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Minecraft Explained: A Beginner's Guide

M. T. Dremer has been a gamer for more than 20 years, with a preference towards adventure games like the Legend of Zelda and Tomb Raider.


I’ve seen and heard a number of questions floating around regarding Minecraft and its ‘purpose’. Most video games follow a story or a line of progression to get from the beginning of a level to the end. There are upgrades, bosses and an ending that clearly states: Game Over. So, for someone who is familiar with these types of games, Minecraft might seem pointless, for lack of a better word. You’re plopped in the middle of a world full of bricks with no explanation about what to do next. There are some tutorials for new payers (both in the game and outside of it) but that does little to explain Minecraft to the parent seeing it in passing. The purpose of this article is to not only explain the basics of Minecraft, but also frame it in steps for linear-minded players.


Step 1: Building a House

Technically there is no step one as you can do whatever you want upon entering your first world. Using nothing but your fists, you can ‘mine’ blocks like dirt, wood and sand. But, a logical place to start is building a safe house. Why do I need to build a house, you ask? Because when the sun goes down in Minecraft, the monsters come out. Since you have nothing to defend yourself with, it’s smart to build a house. I recommend using dirt blocks to construct your walls and roof as it is everywhere and it doesn’t fall down the way sand does. And you’ll need the wood you get from trees for just about everything else. So, it’s smart to mine as much dirt and wood as possible on your first day.

As for what constitutes a ‘house’ in Minecraft, that’s entirely up to you. The only requirement is four walls, a roof and a floor. The open space does have to be at least two bricks high (because that’s how tall your character is) but other than that, you can add any design elements you want. You can add a porch, a second level, skylights or even a hot tub (minus the bubbles). Extras aren’t that important on the first day, mostly you just want a space where you will stay safe. But think of Minecraft as the place where you can finally build your dream house. One look on YouTube will reveal just how elaborate those houses can get.


Step 2: Building Essential Materials

There are a number of things you can build in Minecraft that will be incredibly helpful. And, they can be built on your first day. Below is a quick list of the most important.

1. Wooden Planks. The wood that you ‘mine’ from surrounding trees can be turned into wooden planks without any special crafting tools. Not only does this give you more blocks to work with, but these planks are essential for building most other mechanisms.

2. Crafting table. This is the first thing you should make with those wooden planks. It is one of the single most useful blocks in Minecraft as nearly everything you craft requires it. Place it inside your house.

3. Wooden Pickaxe. First you’ll want to turn some of those wooden planks into sticks, then combine them to make your first pickaxe (which will allow you to mine stone). Once you have it, go find some stone. Mine a handful of blocks so you can make a…

4. Furnace. This is what creates glass, charcoal and cooks meat. The first thing I recommend cooking in it is wood, which will create charcoal (wood can also be used as the fuel).

5. Torches. Once you have charcoal you can combine it with wooden sticks to create torches. These will light up your house at night. This not only keeps monsters away from it, but it allows you to see in the dark.

Step 3: Building Non-Essential Materials

While these materials are non-essential on your first day, they are incredibly helpful.

1. A Bed. This is made from sheep’s wool (you’ll have to kill some sheep) and wood. Having a bed allows you to sleep through the night so you don’t have to sit around twiddling your thumbs until the sun comes up.

2. A door. Doors are not required since you can punch your way through just about any wall, but they do make entries and exits go a lot faster. Plus it just makes it look more like a house. This is built using wood and requires two (open) vertical spaces to place. It also comes with a built-in window to scan for monsters before you leave.

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3. Windows. Glass is created when sand blocks are burned in your furnace. You can either leave them as square blocks or you can turn them into panes of glass using the crafting table. I recommend making the panes of glass because you get more of them and it provides slightly better visibility. Just be aware that you cannot mine glass and get it back. You can only break it and replace it. But having windows gives you greater visibility from a place of safety.

4. A Chest. Chests are little more than empty receptacles created using wood. But, since you’re going to be collecting a lot of stuff throughout your journey, it pays to have these in your houses to store stuff you don’t always want to be carrying around.

An example of an elaborate house:

Step 4: Sky’s the Limit

Once you’ve built your house with all its useful tools, you have a solid base of operations from which to work. This is the point where creativity is free to break away from the linear path of most video games. Do you want to build a bigger, better house? Do you want to dig a quarry to find gold, diamonds and iron? Do you want to create a sword and armor to go adventuring in the unknown mountains and caves? Considering you can destroy any block in the world around you, there is literally nothing holding you back from whatever path you might choose. You can make a base underwater or in the sky. You can create a portal to the nether with new materials and more dangerous enemies. Or you can hunt down dungeons and make your way to the End to do battle with the Ender Dragon.

Minecraft is known as a ‘sandbox’ game; which is to say, it plops you down with a bunch of toys and no definitive objective. I’ve spent most of my time in Minecraft building an elaborate sky bridge to connect all of my houses. Later I added a powered rail system for quick travel. Then, I decided to build a giant sailboat out on the water, followed by a lighthouse and a full blown city. This genre of game doesn’t appeal to everyone, but I want to stress the complexity and the sheer creativity of a game like this. It’s easy to glance at the game and say it has bad graphics or say that it looks like a waste of time. But it has harbored some of the most creative and inspiring creations of this generation. Whether it’s recreating massive structures from existing worlds (like the wall from Game of Thrones) or building an elaborate network of redstone contraptions to power machines. Be happy that your child is playing Minecraft, because you never know where that creativity and ingenuity will lead into the real world.

Additional Tips:

- Don’t dig straight down. You run the risk of falling into a deep cave or lava pool. Dig in a diagonal and keep blocks with you to stop a potential lava flow.

- Don’t dig straight up. You can be crushed by sand, gravel and lava if you dig straight up.

- Building a house on stilts reduces the risk of running into monsters when you leave. And, building an additional block ‘ridge’ around the roof will prevent spiders from climbing on top of your house.

- Be liberal with your torches on the inside and outside of your house. Areas that are dark can still spawn monsters, even in areas you think are safe.

- Save everything. You might not think you need that spider silk or chicken feather, but when you start making more complex items, you’ll be thankful you kept them in your chest.

- Farm renewable resources. Trees can be grown with little more than a sapling seed and a block of dirt. And sugar cane can be repeatedly harvested so long as you leave the lowest block intact. Utilizing these endless source materials makes later projects considerably easier (since you don’t have to run around looking for more wood).

- Use crouch when building structures high up. It prevents you from walking off the block you’re standing on, which is incredibly helpful for tall structures and bridges.

- Most importantly: have fun!


M. T. Dremer (author) from United States on June 26, 2014:

Dreamhowl - Building is definitely my favorite part. Which can become troublesome in survival mode when you don't have enough materials to realize an idea. (Glowstone is a particularly annoying block to get). Thank you for the comment!

Jessica Peri from United States on June 25, 2014:

I love that you lay out the basics but still make it clear that there is not set "purpose" in Minecraft. I personally enjoy the farming (crops and animals) aspect of it, as well as Thaumcraft via Feed the Beast modpacks. I'm not terribly into the mining and technical aspects of it. Voted up!

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