Minecraft : Survival and Creative

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The first article on Minecraft showed how this video game came into the practice, ideas and impressions associated with the practice of this video game in therapy.

To go further in the presentation and the reflection that Minecraft brings to therapeutic practice, I first need to present it in a more precise way so that the uninitiated can get an idea of it in order to understand what happens next and so that the initiated can perceive more accurately the technical subtleties in the use of this game.

As I wrote previously, Minecraft is one of the so-called “sandbox” video games, offering almost limitless creative freedom.

We can distinguish two main game modes: Survival mode and Creative mode.

I will first present the characteristics of these two modes, the way I use them in therapy and will end by presenting two other modes that I have adapted to the therapeutic context.

The Survival mode

Several levels of difficulty are proposed: peaceful, easy, normal and difficult. These levels of difficulty intervene mainly in the presence (or not) of the monsters, the power of the damage inflicted by the monsters and the more or less progressive decrease of the hunger bar, which can impact the life bar by dying of hunger.

A last level of difficulty is proposed—the hardcore level in which the difficulty is locked at its maximum, with the player having only one life, and in case of death, he must start the game again from the beginning.

At the start of a Survival game, the player thus chooses his level of difficulty, and a “seed” (a computer code) generates the world in which the player will evolve. This world is composed of regions called biomes that offer varied environments (desert, jungle, mountains, plains, oceans, etc.).

The first second in Minecraft after the generation of the world. Where am I ? What is this world made of ? Life bar is symbolised by hearts, and hunger bar is represented by chicken legs. Below the experience bar and the squares finally represent the quick access to nine inventory boxes.


The character has nothing else but his life bar, his hunger bar and his body, of which we generally only see the arm (the predominantly chosen view is that of subjective vision, i.e. one sees through the character’s eyes).

By taking a little height, a plain, animals and therefore food.

From the easy mode, alternating day/night (every 10 minutes or so) will make monsters appear at night, and the hunger bar will decrease with the passing of time, putting the character in mortal danger. You will therefore have to organise yourself so as not to die of hunger and to protect yourself from the monsters.

The night and its procession of monsters, insecurity, nocturnal fears…

The player will have to create tools, a shelter, weapons and various other objects, transforming materials to obtain new ones.

The first resource to be exploited will be wood, which will be used to make a workbench, the basis of crafting. The player has an inventory in which he can store the different resources that he collects and 4 spaces to make the workbench. By combining certain resources in a certain way, it is possible to create an item.

Inventory with transformation of logs into planks.

Thus, for the workbench, you have to tap your fist on a tree to extract a log, place it in one of the 4 squares of the inventory, which will transform the log into a plank, then place a plank on each of the 4 squares to obtain a workbench.

Manufacturing of the workbench.

The workbench will make it possible to use 9 cells and thus increase the possibility of creating objects and transforming materials.

Making a wooden pickaxe using sticks and boards from logs. To make a stone pickaxe, simply replace the 3 planks with 3 blocks of stone.

With patients who are not used to this game or those who only play games in Creative mode, I provide them with a tablet on which they can access a website which, thanks to its search engine, allows them to find out how to make such and such an object. It is interesting to see how this “plus” is apprehended. For some who value the ability to go and find what one needs oneself, it is a real plus, but for others, it is “too much”; this extra step is a block, the reasons for which will be worked on in therapy to understand what it represents for them. (Not yet ready for autonomy? Not at ease with words? Afraid of not being able to do it? Refers a “school” aspect to the ludic dimension? )

Crafting help, search engine and list of different crafts

As you can see, the list is impressive, and although it is very difficult to remember all of them, it implies that the player has to use his memory to avoid being condemned to constantly consulting somewhere how to make this or that object. Not all players learn Minecraft in the same way, and some know crafts that others don’t know, which gives this game an interesting dimension of knowledge transmission. (I myself was surprised during my apprenticeship that I knew crafts that my fellow players didn’t know—a potentially rewarding element when you are a beginner in front of initiates! )

A player can decide to stay within a restricted perimeter, feed himself when necessary, make a rudimentary shelter, increase little by little the quality of his tools when others will have regular desires to explore, going through the immensity of their world continuously, landing in such-and-such a biome for a moment. Finally, others will settle down by turning their small earthen hut from the beginning into an immense castle with complex mechanisms, farming and breeding so that they will never lack anything; they will exploit all the resources nearby and underground, classifying, tidying up and organising their expeditions for maximum efficiency.

Mountains to explore, water to fish, sand to make glass.

The Survival world of Minecraft is interesting because it imposes limits in a game that wants and defines itself without limits.

Physical limits : the character is subject to gravity because he can injure or kill himself by falling too far, cannot fly or jump more than one block high, can drown if he stays under water too long, can starve to death if he doesn’t eat, can die by being suffocated under sand or gravel or by being burnt in lava and can be killed by monsters.

Resource limits : the player must collect, block after block, the materials needed for what he wants to do. Glass walls? You will have to collect wood to make a workbench, then a wooden pickaxe, collect 8 stones, make an oven, collect sand and fire it in the oven to obtain glass. A block of glass for a block of sand, so a glass house will take time!

Wear limits : tools and weapons wear out as the player uses them, so it will be necessary to provide several spare copies and improve the quality so that they wear out less (change from wooden, stone, iron and diamond tools). Similarly, the animals used as food appear in a limited way, and killing all the animals nearby will force the player to move further and further away to find food unless he is breeding and farming.

Now, normally something is beginning to take shape in the way Minecraft can be approached therapeutically: the diversity of exploitation of this video game allows all its players to apprehend it and to personalise the experience in such a way that it will be specific to each individual. To put it more simply, Minecraft offers such a wealth of gameplay and such freedom of action that it gives everyone the freedom to play the way they want, the way they feel.

So, there are several ways to survive, several ways to face the monsters, several ways to build your little house or your fortress, several ways to organise yourself and several hierarchisations of choices: to make the equipment evolve before exploring further? Favouring supplies before exploring? Exploring with a method or “by feeling” even if it means getting lost?

These ways of playing are a language that the patient transmits during the session and that the therapist must be able to decode in order to understand what the patient wanted to transmit via the video game in the same way that a child who draws during a session gives the therapist something to see. In the same way that a drawing is analysed in the context of a particular problem and in a particular context, a Minecraft session will be analysed in the same way. For it is this context which gives such strength to therapeutic mediation because, let us remember, it is not the game that is therapeutic but the whole client-therapist device—the video game.

The Creative Mode

Of the two modes, this is the one that is the most easily apprehended for a beginner: no need to know anything about crafting, no objects to make, no hunger bar or life bar to manage and no experience bar to grow.

The Creative mode is special in that it frees the player from many of the limitations I have detailed above. In addition to this ease of access to resources and items without the need to know the principles of crafting and collecting the necessary materials, the character becomes immortal, and a last capital ability is added to his arsenal of superpowers: he can fly like Superman and destroy any block with a single punch.

As you can see, this isn’t about embarrassing yourself with the gameplay elements of the Survival mode but about freeing the Creative mode from the limits imposed by Survival. The game experience is therefore totally different, as is the way you invest in it.

Imagine an architect with all the existing materials at his disposal in an unlimited way and with superpowers to manipulate them. By not having to worry about material considerations of resources and physical limitations, there is only one thing left to do: create!

This is the opportunity to realise, to shape desires and wishes to experiment without constraint, to fail and start again without penalty or cost.

It is also the opportunity to embark on an ambitious project, in a realisation that will impress those who will see it, praising and recognising the time spent and/or the technical mastery. Many players have distinguished themselves by publishing their work on the internet, whether it is a unique creation or a reproduction of a landscape or an existing architectural work.

An example of gigantic constructions in Minecraft

This is what the Creative mode looks like :


View in Creative mode, levitating. The hunger and life bar has disappeared, as well as the experience bar. Only the inventory bar remains.
All building blocks are available


All mechanical and electronic components are available.


All decorative blocks are available.


I use the Creative mode like a box filled with Kaplas, thousands of Legos of different shapes and colours, or a blank sheet of paper with all kinds of pens at my disposal.

With digital technology, it is no longer possible to have access to the physical manipulation of building materials, but in return it pushes back the limits of these “real” objects, allowing creativity to be realised more widely: infinite space and infinite availability of materials.

It is obvious that it is not a question of comparing two practices, of opposing two ways of doing things, but of seeing that a new practice has been added to the first, enriching the creativity of children and adolescents in full development. (I am not forgetting the adults who need to escape either!)


The purpose of this article was to make the world of Minecraft appear a little less austere and/or “mysterious” to the uninitiated. It is even possible (I hope!) that an interest in using this video game as a therapeutic mediator is beginning to take shape by projecting itself onto the clinical situations with which therapists are confronted.

The articles that will follow on Minecraft will focus in more detail on a fact of play or a clinical element that emerged during sessions with some patients in order to further feed clinical practices with video games.

But before that, I still have one last article to write. I didn’t content myself with these two classic modes and created two additional worlds to further enrich the use of Minecraft: the Community Survival mode and the Creative Community mode.

This post is also available in: Français

About Bruno BERTHIER

Psychologue Clinicien en libéral Diplômé en 2001 de l'Ecole de Psychologue Praticiens

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