For my son’s 6th birthday, we bought him Minecraft for the PS4. As he’d been spending a lot of time watching gamers playing it on YouTube Kids, we thought he might like to experience the game for himself rather than just passively watching other people. I had always thought of it as “that stupid game with the blocks”, which now feels like a terribly unfair and disparaging comment, especially when it pops into my head in the wee small hours while I’m branch mining with an enchanted pickaxe, as my dry, unblinking eyes scan subterranean tunnels for rich seams of diamond, emerald, lapis lazuli and redstone.
I have to confess to being completely addicted.
The world I’ve created for myself is called ‘Daddyopolis’, and it’s been my comforting little refuge for the last six months while the outside world has continued to be ravaged by COVID. Here’s the tour, whether you’re interested or not!
This was the very first thing I built in Minecraft after I decided to throw myself into the game without any real understanding of how anything worked. It’s called The Hideaway because I hastily built it around myself (with dirt blocks, initially) in order to survive hostile mobs wandering about the place at night. I was cocooned there for my first few gaming sessions – hidden away – timidly waiting out the long nights before emerging into bright sunlight each day in a frenzy of orientation, exploration and tree felling. Starting a new game in Minecraft is like waking up after a brutal stag-do when your mates have removed anything remotely useful from your pockets and somehow transported you to a remote Hebridean island while unconscious. It’s utterly bewildering. Where to start? What to do? How to survive? But you get there, eventually.
The Hideaway is rarely visited these days, but my little bothy – something of a patchwork eyesore – stands as a reminder of where it all began.
If Minecraft did blue plaques, this building would have one right next to the front door to commemorate the fact that it was here, in this two-storey building cobbled together with blocks of birch and oak, that I discovered how to make glass using my newly built furnace. By smelting blocks of sand, I created WINDOWS! It was a strangely exhilarating moment. I felt like Barney in Stig of the Dump when he had his epiphanic idea to make rudimentary windows out of jam jars in Stig’s cave. I was puffed up with an inflated sense of my own cleverness for a while. Sure, on the one hand, you have someone like NASA mathematician Katherine Johnson, who calculated orbital trajectories for the Apollo missions, but on the other, you have me with my 16 awesome windows.
We named this building ‘The Farmhouse’ due to its rusticity and because we tilled the surrounding land and planted a shitload of crops that we regularly harvested but never quite knew what to do with initially. (We’re now like the Warburton family. Our next building project may well have to be bread-based to reduce our extensive supplies. Focaccia roof, pumpernickel walls, bagel door handles, baguette draught excluder etc.)
I don’t know why we called this ‘The Castle’? Beyond the cobblestone exterior, it’s not very castle-like at all. If anything, it’s like a Grand Designs barn conversion, with balconies, a mezzanine floor, a roof-top viewing platform and a submerged, glass-encased enchantment room lined with bookcases that I stole from a woodland mansion (which Kevin McCloud would gently mock for being a self-indulgent modification to the original architectural vision – “look, we all like an enchanted sword…but you’ve left yourself no room for a toilet.”). Buoyed by the raging success of my furnace-produced windows, it also has a ridiculously massive skylight through which you can witness the beauty of twilight giving way to nightfall. It took several evenings to construct, but it was my first ‘proper’ building – considered, elaborate, and imposing.
I didn’t really build the castle for me; I made it for my son. By this point, he’d cottoned on to my late-night excursions into the world of Minecraft and was curious about Daddyopolis. So I had to practice what I regularly preach to my sons…and share my toys. It means I occasionally have to fix a rictus smile on my face when he shows me new additions to my world. Like the time he liberally used redstone as a floor decoration in the castle (in a time when I thought it was a rare commodity before we’d mined 100 tonnes of the stuff). Or the stonecutter he placed in the bedroom recently, with a serrated blade whirring menacingly about an inch from my pillow. It was like something a well-meaning Mr Bennett might have done to zhuzh up Tony Hart’s bedroom. He also randomly mounted a hopper on the wall inside the castle, which he said would be useful for storage. It’s like sharing a house with someone who’s addicted to repurposing all manner of crap from the local reclamation yard. That said, I wouldn’t get rid of any of it. It’s my son’s contribution to our little world, and I’m hugely sentimental about it.
He also does things that melt my heart, like when he sprinkled bonemeal around outside the castle recently, which instantly transformed my very dull and orderly front lawn into a sea of beautiful wildflowers and tall grass. He also made me gold armour once, so I would have something “fancy” to wear when mining. “That’s so lovely of you!” I said. “How much of my gold have you burned through to do that? It’s absolutely fine! But seriously, how much?” I asked probingly.
This homage to Brutalism looms over Daddyopolis and is visible for miles in all directions. I created it as a landmark because I kept getting hopelessly lost whenever I went off adventuring. It has a basement with stairs that lead down to a series of deep, interconnected mines. Oh, and there’s a bed at the very top, which is a dizzying hike up nine flights of stairs if you’re feeling sleepy. But the more I look at it, the more it resembles a soulless prison watchtower. This general vibe was later enhanced when my son, for reasons unknown, got rid of all the windows in the tower and replaced them with iron bars.
My son built this small, dark, windowless, cobblestone structure for our tamed wolves to sleep in – but they never do. I get the impression that its disuse is a bone of contention. “You never let the dogs sleep in there,” he says.
I know…because I’ve seen Papillon.
This little project began when I asked myself: what would happen if I bored through a mountain? Around 20 pickaxes later, I found out: I hacked through a wall into a mine and was set upon by various mobs. I wasn’t expecting there to be a celebratory air about the place, where I would shake hands with a Creeper, pop the cork on some champagne and cheerfully exchange flags, but still.
It’s a very long tunnel that gets you from the castle’s front door to the summit of the nearest mountain in super quick time. There are two sets of stairs down to some very deep mines and a bedroom with a nice view of the plains. It’s here where we keep the cauldron that we stole from a witch’s hut. However, like hungover students who wake up after a night out to find temporary traffic lights and a ‘men at work’ sign in their bedroom, we have no real idea what to do with it. With my son’s love of all things fancy, he recently laid a white carpet the entire length of the tunnel. Completely impractical in a real-world sense, but very smart-looking in Daddyopolis.
With my son’s superior knowledge of Minecraft, he eventually suggested that we build a Nether portal to open up a gateway from the Overworld to The Nether (a deeply unpleasant, fiery, hell-like dimension). So I was sent off to get the required building materials and do all the dangerous stuff (mining for obsidian down at the mob-infested lava levels); he oversaw the construction of the portal itself.
Unfortunately, the first time my son transported himself to The Nether, he was attacked by a Ghast, which subsequently extinguished our portal’s swirling, violet vortex. He shouted out in a tearful panic, threw the controller at me as if it had suddenly turned into a live grenade in his hands, and turned away from the TV, unable to watch. Trapped in The Nether, with a return to Daddyopolis seemingly impossible, I couldn’t even muster my rictus smile. It was icy between us for a day or two.
To cut a long story short: I got us back. But while I’m on the subject of portals, I forgot to mention that we have two of them. Sadly, the second portal stands as a painful reminder that there are people in this world cruelly preying on 46-year-old loser dads like me by churning out tantalising Minecraft video tutorials, which, it turns out, are nothing more than time-wasting bollocks for clicks and likes.
If I’m honest, most of my endeavours in Minecraft are pitiful attempts to wow my son, which is what led me to YouTube one night after stumbling across a portal design that could transport players to a ‘Paw Patrol Dimension’. What a hero I would be if I could pull that off, I thought.
“Did you do anything in Minecraft last night, Daddy?”
“Oh, not much. I JUST OPENED A ‘PAW-TAL’ TO ADVENTURE BAY, THAT’S ALL!!” (My little pawtal joke would probably fail to land, but how excited he would be!)
So I watched an irritating YouTuber blather on about how to do it, spent hours shearing a load of bewildered sheep for their wool blocks – dyeing some red as instructed – then arranged them in a very particular configuration around my portal. The result: I stepped through the gateway expecting to meet Ryder but instead found myself back in The Nether, legs aflame. It was a truly deflating outcome. I was a stupid, gullible old fool, standing there with my legs sizzling and crackling away, my health deteriorating rapidly, yet still half-expecting Marshall to clumsily rush to my aid with a fire hose. It’s incredible what a willingness to believe can get you doing.
The Lakeside Cabin
Situated on a lake at the furthermost edge of Daddyopolis – with an unexplored frontier on its doorstep – this cabin has a wooden ‘A Frame’ roof, a jetty, and a working fireplace, which can be turned on and off as required. Thanks to a genuinely helpful YouTube tutorial (not one that promised the Paw Patrol theme tune every time I switched on the fire), I made it work with a system of redstone-powered levers, pistons and dispensers, which was so complex that I had to enclose it all in an engine house tacked onto the side of the cabin. But as achievements go, it certainly eclipsed my farmhouse windows. And best of all – it wowed my son. Inter-dimensional portals aside, all it took was some home heating.
So that’s the tour of Daddyopolis, a world free of pandemics and lockdowns and dickheads and flags and nonsense. I honestly didn’t think this game would do anything for me, but I’ve adored playing it with my son. It’s been a very comforting place to be, that stupid game with the blocks.