within the narrative to give insight into the individuals you imagine. While I mostly failed to do that in a way that would have saved the story, it wasn’t completely absent. Despite the girl exuding as much confidence as I could fathom to write, there was one moment in their conversation where she mentions her boyfriend will probably be attending the local college the following year. While the line itself suffered from the same lack of care as the rest of the story, there was a hint of both relief and worry in that line. Perhaps with a more skilled hand, the individual lying underneath the shadow of the archetype may yet still be able to express herself.

Less Is More Isn't Always Less

Do you want to talk about horse physics? I certainly do. In my fairly recent venture back into the world of video games, I had a lot of catching up to do. One of the games I was really excited about playing was The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess. It reminded me so much of Ocarina of Time, which I had loved as a kid, and I couldn’t wait to get that feeling of nostalgia and excitement again. Well, that excitement lasted until maybe five minutes into the game because early on you’re forced to endure an incredibly tedious, wholly unnecessary task: corralling animals while riding your horse, Epona.

The task is supposed to familiarize the player with the mechanics of riding Epona. The point of the mini game is to ride Epona around the ranch and force the herd back into the pen. It’s a really basic idea. The most aggravating part is that the yard you have to navigate for this little mechanic teaching mini game is probably one percent of the area in which you will normally be riding Epona. It is absolutely the most difficult task that the player will have to do using these mechanics and it is hilariously clumsy and frustrating. Most interesting to me, is that before doing all of this, you have to ride Epona from where you get her to the ranch, so by the time you are ready to take on the mini game, the player would have had ample time to test and get used to the mechanics, rendering the mini game completely worthless.

Before I bury myself in being too critical, I want to make it clear. Twilight Princess is a monster of a game. The world is huge, there are so many possibilities in terms of side quests and items to collect. You can play so much game without even progressing through the story that it’s quite possible to forget there even is a story. That, in itself, is pretty amazing. Due to the game’s very nature as an open world adventure, I understand that when it comes to designing certain mechanics, certain things have more effort put into them than others. When you have six or seven major item physics, regular motion physics, snowboarding physics, one or more of those things isn’t going to be as polished as perhaps we’d all like. Unfortunately, even armed with a fairly high degree of understanding, the physics of riding Epona still frustrate me. I’ll caveat that by saying, for the most part, she’s easy to control. When you turn the joystick, Epona turns in that direction. When you pull down on the joystick to slow down, Epona slows down. It’s pretty easy to avoid running into things and it isn’t horrible chasing down enemies on Hyrule field and slaying them with a few sword slashed (although I think that is more a testament to the good sword mechanics than Epona’s).

So, after writing and reading that, I have to ask myself: If Epona controls the way you want her to, what’s the problem? The problem is that Epona behaves more like a car in Grand Theft Auto than she does a character that the player is supposed to care about. Weirdly, Epona doesn’t lean when she turns, but more rotates in the full upright position. Only when traveling at her absolute fastest is there a hint of her body representing real motion. When you compare this to Link’s body animations for all of the various actions he can do, it’s almost like comparing a live person with a cardboard cutout. Another quirk is the way in which you get Epona to speed up. You can press a button and basically do a little spur kick (a spur is how it’s represented graphically, at least) and then you’ll get a temporary burst of speed. Unfortunately, these are limited a bit. You get a certain number of spur kicks and if you use them too quickly, you have to wait for the icons to populate in full color again, indicating you can use them. There’s no trick to regaining spur kicks other than waiting, and they replenish quickly enough that you have to wonder why they even bothered with this at all. In the later parts of the game where you actually have to persue enemies on horseback, it is supposed to add some challenge to the obstacle, I think. It does not accomplish this, and makes traversing Hyrule field a chore of pressing A while at the same time carefully monitoring the screen so you don’t have a slowdown. The world the Twilight Princess is big enough where this does become a pretty big pain pretty quickly.

Why complain about all this? Epona is one small piece in a very large world, and truth be told, there are more good things about controlling her than bad. For me, when you introduce a mechanic into a game, there should be some purpose. I have been thinking for a long time, and aside from the few specific scenarios that force you to use her, Epona doesn’t really serve a purpose. She makes traveling long distances faster, true, but you can also warp to a good number of locations, thereby negating her usefulness for this to a large extent. If you removed the forgettable mini bosses that you need her for, Epona could also easily be removed and the game would be almost exactly the same. I would even argue that it would be better because you wouldn’t have to waste time calling her with the little reed whistles or fighting these bad guys that serve no genuine purpose but to add length to an already lengthy game.

This may be my most cherished thought, and cliched as it is, I believe in it wholeheartedly. Less is more. When it comes to horse physics, there is a game that does it right: Shadow of the Colossus. I have heard that there are people who exist that don’t share my opinion. I can understand that, too. Agro, the player’s horse, behaves significantly more like a horse both in physics and AI behavior. You mount your horse in Shadow of the Colossus similar to how you do in Twilight Princess, but the kicker is that there is absolutely nothing in the game to tell you how to do it. You can read the manual, of course, but being as there are a set number of buttons, it doesn’t take long to discover all of the game’s mechanics, including Agros, on your own. I found that very satisfying. There are no spur icons in your face telling you that you can go faster or for how long you can go faster. The game trusts you to do what any player would do: experiment.

Actually controlling Agro can be difficult at times, particularly in an area of the world map that is heavily populated with trees. The animations for when Agros stops abruptly are long and annoying, similar to Epona. One of the nice additions for Agro is that you don’t have to steer her the way you do Epona. When you travel along a narrow bridge or on a cliff, Agro pilots herself to a high degree. You do your steering mostly in the wide open spaces, of which there are many in Colossus’ Forbidden Lands. This activity is actually fun. The animations for Agro are beautiful to look at. Her mane and tail show some nice hair physics during galloping. You can stand on Agro and fire arrows. You can turn around on Agro to fire arrows. You can hold your sword up to point you where to go while riding full speed. Her body dips and shifts depending on when and how you turn. Wander, the player’s character, also looks different depending on the situation when riding Agro.

These seemingly small differences and details are crucial. There is also a very, very good reason why Agro seems so much more real than Epona. As a player, you need Agro. She is given to you at the very beginning of the game and a majority of the game requires the player to master the skills that accompany a horse. Without Agro, the game cannot be completed. It should be noted that overall, there is less in Shadow of the Colossus than there is Twilight Princess. There are no rupees or shops. You don’t really talk to anyone for most of the game, and when you do it isn’t up to the player to find those character to talk to. It’s very limited in what it chooses to allow you to interact with and that’s the point. By having so little to really interact with in a meaningful way, Agro takes on huge significance. She is your companion and the only other one to share the player’s experience. One of my favorite things that was added into the game is your ability to pet Agro. When you have no weapon equipped, you can stand beside your steed and pat her on the back or neck and let out a nice vocal approval. Technically, this doesn’t really do anything in the game. Agro doesn’t suddenly become easier to handle or anything when you do this. What it does, is help the player further the bond with this character. As I progressed through the game on my first playthrough, I remember discovering the petting command by mistake. It wasn’t long before I started giving Agro a nice pat before and after using her to access the next challenge. I actually grew to care about a horse that could have so easily just been a prop.

Agro has flaws, some of which I already talked about. By no means is everything about the way she handles or the game handles itself, perfect. But that, too, is sort of the point. A game’s mechanics don’t have to be perfect in order to be enjoyable and create the desired effect. What’s important to remember when you look at a game like Twilight Princess is that a lot of the fun has to do with getting the next item so that you can complete puzzles in a dungeon. Unfortunately, Epona never feels like a piece of the puzzle that can be used in conjunction with the rest of your acquired knowledge to accomplish more in the game. At best, she just speeds things along. When something in a game reaches that point, I think it’s probably a good idea to remove it. In a lot of ways, it feels like Epona was put into the game only because she was introduced in Ocarina of Time, and people expected it. Maybe when your game franchise becomes as adored as The Legend of Zelda franchise has, you can afford to do things just because you think fans will like it. The side effect is, at least in my case, that I don’t really want to talk about Twilight Princess very much unless it's about the things I didn't like.

Are You an Environmentalist? Play Minecraft

By playing Minecraft, I discovered that I am, in fact, not an environmentalist. This surprised me. I’m not exactly politically active, nor am I especially diligent in following the environmental impact I have on the Earth (I own two cars after all, so I can’t be doing so great). Even still, I tended to lean toward the viewpoint that businesses shouldn’t be able to recklessly use every last natural resource, our waterways and drinking water sources should be protected from toxins as a result of mining. That kind of thing. In the real world, I think those viewpoints still apply, only it’s a lot more obvious to me now how poorly my actions line up with my ideologies. This occurred to me as I laid down somewhere between forty and fifty pixilated cubes of dynamite, lit them, then soared hundreds of feet into the air to enjoy the chain of explosions.

It didn’t all start out this way, it really didn’t. When I loaded my first game, the goal was simple: explore the landscape in order to find a convenient place to build a structure that would fit into the landscape without standing out too much. Writing it out makes it sound like a much loftier and righteous goal than it really was. The truth of the matter was I didn’t exactly know what to expect upon playing the game. Still, there was a somewhat conscious effort on my part to build things that complimented the landscape. I didn’t want to do like others had in both the Minecraft and real worlds. Those places were riddled with gigantic, gaudy statues and mammoth cathedrals. So much effort had already been spent in order to self-congratulate. Yelling “Hey, look at how great I am!” with a thousand foot beacon in a world that nobody else would see didn’t make sense.  In my little Minecraft world the ego would be forgotten. Reason and simplicity would prevail. I had become something of  a virtual environmentalist, or at the very least, I was all about being a harmonious cog in the ecosystem.

It turns out that goal was easy to stick to in the beginning. When starting a game in Survival Mode, the thought of nightfall and the impending onslaught of zombies is a pretty good motivator to build something quickly and with as few resources as possible (just a single tree was all I need to build myself a hut and survive into day 2). On day 2 I ventured out into the wilderness, surveyed the fauna and calculated how many animal murders per day I would need to commit in order to sustain myself. This was before I realized that you could farm. The house I had built for myself was small, just large enough to fit myself in. If I didn’t want to play through all of nightfall huddled inside a wooden crate looking out at all the things that could kill me, I would have to expand. I wouldn’t need to add much. Pushing the walls out by a couple of blocks would be enough to fit a bed and then mission accomplished: I could sleep soundly during the night, then wake up to go murder more pigs with a wooden pickaxe.

How humble that idea seems now. It wasn’t obvious to me, but the very moment I decideded I needed to expand my initial home, the agreement I had with nature was forgotten. I expanded the house. I put in a bed. Then I expanded some more. I dug out the dirt floor to raise the ceiling. I broke down walls to create new, better walls made of stone. Then I made some glass using sand and a furnace. My simple home was eating more and more of the hillside I had picked. The security of my structure made me more bold. I made a bow and arrows so I could stand atop my home and snipe spiders as they approached. Instead of running wildly back to my house at the first sign of sunset, I would now leave whatever interior remodeling I’d been doing and go on the hunt for anything and everything I could kill. Free time had made me bloodthirsty and forgetful of my initial struggle to survive. And then I discovered Creative Mode.

If you ever wanted to live forever, Creative Mode can get you pretty close. Gone are the health points and with it the need to worry about trivial things like eating. Gone is the need to actually go out with tools and mine resources. Whatever you want is there in the menu for you to find and abuse. You can fly. That part is fun. For a couple of sessions I didn’t even think about building or anything and just flew around the world, investigating different areas, enjoying the topography, went swimming. Like all things except my character, the fun ended. It was time to get serious. I went back to my hut turned mansion and burned it down. I flattened a hill and decided I would build a perfect structure. The construction material of choice? Glass. All glass. All those initial goals of creating a home within the landscape and living simply were gone. It was monument building time.

My descent into a whirlwind of oblivious destruction didn’t dawn on me until I was entering caves just to blow them up from the inside out with dozens of cubes of TNT without having even the slightest clue what I was going to do afterward. Luckily, perhaps pulled back by some tiny fragment of sympathy left over from having watched Captain Planet as a kid, I stopped to think about how horrific this scene would be if it took place in real life. That gave way to remembering that these kinds of things do happen in real life. Mountain top removal, gold and diamond excavation, forest clearing: all of these things do happen. The people who have the means use them to get even more means, and that sometimes comes at the behest of the Earth.

I had to ask, what the existence of a game where you can be a one-person industrial giant say about us? Probably not very good things. Not that it’s Minecraft’s fault. It’s just a reflection of the human desire to create, even if destruction is the first step. Although horrified by the implications of my virtual actions, part of me is relieved that there is a place in a server room somewhere that is devoid of real life consequences. My innermost destructive desires can be expressed electronically rather than in the form of a bulldozer or hydraulic blaster. But then I remembered that a lot of electricity is produced by burning coal.