[Feature] Blocked Out

[Feature] Blocked Out

Nov 18, 2012

I’m uber poor at the moment – hence I’m having to wait for the appropriate amount of cash to buy my usual – mostly Halo 4 and BLOPS2. In the meantime, I’ve been converted to Minecraft, mostly at the insistence of my 8 year old daughter. One thing I’ve been trying to figure out recently is the meaning of life, and can the answer be found within Minecraft?

I put off playing Minecraft for a long time, not because I thought it would bore me to tears, but because I knew that once I started playing it I would be back into familiar territory – being unable to get off a game until 4 o’clock in the morning, avoiding conversations and the dreaded gamer eye – that annoying red-rimmed look that means you’ve been staring at a screen for far too long. I was right. Minecraft is one of those games which leaves you locked in, unable to move or blink for 10 minutes at a time, giving your muscles relief only when the loading screen comes up. It’s also reminded me of the box dreams.

The first time I used to have these kind of dreams was over 20 years ago, when I had Tetris on the original Gameboy. Every night I’d drift into a bizarre sleep – not sure if I was awake or in the land of nod – making sure I could fit the T-bar into the L-shape, completing this Tetris with the long block and getting annoyed with the mini right angle shape. Over and over again. I’m having those dreams now, except I’m building blocks into regular shapes, then using the diamond pickaxe in the right side of my brain in order to mine more stone. In my sleep. Sometimes box dreams carry over into waking life, when I’m driving my car I might see a beautiful designed block greenhouse on a university campus, or match stairs with something I’m trying to build in a desert biome. Box dreams aren’t just restricted to Tetris type games either, I’ve had them for FPS and RPG’s too – trying to figure out how to overcome a particular boss or create a particular item…in my sleep. For weeks I was storming the Reichstag on CoD World at War with my head on the pillow. I just couldn’t do it. I couldn’t figure it out. And now, Minecraft is having an affect on my brain.

But is it a bad thing? Recently I came across an interesting article on io9, on how those irritating, yet often useful box dreams are a learning tool. The article discussed an experiment on how this type of dream is not such a bad thing after all… ‘This was an actual experiment. And the results of it showed that the Tetris Effect – the fact that those who played Tetris for long periods of time tend to fit shapes together in their dreams and in the rest of their life – is a learning tool’.

The fact that I’m trying to solve problems in my sleep must mean that I’m never fully switched off. But I feel it probably has more to do with the repetitive nature of such games. However, I’m also tutoring an 11 year old boy at the moment, one who struggles with Dyslexia. He can’t yet find the right letters or sentence structures to complete written work. But…he’s really excellent at building and problem solving, and also loves Minecraft…. and this is where I’m using Minecraft to help him. By showing him the building blocks and how certain items can be de constructed and put together again – he’s learning how to apply the same logic to his school literacy work. The repetitive nature of both learning literacy and playing Minecraft go hand-in-hand, building blocks to help him learn.

There is a flip side to this too. Whilst not playing Minecraft, I’ve also downloaded the bizarre social experiment ‘Curiosity’ on itunes. (Also available on Android) While up to recently my brain has been building blocks, now it is set to reverse, and I have to uncover them. Alongside millions of other people. Across the globe. And nobody knows why.

It’s an odd thing really, while my brain since the 1990′s has been quite happy to build, solve puzzles, build a bit more, will it be equally happy to destroy those little boxes in order to achieve, well, nothing really. Will the result of those years of boxed dreams result in nothing more than the realisation that it was all for diddly squat? That my brain is little more than a fleshy hard drive who’s sole purpose is to recognise and build up little blocks, only to have them torn down again?Does it ultimately mean that I have been staying up too late philosophising over the true nature of Creepers?

So, here is the point of this article, the seemingly infinite world that is Minecraft, represented in billions of 8-bit style blocks, is it just a representation of the universe as we know it? That it is conceived, contained and manipulated only by the human mind while at the same time being infinitely bigger than the human mind which contains it. Will it all come crashing down once the realisation that it is all for nothing once the Curiosity cube is destroyed?

No, it won’t. But it does pose an interesting question into what is ‘reality’ when it comes to those bizarre box dreams we have, that the nature of reality isn’t simply contained within a fully concious, awake and alert brain. You can apply those little 8-bit blocks to every aspect of life as we know it – to the construction of atoms, to the physics in a galaxy. What I want to know is, where does it end, and where did it start?