Minecraft, music and memory

In a fit of nostalgia, I recently tried to log back into my old Minecraft account, unfortunately to no avail due to some technical difficulties. I was trying to specifically access an old world from around 2014, so, fourth grade, my first world. It was covered in ugly gold and diamond block buildings, statues of each person that ever planned on that LAN world with me as a kid, and a railroad constructed by my dad that went through every structure my lackluster architectural ‘eye’ could slap together.

After sending a message to Microsoft Tech Support, I sat and stared at the corner of my computer for a minute before I opened Spotify, and semi-mindlessly searched up and began listening to the Minecraft soundtrack.

As I listened, I was reminded not only of memories within the game, but also outside of it from the same time, the people who were my best friends a decade ago and who I never speak to anymore, more ghosts than people now, not for any negative reasons, but just because when time passes, things change. I thought about the restaurants where I used to sit in the high chair, the hobbies I’d thought were my passions that I’d abandoned.

This was partially because of my personal history with the Minecraft soundtrack, but also because of the nature of the music itself. C418, the stage name for German musician Daniel Rosenfeld, spins masterful musicianship into each track, layering nostalgic, almost lullaby-like piano chords with meandering baselines and dream-like synth leads. His music is almost intentionally hard to categorize; is it ambient? Is it electronic?

Every other song has a dream-like quality. Some of them sound as if a childhood daydream had a soundtrack to it, while simultaneously sounding like a person’s memories flying by while they take their last breaths. Other songs sound almost inhuman, with a complete focus on synths and Moog arpeggiators, creating a “bigger picture,” “surrounded by nature” effect.

C418 himself describes his music as atmospheric and lonely. In a 2015 interview, he described how playing Minecraft influenced how he composed the music for it. “Even at the very beginning of the game it was a super lonely experience. I kind of like that. Back then they didn’t have the fancy shadows and the geometric shapes. It was kind of…I would call it an ugly game.”

Many Minecraft enthusiasts theorize that the game is actually about loneliness, about exploring a world that has been long abandoned by anyone like the player. Who built the mineshafts? Who trapped the jungle temples?

The soundtrack fades in random tracks every 15 to 20 minutes while you play the game–except when you’re in the End or the Nether, where specific track selections will play, which can sometimes make the benign seem more meaningful. Building a house is one thing, but building a house with ‘Mice on Venus’ in the background puts it in a completely different emotional context. It would have been so easy for the game developers to produce generic, droning tones for the soundtrack, but they didn’t, and it transformed a sandbox survival game into something more meaningful.

The comments on any Minecraft soundtrack Youtube video–of which there are many, since C418 never copyrighted any of the Minecraft tracks–are swarmed with comments about people’s childhoods passing them by, friends who they used to play the game with who naturally faded away from each others’ lives, how those were the “good old days” and they never even knew it. One account, “Oneuca,” commented, “anyone else feel like they want to cry but can’t?” The comment had over six thousand likes.

Each track has its own personality but stays within the overall style that C418 created for the game. Except the music disc “Stal.” I hate Stal.

Though the game is a bit past its prime for high school students, every now and then C418’s songs will sprout up in unexpected places. The background of a Youtube video here, a TikTok sound there. His music lives outside the game design, and also outside of “meme culture,” which is an achievement not all video game music composers can claim.

Music can work a lot like smells when it comes to evoking memories–they can just “place you there.” In fact, a form of dementia treatment and relief comes in the form of music therapy, which works to put those suffering from dementia in a better place, cognitively and emotionally. An article from Mount Desert Hospital, a Maine organization, said music therapy is effective for treating pain, processing grief, strengthening respiratory function and managing stress, among other benefits. Different music can dredge up different memories, places and experiences, or even memories that people hadn’t experienced–ultimately giving those with memory loss a sort of reprieve.

C418’s music defined a generation. The music, for many people, canned a part of their childhood for later–a sample not only of what we were doing as kids but also how we felt. Organically, it’s pretty difficult to just feel like a kid again, but the music can place you there and put your feet on the ground of a world you left behind years ago. We remember a feeling beyond happiness. We remember how happy felt back then: joy without the promise of misery later.


Minecraft music discs