Courtesy Mojang Specifications

A lot of games are called “sandbox” games. They are games in which you can, allegedly, do anything you want at any time. Usually this term is applied to games like Grand Theft Auto or Just Cause 2. But those games have a lot of things set up for you: buildings, other people, weapons and so on. I recall a time when playing in a sandbox meant you had little more than the sand in the box and your own two hands. Or when all we had was a bin full of LEGO bricks and the admonition not to leave them where Dad could step on them in the middle of the night.

If your memories of that time are anything like mine, Minecraft is carefully calculated to tap those memories. With its simplistic design, intuitive crafting, dynamic lighting and HUGE map, the game is surprisingly immersive and innovative in spite of its looks.

Yes, the map is blocky. It’s all blocks, in fact. Just like some games that characterize themselves as sandboxes that boast “fully destructible environments,” Minecraft’s environment is 100% malleable. The only thing you can’t mine or move is the bedrock, also called “Adminium.” Other than that, you can change just about anything, explore the caverns generated by the world when it’s generated by carving mines down to them, construct any sort of building you can imagine and even do battle with zombie pigmen in Hell. It can be a construction sim, an open-ended exploration game or an action adventure. It’s up to you.

This mostly applies to single player, since at the moment the multiplayer aspect is devoid of damage. The zombies, creepers and spiders still exist, but you can’t damage them and they can’t damage you. Basically all you do is rub up against each other as the excellent sounds creep you the hell out. But this is fine, actually, since the game is still technically in alpha and being coded and constructed by one guy. ONE.

Markus “Notch” Persson, a programmer from Sweden, is the mastermind behind Minecraft. With only assistance in terms of music, sound and in-game art, Notch has created a world with solid mechanics, procedurally-generated maps and a surprisingly deep and intriguing crafting system. You start with your bare hands surrounded by hills full of dirt, trees, rocks and the occasional animal or zombie. The world is yours to build, provided you don’t get killed when the monsters come out at night.

Getting in on the ground level in Minecraft is relatively inexpensive at $15 US and will give you unlimited, free updates and support from Notch. Multiplayer Survival mode is at the top of his to-do list, and as soon as it’s live you can bet I’ll be in there with friends, creating strongholds against the monstrous hordes as we play pranks on one another. Like encasing an AFK friend in obsidian and TNT and destroying a good portion of the landscape. Until then, I have caverns to explore in Single Player and electricity mechanics to understand in Multiplayer.

Working in a mine has never been this much fun.