You've heard it a million times already. How Minecraft is not just some little game about surviving the night and making stuff, but a major milestone for the entire medium. Along with how it has forever transformed the way that games are made, played, even perceived. So on and so forth.
But it's getting to that point in which such accolades are staring to ring hollow, if only from hearing them so often. Especially if you happen to be someone who has given the game a chance, but things didn't click for whatever reason. For members of that camp, there's a story you might want to hear, which does explain fully why Minecraft is so genuinely beloved. It's called Minecraft: The Story of Mojang.
The latest documentary from 2 Player Productions, who are best known for their chiptune documentary Reformat the Planet, the first season of the Penny Arcade reality series, and, most recently, their association with Double Fine Productions, covers 12 months in the life of the film's namesake. It's perhaps the most exciting year in the game's existence. When we first meet Markus "Notch" Persson on New Year's Eve in 2010, Minecraft had just begun its meteoric rise.
By the end, on New Year's Eve in 2011, Notch has formed his own company, become the belle of the ball at industry functions, has rubbed elbows with both contemporaries and fans, organized a convention that's entirely dedicated to his brainchild, dealt with the challenge of creating a release candidate of said game, and also come to the realization that it has become much larger than his wildest dreams, to the point that he's become overwhelmed.
Along the way, we also hear from top game developers such as Peter Molyneux, Chris Hecker, and Tim Schafer as well as a few game journalists, including Kotaku's own Stephen Totilo. Because the star of the show is so modest and humble, we must rely upon others to drive the message home as to how remarkable Minecraft actually is. Its lasting effect is all the more apparent when one sees the paths that Molyneux, Hecker, and Schafer have all taken with their careers as a direct result.
We also see a lot about the game's players. Along with some prominent video bloggers, we also meet that one guy who made a 1:1 scale model of Star Trek: The Next Generation's Enterprise, and another fellow whose Redstone Tutorials were all the rage on YouTube. Their evangelism for the game helped introduce us to the wild world of Minecraft and helped make it a phenomenon.
The movie covers a lot of ground, and does much to extol the virtues of not just Minecraft but the power and beauty of video games as a whole. That is why one cannot help but make comparisons with another documentary from earlier this year, Indie Game: The Movie. As some of you might recall, I wasn't exactly a fan, and viewing them side-by-side only makes matters worse. Simply put, Minecraft: The Story of Mojang, from top to bottom, is what Indie Game: The Movie wishes that it was, but most definitely is not. While the noble intentions of IG:TM's filmmakers is without question, their approach towards the subject matter is an entirely different story. Instead of bashing the viewer on the head with an argument that feels more like an agenda, and in a manner that is overly dramatic and at times contrived, 2 Player Productions states its case in the most restrained, calm, and graceful manner possible. There is a confidence in their subject matter that is missing in the other movie.
Simply put, Minecraft: The Story of Mojang, from top to bottom, is what Indie Game: The Movie wishes that it was, but most definitely is not.
It certainly helps that Story of Mojang's aforementioned all-star cast is so insightful, and their commentary so inspiring, especially when describing that precise instant in which they finally "got" Minecraft. One powerful moment that we see unfold is when Mike Krahulik (one half of the duo behind Penny Arcade) watches as his young son plays the game. It's one thing to be told how Minecraft has changed the face of video games, but to witness it change the role that they normally play in the parent/child dynamic, right before our eyes, is powerful stuff.
Is the film perfect? Virtually. At about an hour and forty five minutes, it is on the long side, which will definitely be a hard sell for some. Yet it wouldn't work any other way; every single moment, no matter how understated, adds to the overall tapestry. The dialed-back pace allows the gravity of what is brought to the table to sink in. Even after the final credits have rolled, the message will stick with you for a very long time to come.
More than anything else, Minecraft: The Story of Mojang is accessible, which is its greatest success (and Indie Game: The Movie's greatest failure). Yes, it preaches to the choir, just as vocally as IG:TM did. But the key difference here is how you can actually show this documentary to someone who has zero familiarity of video games and they will become invested. That is the true hallmark of a good documentary, regardless of subject matter.
Better yet, it's powerful enough to make someone who hardly considers himself a fan of Minecraft to all of a sudden fall in love with it. It did that for me. Until seeing the movie, I was someone who knew the reasons why Markus "Notch" Persson's legacy is so important, yet none of it resonated with me on a personal level, But now, I totally "get" Minecraft.
Matthew Hawkins is a NYC based game journalist who once upon a time used to be an editor for GameSetWatch, self-publishes his own game culture zine, is part of the Attract Mode collective (full disclosure; as is 2 Player Productions), and co-hosts The Fangamer Podcast. You can keep tabs on his personal home-base, FORT90.com. He regularly reviews video-game-related movies for Kotaku.