DIGITAL LEGO, WITH DRAGONS

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A Game, a Gadget and an App: Tom Standage enjoys the sonnets on his iPad, upgrades his headphones—and does some mining...

From INTELLIGENT LIFE magazine, November/December 2012

A GAME Minecraft
Often likened to digital Lego, Minecraft is a game that lets you build anything you like by combining different blocks in an open 3D landscape. Unlike Lego, though, Minecraft lets you ride the rollercoaster you have built, or roam around your giant castle. Unless you are in “peaceful" mode, monsters come out at night, forcing you to build a shelter before the sun sets. There is a plot of sorts, in which you travel to a realm called The End to defeat a dragon. But the beauty of Minecraft, as of Lego, is that there is no right way to play. You can explore its endless computer-generated landscapes, mine materials, farm animals, craft new items and fight baddies. That said, learning Minecraft’s secrets involves constant online research: there is no manual, which can make it daunting for novices. Luckily the Xbox offers a slightly simplified version of the game with a tutorial mode to get you started. It lets four people play at once on the same Xbox in split-screen mode (provided you have an HDTV). Minecraft’s open-ended nature encourages exploration and co-operation, and the Xbox will bring it a whole new audience.
Minecraft Xbox Edition: about £14 (download from Xbox Live Arcade). For PC & Mac: about £17, minecraft.net. Pocket Edition for Apple & Android: £4.99

A GADGET Bowers & Wilkins P3 headphones
How do you get music to sound good during your commute or morning run? Earbuds are small and light, but tend to sound a bit tinny. Headphones that cover your ears produce a fuller sound, but are often too big and bulky. The P3 headphones from Bowers & Wilkins—a British company that might be described as the Aston Martin of audio—offer a big sound in a small package. They’re light and compact, with an elegant folding design, but they fit firmly over the ears and deliver an artful combination of precision, power and portability.
Bowers & Wilkins P3 headphones: £169.99

AN APP The Sonnets by William Shakespeare
Multimedia editions of books often feel gimmicky. Bolting on audio, video or interactive graphics does not always enhance the text. But this new edition of the sonnets is a revelation. All 154 poems are here, with video readings by a stellar line-up including Sir Patrick Stewart, Stephen Fry and David Tennant—though it is Fiona Shaw’s playful readings that stand out. You get Arden notes alongside the text, analysis from actors and scholars, and a facsimile of the original 1609 edition. But what really brings the sonnets to life is the earthily garrulous commentary by the poet Don Paterson (Authors on Museums, July/Aug 12). The result is an app that sets new standards for literary multimedia.
The Sonnets by William Shakespeare, for iPad: £9.99, from the iTunes Store

Tom Standage is digital editor of The Economist and author of "An Edible History of Humanity"