Picture this: it’s summer 2011. You’ve just graduated from 7th grade, and you’ve got nothing to do. You’re sitting in front of the family computer—when there was still a “computer room” in the house—and, having just given $20 of your precious money to some Swedish company named “Mojang,” you boot up a strange little indie game called Minecraft. The title screen comes up, and you hear the quiet beginning of a soft piano melody.
Until this year, I hadn’t played Minecraft since middle school. I had periodically checked in on my favorite Minecraft YouTubers from the early 2010s and watched the announcements from Mojang about new updates every now and then, but as I graduated to high school my interest in the game gradually faded. I stopped playing games on the computer as I became immersed in the libraries of the Wii and Xbox 360. I did play Minecraft: Xbox 360 Edition a few times, but it just didn’t have the same charm as the original and I quickly abandoned it.
Fast forward to last year. When the pandemic started and we all withdrew into our homes, a lot of things changed for me. To start, I finally saved the money to build my own gaming PC, something I had been dreaming about for years. The first thing I did once I built it was buy all the games I had been wanting to play but couldn’t, because they would have killed my laptop. These were games such as Fallout 3, Fallout 4 and New Vegas; Oblivion and Skyrim (I’m a bit of a Bethesda fan, if you can’t tell); and games such as Counter Strike: Global Offensive, which could technically run on my old laptop, but only at 20 frames per second.
I still hadn’t come back to Minecraft, however. I had even lost the credentials for my account. But in summer 2020, after three months of being inside, and unsure if or when the pandemic would ever end, I found myself gravitating back toward my old comfort game. I had a bit of a nostalgia-fest that summer—I rewatched a bunch of Studio Ghibli films from childhood, reread old books, the works—and it just seemed natural to re-download Minecraft and experience everything the game had to offer.
I had to buy a new account, having lost my old one in the tangled web of new Mojang accounts after Microsoft bought the game. But buy a new one I did, and as I booted up the game for the first time in nearly a decade I felt a flood of memories coming back to me. Things were different, for sure. Years of updates, bug fixes and new features made the game feel like a whole new world compared to the Minecraft that I knew back in 2011.
But it also felt comfortingly familiar. During a time of such uncertainty, playing Minecraft again felt like laying a weighted blanket on top of myself while lying in bed on a rainy Saturday night drinking Sleepytime tea. Needless to say, it felt very homey.
I spent much of that summer rediscovering the world of Minecraft, running through its endless fields, mountains and mesas, taming horses and befriending villagers, building my house into the side of a mountain like a fancier version of the first shelter I ever made in the game. Physically, I was confined to my home—but in Minecraft, I could go anywhere.
Eventually I started to play Minecraft with friends, something I had never really done before because all of my friends in 2011 thought Minecraft was a stupid dork game for nerds—I sure showed them. Unsurprisingly, playing with other people is way better than playing alone. On our server we have a little village area with all our houses close together, and some more unusual amenities like “Friendship Mountain,” “Trump Tower” and “Sonic Underwater Level 2 [Gone Sexual].”
This is the Get Outside Guide, so I guess I’m supposed to tell you to get out of your house or whatever. And yes, now that vaccines are becoming widely available in the United States and pandemic restrictions are lifting, you should absolutely go outside more and find fun things to do beyond your house. But you don’t necessarily need to leave your front door to have a good time. It’s just as possible to “get outside” in a game like Minecraft. It’s just as possible to spend time with your friends on the computer as it is, you know, in the outside world. It’ll just be in the form of 16×16 cubes.