Overlap - Investigations in new and forgotten storytelling

Overlap S1E1 preview: Sara Hill chats to us about Minecraft

On Tuesday 23rd October, Sara Hill will introduce us to the world-building opportunities of Minecraft when she presents the first episode of Overlap’s new season of events at the University of Sheffield. We caught up with Sara to find how her creative journey into the game began.

“A few friends were already playing it really, really obsessively. You know sometimes when your friends (whose opinions you really respect) go on about something until you can’t stand one more conversation about it? That was my first experience of Minecraft – deciding never to play it. This was before the game was officially released, about two and a half years ago.”

So what changed her mind?

“I remember spending a lot of time on YouTube and having one of those bizarre journeys through related videos. Eventually, I came across a Minecraft recreation of something I’d been watching earlier. It made it look a lot of fun, so I downloaded the game and got dropped into the middle of this forest with no idea what I was doing. You’re stuck in the middle of nowhere with things trying to eat you and sheep and trees. You’ve just got to survive.”

Minecraft gets its name from its main gameplay mechanic. Players can ‘mine’ the blocks that make up its jagged landscape and rearrange them into new configurations – everything from houses to dinosaurs to recreations of Middle Earth. This opens a universe of opportunities for fledgeling world-builders. However, the player’s initial creative efforts are rudely interrupted by the game’s first nightfall.

“If you don’t know that creatures are about to appear it’s utterly terrifying as the first thing you hear are the noises. The most terrifying creatures are the exploding shrubs called Creepers (because they creep). When they’re right next to you they make a little hiss, and you have half a second to move before they explode in your face.”

“It’s like one of those horror films where the protagonist wakes up in a room and doesn’t know who they are or how they’ve got there and what they’ve got to do – they just have to get out. Except in Minecraft you don’t get out. You have to stay in there.”

This daily cycle of survival and creation forms what Sara describes as “a cross between digital Lego and Robinson Crusoe”. With a little planning and a few avoidance tactics, most players escape the skeletons, spiders and creepers effectively enough to build a home from home. But that doesn’t keep a lot of Minecraft players occupied for long. The freedom of its creative tools inspires much bigger plans.

“At first, I think I did what everyone does. I built a little house and just bimbled around really. It didn’t have much of a focus. I built a swimming pool and made a kitchen. It all got very domestic. You get over that phase very quickly. You end up setting your own goals and your own way of playing the game. That’s when some people decide to build something really epic.” But how do you create something epic when you’re being chased by exploding bushes? “You can turn the creatures off and play in creative mode. You don’t have to harvest blocks and that’s how people build things like the Taj Mahal.

“Some people download pre-made maps that other people have made. I explored a lot of mods [fan-created add-ons that change the way the game plays] at that point because I liked the idea of bolting on different things to the game. It’s got that feeling of digital Lego, like you should be able to make anything you want. If there’s something in the game that prevents you making what you want to make – or something missing from the game – there’s an urge to change that.”

On Tuesday 23rd, we’ll find out how an industrious community are doing just that to create worlds and stories. We’re kicking off at 7:00pm at Coffee Republic in the University of Sheffield Students’ Union. All are welcome, it’s free and you can visit our announcement for more info on the event and how to register your place.

See you there.

Category: Events, Interviews, Videogames

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