I made a big mistake.
I’ve been spending more and more time recently playing Terraria. Being still relatively new to the game, I had not yet defeated the Wall of Flesh and made the jump to Hard Mode. This was intentional. Being the compulsive completionist that I am, I wanted to make sure that everything that could be done before Hard Mode was done. I had the best armor you can get before pre-Hard Mode, the best tools and weapons, trophies from the bosses, and all the NPCs. Moreover, I had all but eliminated one of the areas of corruption and dug a big trench around the other. My wife told me (with complete justification) that I was probably overly prepared for Hard Mode. I really don’t know what else I could have done to be ready for it.
But when I defeated the Wall of Flesh, everything changed, including my enjoyment of the game. The new gash of Corruption, which emerged on the surface not far from my main base, was just too much. I panicked and started attacking it with purification powder. Not only was this futile, but it made me vulnerable to all the new baddies, and I found myself dieing over and over.
So I’ve stopped playing Terraria, at least for a while. My stress level was so ridiculously high that I actually stopped playing video games completely for about a week. I binge watched a couple of Rimworld LP series on YouTube and then started a new game of Civ 5 (playing as the Incas, this time – #MakeIncasGreatAgain). I’ve even considered starting up Dwarf Fortress again. Somehow, the prospect of watching my carefully constructed Dwarf colony collapse suddenly due to the combined power of a mythic beast and a beer shortage seems less stressful than contemplating that huge gash of corruption in Terraria.
Maybe, I thought finally, I should make my way back to Minecraft. And not modded Minecraft, because, to be honest, it was beginning to bore me. No, I needed the simplicity of vanilla Minecraft.
The vanilla instance in which I sought my stress therapy was originally a test world I created to test a new computer without the risk of corrupting one of my other worlds (the computer was randomly shutting off – turns out it was a faulty RAM stick). So I built a very vanilla type house in a single sitting.
Unfortunately, it’s not a very pretty house. I had some design ideas I wanted to test, and I wanted to use basic materials. I’m happy with parts of the house, but other parts are just plain awful. Nevertheless, this is the house I want to share with you today. So I present to you the Ugly Vanilla House.
If I play much more in this world, I am probably going to demolish a good bit of this house and rebuild it.
I don’t know if there are really any takeaway points from this whole ordeal. I honestly think my stress level over the cotton-picking Corruption is absurd. But I can say this: I don’t like the way a lot of video games scale their difficulty. Having harder and harder levels is one thing (like a classic platformer), but when a video game responds to a player’s skill level simply by increasing a digit in an algorithm (the way Wii Sports did and the way Final Fantasy VIII did), or when a game has a jump in difficulty that cannot in any way be mitigated, I consider that unfair. I should be rewarded for mastering a video game and its mechanics and for taking the time to grind and to make myself overly prepared for the next challenge. The jump in Terraria’s difficulty from pre-Hard Mode to Hard Mode was remarkably un-fun.
Minecraft, though, never does that to me, which is part of the reason why, I think, since I started playing it in August of 2012 (just after the release of MC 1.3.1) no other pastime has meant so much to me. I started playing it during one of the most stressful times of my life – less than a year after losing twin boys to extreme prematurity and while I was trying to finish a PhD thesis whose end was not clearly in sight. When the difficulty of life seems to scale to my experience level like an unfairly designed video game, Minecraft, even on Hard difficulty, rewards me for my knowledge and expertise by being perfectly manageable (except for the occasional Creeper spawning immediately behind, regardless of the what the developers say).
I need victories. I think we all need some easy victories from time to time to stay encouraged when all life throws at us is a series of seemingly insurmountable challenges that we find ourselves completely unequipped to handle despite all our attempts to make wise choices and to prepare ourselves the way conventional wisdom tells us to. That’s part (admittedly, only part) of the reason we play games.