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Can 'Minecraft' Even Have a Story?

Telltale Games gets a crack at crafting a story out of what was, for a long time, a game that needed no story.
October 6, 2015, 7:40pm
Image: Telltale Games

The last time I played Minecraft, its creators, Mojang, were still indie and the open-world game's growing list of features—villages, temples, an endgame— were still kind of unfathomable, as if it weren't weird enough to see human NPCs pop up in a space where none existed for years before. Minecraft has always, for better or worse, invited its players to craft their own stories, a choice that seemed less awkward, or was perhaps a convenient excuse for not addressing its own lack of a canon. After all, Mojang isn't known for its stories.


But when I heard it was going to have a story mode created by Telltale Games, the game company responsible for The Walking Dead, I had my reservations. How could you make a real story out of a game that has, for years, resisted explanation? A story out of a game that always demanded that you create your own story?

For whatever reason Telltale Games ran with it and came out with what is now a cinematic take on what a Minecraft adventure would look like, if it ever did have a story.

Story Mode is the first Telltale game where you can actually choose the appearance of your character. The game runs under the same formula that powers Telltale's other episodic games, but also carry the same flaws—the uncontrollable camera, the leisurely walking pace, and the promise that there will always be another quick-time event to punctuate your fight or flight scene. And while the consequences of missing quick-time events are less drastic—mistakes made during The Walking Dead's events were often life-or-death, whereas Story Mode is more inclined to slap you on the wrist—the game doesn't hold back for kids. I was even struggling with some of them.

While I can't reveal anything about the story (no spoilers until the October 13, Telltale tells me), I can say with some confidence that despite the fact that Telltale hasn't strayed from its formula of throwing edge-of-your-seat playable stories at you every few months, the company's first crack at an all-ages choose-your-destiny romp lands more than it misses. It seems to have found a happy medium in script-writing for all ages and even invoked several characters I actually felt invested in, which is more than I can say about the pile of half-touched Minecraft save files I still have on my desktop.

But the company's commitment to sticking with what it knows leaves something to be desired, especially given how dynamic Minecraft is in comparison. The sheer lack of interactions and missed opportunities for letting the player actually play a little Minecraft, aside from making stuff on a crafting table, makes the work far more a Telltale piece than a totally synergistic meld of the two entities. It's hard to peg Telltale as a one-trick pony because that frequently comes off as a negative. Yet being one did help the company craft consistently good stories.

And ever since Minecraft was in alpha testing in 2010, I knew it as the world's most complicated, cooperative canvas, where no story exists but the one you could etch across its landscapes. It was a buggy mess that was perhaps proud of its imperfections. Sometimes those imperfections made it beautiful. But as it became a Thing and ascended the Thing echelons, it struck me: perhaps it's complete enough that there can actually be a story that told about all this.

Minecraft: Story Mode releases digitally on October 13.