I have to admit, I am not much of an indie gamer. I spend most of my time with the big-budget mainstream titles in my research. There is a reason for that, but it isn't the point of this article. What is important is that Minecraft managed to get my attention, partially due to its intensely addictive fun, and to the buzz its created within the gaming/blogging community. I'd like to address the game and its context a little here.
Firstly, why is this thing so fun that around 500,000 people have parted with their 10€ to play an alpha release that would have been known as a demo five or ten years ago? The reasons aren't that hard to grasp, and have been documented in a few places already. There is the intense feeling of agency: the player is able to affect this world in deep, meaningful ways relative to the complexity of the world itself. This world doesn't have a narrative or social structure, it only has a physical presence. So, the physical interactions the player can have with every block of space, whether filled with material or not, is akin to being a small God in a simple universe. Every square block is offering its existence to the player to be tampered with, shaped and molded into something greater, offering no resistance and bending to the will of the creator.
This is a powerful feeling, and demonstrates the rule of agency quite nicely. Many AAA games are far richer in content, but that content is out of the player's reach. Whether it is the physical landscape or architecture, whether a vehicle, a door, or an NPC, these rich pieces of the gameworld are impervious to interaction. The player can't do anything to them. These parts of the gameworld simply do not care about the player. Every part of the Minecraft world does care.
The holodeck does not yet exist. I will argue here that it may never exist, and that despite its allure, we may not want it to. The holodeck is an invention of Gene Roddenberry’s Star Trek, and features prominently in several series, The Next Generation, Voyager, and Deep Space Nine. Similar technologies have appeared in science fiction before, from Huxley’s feelies or the wall-to-wall televisions in Fahrenheit 451. Janet Murray is most responsible for directly linking videogame studies to the holodeck, along with Brenda Laurel’s similar notions before her. Essentially, the holodeck is a three-dimensional hologram projector with the computational power necessary to react believably to any actions taken by the human participant. This includes rendering fully-human (or alien) characters with which to converse and projecting environments which the participant may interact with physically. For the moment, we will ignore the as-yet unrealized technology for generating tangible holographic objects, and instead concentrate on the internal logic of a perfect simulator.