“Some girls came by to check out the house,” my housemate tells me. “I would’ve let them in, but I was ripping Minecraft, so…”
His excuse is common within my house lately. It pairs nicely with the endless babbling of five keyboards that permeates through our shoddy, thin walls and floors, the echoes looping through the Discord call connecting people only a floor apart. Locked away from the clicking and clacking in my room, I hear a subdued “goddamn creeper!” and groan. My housemates have begun their newest Minecraft phase.
Although it was the recent “Caves and Cliffs” update that attracted them this year, a return to Minecraft has been an annual occurrence in my house. For about a month, this collection of college students revert back to middle schoolers as the game becomes their raison d’être. Classwork, group movie nights, even sports all get put on the backburner during their quest to not only completely dominate the Ender Dragon but also break the game while getting there.
I’ve never been a particular fan of Minecraft; the game felt a bit like building LEGO without a guide to me, so I often get lost when trying to follow what they’re doing. They play like seasoned veterans as their 13-year old muscle memory kicks in, and the internet informs them of any updated content that may have cropped up in their absence. Starting from nothing, it only takes a few hours for the group tower to be erected, followed soon after by massive farms, villager corrals, water elevators—if there’s a way to manipulate the game, they’re doing it.
Every year, I wrack my brain for an explanation; most of my housemates would rarely call themselves “gamers,” so how do they get enveloped in Minecraft so frequently? One housemate posits that it’s relaxing, that the game is so ingrained in their memories the act of playing becomes leisure. They often spend hours in-game making little progress, instead focusing on harvesting and replotting their crops while making banal small talk together. Trips to the Nether are akin to grocery runs: explore while grabbing what you need and get out. The end goal of killing the Ender Dragon seems like an afterthought; they would much rather spend days molding the world into their favor just for kicks.
There’s the large possibility that they play the game out of a deep sense of nostalgia. Minecraft is getting on in years, its 13th birthday merely a few months out. Recently, the developers at Mojang have been adding more to the experience than ever; the Nether Update and Minecraft Dungeons both arrived in 2020. Even with all these changes, the heart of Minecraft has not necessarily grown over time. The game is largely the same as it was when it launched, making it easy to hop back into after time away. The various quality of life improvements minimize the game’s earlier flaws and affirm the nostalgic fantasy that it’s always played this well. It’s better, but also exactly how they remember it being.
As we sit on the precipice of leaving college for jobs or graduate school, Minecraft could be their way of coping. While some of us have our next steps lined up, just as many are bleakly staring into an unplanned future, one without structure that holds a terrifying amount of possibilities. Playing Minecraft for days on end brings out a childlike joy for them, reminding them of their lives at a much simpler and brighter time. Their endless afternoons as tweens weren’t filled with homework or cooking or responsibility, but with playing games with their friends. It was a time where all that mattered was the computer screen in front of you, where secrets were shared on the playground and in the cafeteria, and the only challenges you faced were learning how to survive the nighttime hordes of spiders and Endermen.
At times, though, nostalgia can look a lot like a drug from the outside; the constant, itchy desire to play looks more like an addiction than anything else. Their vision clouds with the pure adrenaline and euphoric hit of nostalgia that comes from their yearly excursions back into Minecraft. They are glued to their seats for hours on end staring at blocks and farming for the elusive item they need for their checklist. Whenever I try to divert their attention, it feels like prying a child away from their candy. The game becomes an obsession. And I, as the lonely bystander, have to sit and wait for the annual cycle to run its course.
“I’ve been dreaming of Minecraft,” my one housemate confides. He says it good-naturedly, but a hint of concern creeps into his voice. “I’ll have a normal dream, and then suddenly, there’s Minecraft things. Villagers, creepers, y’know?”
Mik Deitz is a freelance writer and Paste intern. They inhale stories in videogames, films, TV and books, and have never finished God of War (2018). Yell at or compliment them on Twitter @dietdeitz.