'Beautiful Minecraft' Sees 'Minecraft' As a Sculptural Tool, Not Just a Game

by G. Christopher Williams

11 January 2017

Will Loader's A Futuristic Past (2016) 
cover art

Beautiful Minecraft

James Delaney

(No starch Press)
US: 2016

cover art


(Mojang, Microsoft Studios, Sony Computer Entertainment)
US: 18 Nov 2011

I should begin with a caveat: I am not a Minecraft player. Maybe even better put: I’m not really even a Minecraft fan. I understand the importance of Minecraft to its players, and I understand its importance to the medium of video games. It’s an unstoppable force, and it is well deserving of its legions of fans and their admiration for its designs. It’s just not my kind of game.

I discovered this way back in 2010 when I made my first attempt at playing the game to find out what all the buzz was about. After fiddling around with Minecraft for a little while, I discovered that, like a box of Legos, this game just couldn’t hold my attention for long. Free-form play interests me less than games with defined rules and goals, which I ended up writing about in the essay, “I Don’t Know How to Play”.

Once again, to each their own. I actually kind of appreciated Minecraft teaching me something about myself and my own gaming habits, but I didn’t especially want to go back for more.

That said, I’m not unappreciative of what Minecraft has meant and continues to mean to other people, other players that do know how to play. So, when No Starch Press sent a review copy of Minecraft-generated artworks, I was happy to take a look at what players of the game have created and how the game and art of Minecraft has evolved over the years.

James Delaney’s Beautiful Minecraft is a collection of images of sculptures created in Minecraft by some of the more gifted members of the game’s design community. It should be noted (and the book explains this) that many of the images were not purely generated using the basic Minecraft toolset and interface. Custom Minecraft sculpting and design tools were used in addition to what is normally provided in the game.

Images in the book range from architectural marvels, to complex landscapes, to organic sculptures, many designed by Delaney’s team at his company Blockworks. The text that accompanies these images is written by Delaney and some of his team members and largely muses on the possibilities of using Minecraft itself as a medium for art, a provocative idea in and of itself, I think.

Having reviewed Matt Sainsbury’s book Game Art (also published by No Starch Press), it was these textual portions that interested me most about the book. Sainsbury’s goal in his book (and seemingly a larger goal of No Starch Press) was to show art from video games and then to allow designers to discuss their goals in creating through the medium of games. What I said in that review about Game Art was that “...In a nutshell, [Sainsbury] is asking questions of artists about how they conceptualize their art”, a fair question for an art book to explore and one that is not often asked in a medium known less for seriousness of purpose than for escapism.

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I really liked Sainsbury’s approach, and I have similar feelings about the overall approach to the material here. Personally, I enjoyed Sainsbury’s book a bit more, partly because the games and designers featured in it are ones more in my wheelhouse than Minecraft creations and creators, but also because I think that Sainsbury’s presentation has a bit more depth to it than Beautiful Minecraft does. The discussion is interesting here, but it feels less substantive than Game Art.

As I said from the outset, though, this isn’t exactly a book for me, since I’m not a huge fan of the game. However, both my daughter and her fiancé, who both play Minecraft regularly, pored over it. Clearly, it has an audience that will appreciate what it has to offer. I appreciate the discussion of the possibilities of seeing a game itself as a medium for further art and design, and I can’t deny (despite my own lack of love for Minecraft as a game) that some of the images in the book are, as the title suggests, quite beautiful.

Beautiful Minecraft


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