Elaboration on a Minecraft Comment from Digital Ops

I already made a comment about the awesomeness of Minecraft on the class blog earlier this semester. Anything that can be so simply created, lacking many of the detailed visuals and complicated plotlines that we associate with successful, high-end games today, but can still reach out and snare the minds of so many people has something very special. How does Minecraft manage to motivate people to spend so many hours playing it? The first day that I logged in to Minecraft and created my world, I spent almost eight hours exploring, much to the detriment of visiting my long-distance boyfriend, although he had to have understood how much fun I was having exploring and fighting monsters, as he had just done the same thing a week before. However, Minecraft, at the time, had no badge systems and has only a rudimentary system currently, has no clearly prescribed goals, and is very open-ended. Why did I, my boyfriend, and so many others find it so engaging?

At Digital Ops, one of the members made a comment that young children playing Minecraft will often spend the first hour using cheats to make large structures and to go around the rules of the world, and, that, after this first hour, these young children will transition to actually working within the confines of the world to create their own structures, even if they are much smaller and less impressive than the structures made using cheats. Although Minecraft is fairly easy to manipulate cheats in, these young children are intrinsically motivated to play within the confines of the game and build and explore on their own. The game creates a sense of unknown, arousing curiosity within the player, and it creates varying levels of difficulty as the player progresses through different adventures that encourages the player to gain new materials, create new things, and face new challenges. If this level of intrinsic motivation could be harnessed within other settings that young children engage in, such as school, much more successful outcomes might occur.

Does anyone else have any ideas what might make Minecraft and other sandbox games like it so successful and engaging?

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