I was playing Minecraft with my son the other day and we were exploring a cave. As always there is the anxious advance-n-light process of posting torches around vacant spaces while you try to be prepared for a lurking creeper or skely. But at one point we turned a corner and found our first abandoned mineshaft…and I froze.

As a game designer I’m really interested in the craft of generating an emotional response in a game and it isn’t easy, especially if you want to do so in a non-manipulative way. So in this moment I was struck by a powerful sense of unspecified fear…an incredibly difficult emotion to generate. Way to go Notch!

One of the most visceral lizard-brain things I can think of is the “I thought I was alone” response. It’s what happens when you’re at home late and hear something go bump in the next room. Or when you’re just settling down to sleep on a camping trip and hear something that for all the world sounds like a twig breaking under someone’s foot. It’s exactly the same feeling I had watching Blair Witch Project at various moments like the discovery of the weird stick figures in the woods. It’s like a primordial survival response and finding torches I didn’t light really brought that gut response up like so much acid reflux.

This is game design at it’s best – way to go Mojang…though I’m sure you get that all the time.


  1. I just started playing 1½ weeks ago (nearly 3 years after you posted this) and spotted my first abandoned mineshaft today. I didn’t have that since of fear since I could see it from a safe distance on the surface. I did get sense of excitement though–I even experience vertigo when I’m on the edge of a cliff more than ~40 blocks high.

    seed -2256143256279191889
    Abandoned mineshaft is slightly north of 2000+ due east of spawn point (sorry, I’m on a console version and don’t use maps enough to know the coordinates).
    I really like my seed. Lots of exposed caves, water, and biomes: jungle (spawn), swamp, birch forest, desert, and snow all fairly close, in that order.

    • Thanks for chiming in Mark. 🙂 Since I wrote this post I continue to be impressed by the way Minecraft has been a hotbed for emergent gameplay and unlooked for experiences. Like you, I get that vertigo feeling and in the space between this post and today we had the FANTASTIC experience of building the Redwall set for our adventure game. It was so – much – fun and I came to see that my favorite action was actually landscaping. 🙂
      I hope you continue enjoying Minecraft and would love to hear your thoughts on our project: AbbeyCraft

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