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The Mincraft Invasion - Pop Culture Meets Homage

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-- An Overview --

Due to the way Minecraft was created with a long beta stage that was, for the most part, entirely live and public, a good percentage of the long-term players observed as the game grew and expanded around them -- and they are still playing it, which says a lot about the game.  In order to cover as much of last year's E3 as we could I took an intern with me (that is unusual) but it worked out very well, so it will likely be repeated -- the point to that comment is that the top of the Intern's notebook PC has a large Creeper face sticker affixed to it -- and during lunch on the first day after we set up at our table in the media lounge over the course of 45 minutes no fewer than eight different people or groups stopped to chat about Minecraft.

After I admitted that I did not play the game (at that point I had yet to try it) and pointing them at the Intern I naturally ended up taking part in some of the conversations -- though I suspect that I was being tolerated more so than contributing if you see what I mean?  I did more listneing than talking, and by the fourth or fifth visitor my curiosity was fully engaged, so when the next pair of Minecrafters stopped at the table to compliment the notebook sticker I asked "What the hell is Minecraft?!"

 "An intensely popular game" was one of the ways that my question was answered - and it soon became very obvious that Minecraft is, from a cultural point-of-view, this generation's Magic the Gathering.  Now hold on, some of you are going to protest, others will point out that you cannot compare a cool game like Minecraft in which you build worlds to a card game... True but not so much, because that is not what I mean by the observation.

If you are too young to remember it, Magic the Gathering (MtG) took the gaming world by storm in the early 1990's and almost instantly hijacked a place in both geek culture and in popular culture.  There were jokes about the game on TV shows that, if you did not play the game you could not possibly understand, and people laughed.   At one games expo we saw more MtG T-Shirts being worn than game shirts from video games -- and that says something!

At the height of its popularity MtG had cards that were valued in the hundred of dollars -- each -- but that value was based on the fact that they were first-edition cards and the first edition of the game had a very small press-run compared to the sequel versions.  I personally know someone who ended up paying for all four years of their daughter's tuition at UMass by selling their collection of Magic cards, and I have personally been yelled at for using a first edition card in a deck (mostly I did not realize it WAS a first edition card, but still, it is a game card, you are supposed to play with them, right?

Fortunately Minecraft is a computer game, so there is no glass ceiling under which players with less disposable income are trapped by players who can afford to build the best deck ever.  In fact that only possible status symbol I can think of beyond having a seriously kick-ass gaming rig would be to run your own Minecraft SMP server...

But that is not the important thing and we are losing the trail here through digressing -- the point to all of this is that in its short few years Minecraft has penetrated both Geek Culture and Popular Culture as deep as -- and perhaps in some ways deeper than -- Magic ever did, and that is a very profound accomplishment when you consider that at one time MtG was commonly known as "flat Crack!" 

References to the game are showing up in TV shows, comics, and even fiction books whose characters play the game.  It has arrived -- it needs a publicist!  It has become a character in its own right!

-- Tracking the Market Penetration Signs --

In the world of video games there are certain signs that indicate when a game has crossed over the line from being merely popular to being culturally significant -- and one of the first such signs is that it gets mentioned in the online comic strip Penny Arcade.  Now before you point out that when the blokes from Penny Arcade got into bed with Blizzard and began outright shilling for World of Warcraft, I think it is only fair to mention that both Game and Tycho *play* WoW -- so it is a lot different than if, for example, the case of Big Bang Theory focus on WoW for an episode; that would be product placement, whereas the appearance of WoW in Penny Arcade was more like one long homage.

In a 2010 blog post (, Tycho reflects upon Gabe being sucked into the world of Minecraft, and offering his own take on the nature of the game: "I have heard him suggest that the game is crack, but it’s more like all of the ingredients and equipment that you need to make crack, which I’d say is worse.  It’s like: give a man some crack, and he’ll…  but if you teach him to make crack, and then…  There must be a saying that explains all this, surely.

What he means is that the game is addictive - and that is a fair claim!  The important thing though is that Minecraft ended up being featured in Penny Arcade (the comic) as well as appearing at Penny Arcade (the Gaming Expo), so hey, win-win for sure but the point is that this is one of the first signs in modern gaming that a game has arrived and is important.  If you needed proof of that, look at this strip from Penny Arcade:

Like the previous comment on Magic the Gathering, you sort of have to play the game to really appreciate what is being said here between the lines...

"8-Times the Size of Earth, and Twice as fun!"

The quote above was recently heard on the radio as we drove from Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport to Alkmaar, the other cheese city in Holland (Gouda and Alkmaar are famous for their cheeses) -- the DJ was talking about this great new game he was playing called Minecraft as the "theme" for that hour of the morning drive time -- and was playing songs that he said he liked to listen to while playing the game... 

What he was talking about is the fact that the surface area of the world of Minecraft is eight-times the size of the surface area of the Earth -- and considering that there is no GPS service in Minecraft, no phone to dial 000 / 911 / 999 on, it would be a really good idea not to get lost...  As for it being merely twice as fun, we suspect that is probably an insult to Notch and Mojang -- Minecraft is easily three-times as fun, we are just saying...

-- 2011 New York Comic Con: The In-Joke? --

At New York Comic Con last year there was a group of Minecraft players attending together, and each of what I guesstimated was about 50 people from the group was wearing a T-Shirt that had, screen-printed on it, the image of those cheesy "Hello, My name is" name tag stickers that are very common at semi-organized social events. 

Steve? is sort of a gaming trope for Minecraft -- the people in the game (including the player's character and the NPC's from the village) are what is kindly referred to as being "Ambiguously Human" and in fact that pretty well fits the basic theme of the game, which is a blockbuster...  You know, blocky?  That's humor mates!  Gah!  The point is that the player character for everyone who plays the game is a very blocky man named "Steve?" whose body is composed of a collection of differently shaped cubes and rectangles.

Hello, My Name is Steve?

His name really is "Steve?" and not "Steve" -- the question mark is a proper element of his name, and even if you decide to add a custom skin to your copy of the game (the default appearance of Steve? on the seven PC's in our house that have Minecraft installed on them is a yellow bio hazard suit with full headgear) but everybody knows that Steve? is under there, all you have to do is take off his clothes or costume...  Unless you happen to have loaded a Creeper Skin in which case Steve? appears to be a giant Creeper but that is so wrong that you should be punished...  We are just saying.

The result of this large group of people wearing an identical T-Shirt was somewhat mixed --  among the groups of attendees who did not understand the shirt or recognize its origins were overheard making wild and often, well, not to be unkind but really stupid guesses about it...  There were many conversations about them (they certainly did get noticed) with some people speculating that the shirt was the uniform for some booth, others giggling over the question mark, and a lot of people at Comic Con were asking the question, "Who is Steve??"

There was a very memorable, interesting (even amusing) conversation overheard at lunch in which the girl doing the talking suggested that it would be both proper and properly social to raise the pitch of your voice whenever addressing one of the people in the shirt (saying the name as a question in other words) no matter what the circumstances are -- to which one of her companions pointed out that it would then be practically impossible to use the name as part of an angry outburst, since the addition of an exclamation point would change the tonal inflection of the question mark...  It just went funny from there.

-- Here and there and everywhere?

We are still waiting for the day when a scene appears on TV of a character in a show actually playing Minecraft, though apparently Psych's James Roday plays it between scenes in his trailer.  There have been more than a few references to Minecraft in TV shows, though mostly indirect unless you count the appearance of Creepers -- like the cameo Creeper in Mad TV's Meme Episode (

It has to be gratifying to have your video game paid an homage in another video game -- especially when the game paying the homage is last year's AAA smash hit The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim  -- which in addition to being a very cool game has semi-hidden on top of a mountain "The Notched Pickaxe" which is, of course, a reference tp the creator of Minecraft.   As a pickaxe it is used for mining and it features an enchantment that boosts the player's Smithing skills.

You know that your video game has arrived as a pop culture icon when the massive counterfeit goods industry of New York City begins selling "your" merchandise.  While in NYC for the CES press event we saw, next to hawkers selling Raybans (2 for $30) and Rolex Watches ($45) an entire line of Minecraft T's.  We are betting Notch did not license them, but some of them (the Creeper face T in particular) are pretty cool. 

Our favorite?  A block wall with one block missing and a Creeper looking through it from the outside.

The website MemeBase ( has a collection of images that would certainly make excellent T-Shirts -- in particular the graph showing where Mobs spawn, with the Creeper cut-away coming in a close second. 

-- The Silver Screen --

If you ask Markus Persson (AKA Notch) he will tell you that he started development of Minecraft after playing some Infiniminer with a couple of people from TigSource.  He says that he realized that a game that simple yet that dynamic had a lot of potential to turn into a really great game, and kept coming up with things he wanted to change and stuff he wanted to add.

After he quit his job as a game developer to be able to focus more on indie game development during his free time, he was looking for a new game to develop and, having lots of time available (remember the having quit his job part) he got started incorporating all of the elements that he wanted to see into the game he was making -- which eventually came to be called Minecraft.

Interestingly as you read this a documentary film project flying under the flag of 2 Player Productions is trying to fund and shoot a documentary called "Minecraft:The Story of Mojang"  about Mojang AB and its development -- Mojang AB is the company that makes Minecraft don't you know?  The movie was announced on February 21st, 2011 and is planned to be released in the summer of 2012 and is really only interesting because of the next bit...  Be patient, this will all make sense in a moment...

You read the simple explanation for how Minecraft came to be -- and if you happen to run into Markus even today, if you ask him the question you will get a variation of the information above -- which we actually paraphrased from the official About the Game section of the official Minecraft Website ( so really there is very little wiggle room in which to insert doubt and use it like a pry bar... And yet... And yet that is what countless gamers all over the world continue to do on a daily basis!

You see the most common claim that is made by gamers who say they know the real story behind Minecraft is that Notch got the idea from a movie he was watching -- and it is not the official version that Notch tells, oh no!  They know the truth -- what Notch will not tell you because (pick one) it is a well-guarded secret / it is embarrassing to him / he stoled the idea / he does not want to give credit where credit is due / insert your own custom reason here!


Over the course of the past few years Peter has been collecting this list of movies that gamers have claimed that Minecraft is based upon, with notes about the "facts" supporting the claim, and we present a few of the more interesting of these in the Pop Culture Meets Homage because it fits -- and it again proves the point that when gamers are unwilling to accept the official word on the origins of a game, they are more than eagerly happy to make up their own story, and then share it with the world.

These declarations of the one-true-fact were gathered from over a hundred Minecraft fan sites, chat boards, and blogs since shortly after the release of the first gamer-playable version. 

Here is a representative selection and sampling of what we consider to be the most interesting -- presented here in alphabetical order based upon the name of the movie with no meaning or significance implied other than, you know, it is alphabetical. 

Each includes Peter's notes on the evidence that each poster provided for their claim (with his sarcastic comments edited out) included here for your amusement only.  Names, email addresses, website URL's and other identifying information has been removed to save the original poster the humiliation of being outed in a Walkthrough/Guide.

-- Our Favorite Movie Origin Claims --

-- A Boy and His Dog: 1975, LQ/JAF

A post-apocalyptic tale based on a novella by Harlan Ellison in which a boy communicates telepathically with his dog as they scavenge for food and sex in a world that has very little of both.  Starred Don Johnson as Vic (the boy) and Tim McIntire as Blood (the dog).  Also starred Jason Robards.

Explanation: The reason why pet wolves were added to the game and why the player is the only human in the game save for "villagers" who have ulterior motives which is why they do not socialize with the player (you have to read the story/see the movie to understand what those motives are).

-- Castaway: 2000, 20th Century Fox / DreamWorks SKG,

The jet plane that FedEx systems engineer Chuck Noland is flying in crashes into the ocean in the Pacific and he finds himself alone on the shores of a tropical island and must find shelter, safety, food, and a way to get rescued. 

Explanation: "Clearly the entire game is based on Castaway but Notch does not want to say anything about that because then he would have to pay Tom Hanks for the game and he can not afford to do that, but Tom Hanks son plays the game and he told his father about it and they are probably going to sue." 

-- How to Train Your Dragon: 2010, Dreamworks

A hapless young Viking aspires to hunt dragons and then makes friends with a young dragon, lwarning that there is much more to the creatures than he believed.  Starred (voice, this is an animated film) Gerard Butler, Craig Ferguson, David Tennant.

Explanation: When dragons were first discussed as being in the game, OP claimed that this movie was the source and that dragons would be "ride-able pets" in the game and "had to be fed Cows or Sheep to tame them."

-- Quiet Earth: 1985, Mr. Yellowbeard Productions Limited & Company

The Quiet Earth examines the process of going insane when the protagonist realizes that they are the last human left alive on the planet following a terrible catastrophe that he helped cause.  Starred Bruno Lawrence, Alison Routledge.

Explanation: It is how the game starts; you wake up and find you are the only person left alive in the world and you have to take care of yourself and not go crazy.  You have to find shelter and food and make things to make your life better. 

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