Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past few years, you’ve no doubt heard of the super-popular computer game Minecraft. As of May 2020, there were over 126 million active players of Minecraft monthly. That’s a lot of people—particularly young people.
Many adults find the whole Minecraft phenomenon bewildering. After all, why are kids so obsessed with a game whose graphics look straight out of 1985? (The game launched as Minecraft Classic in 2009, in case you’re wondering.) But the premise of Minecraft is actually pretty simple, and the name gives it away: in the game, you “mine” blocks and use the blocks to “craft” whatever you want.
There are two game modes: “survival” mode, in which you have to beat back other players and creatures, and “creative,” which allows you to build to your heart’s content. It’s this simplicity and opportunity for inventiveness that makes Minecraft so appealing to many—you can learn it quickly and play for hours.
Like other online gaming communities, Minecraft players have tons of their own lingo—to the point where it can be hard for the uninitiated to follow what is going on. So, if your kids (or students) are Minecraft-obsessed and you want to keep up with the latest happenings in that digital world, there are a few key terms you will want to know.
In everyday speech, a mob is a group of unruly or unlawful people. The word mob itself is an abbreviation of the Latin expression mōbile vulgus, referring to the fickle crowd, or a general public that is frequently changing. But the word mob in Minecraft has a more tech-y origin.
Richard Bartle, co-creator of one of the earliest Minecraft-type games (MUD1) used the term mobile unit to describe players controlled by the computer. Mobile unit was eventually shortened to mobile and, finally, just mob.
There are 31 types of mobs, or computer-controlled, characters that populate the world of Minecraft (besides the other players). Some mobs are recognizable creatures: zombies, spiders, and so on. Others are more abstract in nature, like drowned. Different mobs have different qualities or skills; some are hostile, others are neutral. One particularly infamous hostile mob is a creeper, a dark green, frowning humanoid with a passion for blowing up.
In survival mode, players have to survive attacks by randomly appearing mobs. That’s the goal of the game.
In the word of Minecraft, players can create worlds with their friends or other communities through the use of servers. A server is a kind of network database, in this case one that holds information about the game. The moderator, or mod, of the server has some control over a variety of settings and rules of that world in Minecraft.
Speaking of moderators, mod can be used in two different ways in the Minecraft universe, or in the world of online gaming generally. The first usage is an abbreviation for moderator, or the person or people in control of the server.
Mod can also be shorthand for modification, as in a change you make to the game, your avatar, or other things. Mods can be downloaded or created using computer code to customize the game. For example, you can download a mod in Minecraft that will give you more options for furniture and accessories.
We are the mods.
PvP stands for player versus player. This expression doesn’t come from Minecraft originally—it’s been used in online multiplayer games since the 1990s.
PvP is one of the many different ways you can play Minecraft under survival mode. In survival mode, you can play alone (single player) or in groups. Or, you can play PvP, or player versus player, against one other person.
In PvP settings, the goal of the game is to attack the other player until they have no more health. It’s that simple.
In the offline world, grief means keen sorrow or regret. But in the world of Minecraft and other online games, like Animal Crossing, a griefer is someone who maliciously destroys other players’ creations or steals from them. It’s not a very nice thing to do, and that’s why many moderators don’t allow it. The word comes from the grief that these players cause for others. How cruel.
Grief is also a Minecraft verb. To grief is to rob or destroy (as in someone’s property). For instance: my fortress was griefed last night, but I’m not sure who would do such a thing!
If you’re trying to keep out griefers, you’ll want the toughest material around to fortify your fortress. Just like on Earth, there are many, many different kinds of materials you can mine in Minecraft (each with slightly different properties), including stone, wood, fire … and obby.
One of the hardest, toughest materials in the world of Minecraft is obsidian. Obsidian, from the Latin Obsiānus (a sloppy typist added the D later), is a type of black volcanic glass. In the real world, you probably wouldn’t want to build your fortress out of it. But in Minecraft, obsidian, or obby, is strong and stackable.
There are dozens of mini-games in Minecraft. One of the oldest, and most popular, of these mini-games is called spleef. Spleef is generally played in a (digital) arena in teams. Spleef games vary slightly but the basic premise is to try to destroy the ground underneath the opposing team so that they fall and lose.
That’s where the name comes from: it is a combination of splat (a reference to the people falling) and grief.
Like many world-building games, your inventory in Minecraft is important. It’s where you hold your weapons, your accessories, your raw materials: everything you need to build the house of your dreams … or win the battle of a lifetime. You can have duplicates of some materials, and they still only take up one slot in your inventory; other items are “unstackable,” meaning there is only one item per slot. For example, a stack of dirt is 64 blocks of dirt (the maximum number possible for one slot). But milk is unstackable, so one milk takes up one slot.
Minecraft players are always trying to figure out how to stack their items (or create mods to stack unstackable items) in order to carry as much stuff as possible. Those of us who pack four suitcases for a weekend getaway (not naming names!) can relate.
Part of what makes Minecraft so much fun is that it is seemingly endlessly customizable. You can build anything you want, use mods to make the game your own, and even create your own mini-games to play within the world. One easy and popular modification is a skin. Skins are designs that modify the appearance of the player’s avatar or the mods’ appearances. You can get skins of any kind: from football jerseys to pirate costumes to a panda bear wearing a Pac-Man tee-shirt. Anything is possible!
The world and language of Minecraft can seem bewildering at first, especially if you’re unfamiliar with the world of online gaming. But once you learn the lingo and the basic tenets of the game, it’s dead simple. You may not become a spleef star anytime soon, but at least now you know what it means to win a round of it!
If video games are your bread and butter, then you should read about the origins of the names of your favorite video game characters!