How-To Geek

How To Get Started With Minecraft, a Game Geeks Love


Minecraft is favorite game of many geeks, but not everyone has heard of it. Here’s what it is, why geeks love it so much, and how to get started for yourself.

If you’d rather see the game for yourself, scroll down to the bottom for a How-To Geek video tutorial.

What Is It?

overview shot

Minecraft is a game created by Markus Persson, AKA “Notch,” and the Mojang development team. It’s a free-form sandbox creation game; you can think of it like a virtual Lego world with aspects of Doodle God/Alchemy. Upon starting a game, a vast and intricate world is created, which includes mountains, hill, oceans, natural mines, underground rivers, and so forth.

overview shot 2

You’ll find cows and pigs and chickens roaming around, and at night (there’s a day-night cycle in place) you’ll see some monsters spawn and hunt you down. You can even domesticate wolves, a feature that was recently added to the mix. Everything is based on roughly one-cubic-meter-sized blocks, giving it that pixelated boxy feel, but make no mistake; this game is beautiful.

overview shot night adj

The controls are pretty easy to manage. It uses WASD for movement (replicating the arrow keys) and the mouse is for turning/looking. The Inventory key is E, which brings up all of the stuff you have collected on your person and you equip items for use here, too. You’ll also see a 2×2 grid which you can use for “crafting” tools.


You use the mouse wheel or the number keys to cycle through equipped items. Left-clicking will use an item and clicking and holding will continuously use it. The right mouse button is an “alternative” use; it lets you place objects or fire arrows from a bow. You jump with the Space bar and Left Shift lets you “sneak,” which puts you in a crouching position and prevents you from falling off of edges. All in all, pretty standard FPS controls, which you can change if you like.

There are three major aspects to the game: crafting, mining, and surviving.


There’s no real goal in Minecraft, per se. You go around and build fantastic things in the world using things you can get from the environment. You can chop down trees, dig up dirt, and mine stone, for example. Certain types of blocks you can just place as-is, so you can make a wood house. The important mechanic, however, is crafting. You can put different materials together in different configurations to form different tools and objects. Your inventory screen lets you craft in a 2×2 grid, but you can build a workbench which allows you a 3×3 grid. In general, you put materials in configurations that look like what you want to make. Here’s the configuration for a stone pickaxe:

stone pickaxe

This is for a furnace, which you can use to smelt iron ore into iron, or make sand into glass:


This is for torches:


You can make chests where you can store stuff, too. Between being able to place objects and blocks and being able to create new ones, you make some pretty majestic things. Here’s just a small taste of what you can build:

groff's house

my house

vg cast


underground mine

While you can make useful tools out of wood, it’s not going to be enough for more advanced objects. Iron ore, as well as more durable materials, are found deep underground and to get to them you need to mine. The deeper you go, the more interesting things you’ll come across.

underground cavern

As you can see, mining isn’t just about gathering materials, it’s about exploring the world. That’s as big a part of the allure of Minecraft as building and crafting. And the more you explore, the more likely you are to find rarer materials.



To add to the challenge of the game, you have to survive. Dying doesn’t get rid of your saved game, but you lose everything you were carrying on your person, which can get destroyed before you get back to pick them up. Aside from falling from too high a height, jumping into a pit of lava, or drowning, there are plenty of other ways to die. Let’s take a look at the various baddies that spawn in the Minecraft world.



These guys are pretty easy. They’ll find you and come at you, but they just move in straight lines. You know one’s nearby when you hear a low grunting noise, something you’d expect from a zombie. Upon being exposed to bright light, like sunlight, they’ll burst into flame and die.



Spiders are neutral in the light; they won’t bother you unless you bother them, but they don’t burst into flame either. At night, however, they will attack on sight. They can jump and climb, which means they’re harder to avoid.



Skeletons will look for you and shoot arrows at you. Their ability to attack from a sizeable distance makes them really dangerous, and sometimes you’ll even find them mounted on spiders. Thankfully, Skeletons die in the sunlight, like Zombies.



These things will be the bane of your existence. Upon getting close to you, you’ll hear them sizzle. Another second at close range and they’ll explode, doing massive damage to anything around them and destroying raw materials. Not only do they not die in the sunlight, they can can climb ladders. Tread carefully.

Most monsters need a certain amount of darkness to spawn, so you’ll see them more at night and in underground caverns.

Whether by monsters or by falls, you’re bound to take damage. You can kill pigs to get raw pork, which you can cook in a furnace and eat to regain some health. You can farm to get wheat to make bread, cookies, and cake. You’re also able to change the difficulty so if things are too much for you, set it to “Peaceful” and almost all of the dangerous creatures won’t bother you anymore.

Why Geeks Love It

vg cast night adj

By now, you’ve got an idea of how Minecraft works, but to see it as a geek sees it, you also have to consider the following:

  1. Creativity is required: It’s no secret that creative pastimes can help you be more creative in other areas of life, and Minecraft’s vast world-building potential is the perfect place to unleash it. The possibilities truly are endless.
  2. Cross-platform: Since it’s written in Java, you can play it on whatever operating system you happen to be running at the moment. And, with some Dropbox-magic and know-how, you can take your save files with you wherever you go!
  3. Servers: What’s a good game without online play? Not only can you find and join others’ communities, you can run your own server. There are numerous mods and third-party servers available, too.

Video Tutorial of Your First Day

Getting through your first day in Minecraft can be difficult for beginners, so here’s a video tutorial complete with audio commentary. It’ll show you the basics of how the game works and what to do to survive.


How to survive your first day in Minecraft, Part 1
How to survive your first day in Minecraft, Part 2


Minecraft is currently in beta, which means it’s got some bugs, may be unpolished in places, and things are constantly changing. It’s at a reduced price while it’s in beta – currently €14.95 – and you get access to updates through the final version. There’s also no DRM involved! It’s a good idea to take a look through the copyright notice before you pull the trigger so you know exactly what you’re getting. You can find out all the necessary information at

Yatri Trivedi is a monk-like geek. When he's not overdosing on meditation and geek news of all kinds, he's hacking and tweaking something, often while mumbling in 4 or 5 other languages.

  • Published 04/8/11

Comments (44)

  1. LostMonk37

    It’s a great game. One that my six-year old daughter absolutely loves. I’m always amazed at what she builds. Thank you Notch.

    You can find plenty of Minecraft videos on the net. Some I particularly enjoy are done by PaulSoaresJr on YouTube. His are probably the best, IMO.

    Good article, now go out there and build something.

  2. Bobro

    AWESOME this game is perfect!!! it does adsacly what it was meant to and does it well… dont let the looks fool you this game is huge in scale and lets you run riot and this can mean you need a decent Spec PC… seen some people building Cities out of TNT and then dettonating to watch their machine crash even with 18GB of RAM.

    also check out the USS Enterprise made in mine craft to scale on YouTube!!..

  3. Yoshiyah

    Crappy game with crappy graphics with crappy physics. And to make things worse, the creator of this games wants you to pay $26 dollars for it. Haha! Not from me!

  4. Greg

    did anyone check out the minecraft marathon a few weeks ago at They raised like 10k to japan just by playing this thing.

  5. Felklaw

    Yoshiyah, seriously if you don’t see and appreciate the game for it’s actual beauty and gameplay, not just because it has fully sick AA filtering, then this game, and community is clearly better off without you.
    I bought it at early Aplha to support Notch, and love how it has grown and how much he takes the community’s input to consideration.

    Further to that, thought you might like to add a note to your post that if you have a pair of old Red/Blue glasses laying around, you can also play this in old school 3D mode.
    Inside mines it gets darker and harder using them, but walking around outside, seeing your world in 3D is truly amazing!
    Try to not flinch when in 3D and a skelo is shooting at you.

  6. logically

    Whenever I see minecraft I think of deadmau5 lol!

  7. jon_hill987

    I love Mincraft. It also gives me an excuse to quote Aliens when on MP servers. “We’d better get back, ’cause it’ll be dark soon, and they mostly come at night… mostly. “

  8. Conn

    @Yoshiyah: Is that as far as your English stems? Yes the game may not have the best graphics in the world, but it’s not supposed to and that’s what makes this game so original and so fun. There’s no actual storyline to it and there’s no actual limit to your game play, for as long as you can collect materials, you can build stuff, and since the actual map on minecraft is infinite and constantly generated, it’s impossible for you to run out of materials and therefore your game is never over. as @Felklaw said, the minecraft community is clearly better off without you. It is after all the community that makes minecraft such an awesome game.

  9. Chrunchstick

    I play this game since alpha and its awsome, you never get bored always something to build/mine/kill !!
    And just €15!

  10. Chris

    Pretty neat game. I’m wondering if my computer can handle it. Is the minimum specs listed? I’m guessing they are I’ll have to check it out.

  11. Dave Roberts

    Are all these tributes from sane adults ? Lets go back to ping pong and Space Invaders. This is rubbish, pure and simple. I see someone mentions his six year old loving the game. Yes, that’s about the age this game must be aimed at. Either that or there are a lot of people around with IQ’s below 100. The screen shots here remind me of TeleText – and that was rubbish when it first started and it’s still rubbish now. And the author of the game expects people to pay him for this game – he must be mad. But then again, there are plenty of people out there daft enough to pay up !!

  12. Neko

    @Dave Roberts

    Sane adults with IQs well above 100.

    It always seems to be the dullards that cannot enjoy this game.

  13. Aaron Moorley

    For those of you who don’t want to pay for the absolutely awesome Beta version of Minecraft, or if you are not sure whether or not to buy it, then you can play the Classic version of Minecraft (link on for free.

    I actually wasnt sure about whether or not to buy Minecraft until I played Classic for a little while. I was just amazed at what you could do with things, like exploring a world that you can also shape to however you want.

    Since I have bought the full version (I bought in the Alpha stage), I haven’t looked back, and in fact, 6 of my friends bought it shortly after me due to my feedback on how great the game was.

    Oh, and all of the

  14. Aaron Moorley

    For those of you who don’t want to pay for the absolutely awesome Beta version of Minecraft, or if you are not sure whether or not to buy it, then you can play the Classic version of Minecraft (link on for free.

    I actually wasnt sure about whether or not to buy Minecraft until I played Classic for a little while. I was just amazed at what you could do with things, like exploring a world that you can also shape to however you want.

    Since I have bought the full version (I bought in the Alpha stage), I haven’t looked back, and in fact, 6 of my friends bought it shortly after me due to my feedback on how great the game was.

    Oh, and all of the people that think that the graphics are crap, Minecraft was designed that way.

  15. Doctor

    The best game I have ever consider and bought. IT’s NOT about the graphics thats why they have texture packs lol. BEST GAME EVER

  16. Parent

    My 12 and 7 year old play it and they love it. I like it because it is not violent and lets them use their brain in creating something. I play COD but do not want them playing it. Nice game and enjoyful.

  17. superfahd

    creepers can climb ladders?!?!?

    so scared now!!!!

  18. Tesh

    Minecraft seems like too much of a time investment for me, but it is a beautiful game, to be sure. I’ve always had an appreciation for the simple beauty in 8-bit graphics. And for anyone to insult Space Invaders as an inferior quality of game suggests that they don’t understand this medium at all.

  19. Netwalker

    @Dave Roberts, last time I made the maths Notch had allready earn more than 20 millions of euros with the game. Not bad for something that looks like teletext, huh?

    I’ve seen a lot of people of all ages playing this game. Even made a review for a friend’s podcast, and lots of people got hooked up at once. Not just kids, adults too. The game is the digital equivalent of lego, just with enemies to spice it up. It’s way harder than it looks, It’s very adictive. It reminds me of dungeon keeper, but first person and with way more potential.

    Get a pirate copy and try it, if you are so afraid of wasting your money (Notch already said piracy doesn’t hurt Minecraft and in fact it made the game more suscessful). Maybe you’ll change your mind.

  20. Jaxter cloverfield

    Thanks for sharing i was really wanted to play this game but couldn’t know how to start!

  21. ProstheticHead

    Yatri Trivedi, WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN ALL MY LIFE! This is so cool.

  22. GamerTagGod

    please check out my youtube page and channel, tells you the basics and some good tips. love this game forever been through a lot of the updates. Nice website. @Netwalker this game beats dungeon keeper don’t know if it beats lego though.


  23. DRAGON Sinper

    BEST FLOATING JELLY AND BEST GAMES!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! LOL LOL???????????????????

  24. skittles

    ok so the graphics are cheesy but this is the most addictive game I have ever played.

  25. Diggerjohn111

    I absolutely love Minecraft. I have gotten to the point where I go on “Creeper Hunts”; it’s thrilling, and you can get gun powder to make TNT. It is endless fun and contrary to what some troll said before, it takes skill and intelligence to thrive in this game. The real beauty of this game is seeing what you can build with pixilated blocks. It has all the fun of Lego, but with things trying to kill you.

  26. Luke Carry

    Hi, after seeing this article i feel semi inclined to post a link to my YouTube channel which has all kinds of intersting and helpful minecraft videos which should hopefully bolster your existing interest.

  27. NicWar


    I too love this game :D

  28. chessyang

    add the PC mag demo link? 3day trail or something?

  29. Matt Hoffman

    This game was well worth the $26 some dollars. I play it constantly wherever I am, (sometimes in school :x)
    and it is so much fun to play online with others because you can add mods to the server to enhance gameplay. On my friends server he has a mod that will make you fly if you right click a feather. Lol

  30. CupCake

    please tell me theres a way for me to play for free or online ? pleeeeaaassee i love this game and want to start playing it properly ! please some one

  31. Jeffry

    Ok for those of u who say this game sucks and graphics sucks. u need to rethink, the world is almost 3 times the size of earth. it’s infinite on the horizontal plane!.

    there are some servers which let you play online without paying
    here is one located in Dubai:

    To play online, u need to access the single player exe. here is how:
    1. Enter a wrong username password and it will give u an option to switch to single player
    2. Download the single player exe from here:

    Once ur in the single player exe, click on multilayer and enter the server address:

  32. dlgn

    You didn’t mention slimes. Also, monsters can spawn anywhere dark if it’s big enough.

  33. Joseeltaco

    Slimes are very uncommon as they only spawn in the bottom 16 layers of the map, in big rooms.

  34. leeds

    i tink my is cooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooool

  35. Sorya

    that is awesome and i have been all over this since my mom told me about you video Chris or not that is awesome

  36. Mystic065

    @netwalker I love that game!

  37. Daric

    I need server

  38. Bob

    In the new update of 1.8 has any one seen a randomly spawned village i have and we only started it yesterday on the 27 tues september 2011( this is just for the people hu read it later) funnily enough no wons livin in it im wandering if its herobrine. There was also a mine not far from it completed with supports and minecart tracks but we burnt it down… By accident and it was on creative mode so we were invincible. So if anyone sees aything strange put it on here thanks. Ps we wernt on the map either the map that u can make

  39. Bob

    Are we alone

  40. Bob

    Apparently theres ment to be people in1.9

  41. Bob

    Just clarifying that there is a automatic building option somewhere and i think thats why but still post anything strange cool. Oh and sickly awsome game

  42. matthew

    update your minecraft geeks to 1.9 O_O

  43. matthew

    who knows paulsoaresjrs videos there the best

  44. yadira

    I love this game i have it but it is cracked :( i really love it and i could spend months on trying to get mods for it and texturepacks and this game is very addicting even though i am 8 but i watch people on youtube play it and it inspires me to play my cracked 1.7.8 :D

    P.S: today i got a new wolf :D its named princess and i care for her :DDDDDDDD when i placed a flower on a block of dirt she started sufficating but i was there to save her and i was grateful for her not dying :DD thnx for sharing!

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