Minecraft Geographic

In my continuing adventures in multiplayer Minecraft lately I’ve had occasion to go on some repetitive walks through the countryside. Having established a home base some distance from the spawn, and often either willfully or unwillingly dying, I’ve had to get back home many times. So, while the spawn is still my spiritual home (I think I’d want to be buried there, under the artificial waterfall), I now have a different geographic home.

Importantly, walking back and forth between this new home and the spawn point has necessitated actually paying attention to the landscape for the first time in a long time. I’m neither staying in one limited place, nor heedlessly running off into the wilderness, but trying to establish a relationship with a specific part of the world that includes a nature walk to get to my house.

Now, I have a very bad sense of direction in Minecraft, so I get lost easily. This has meant having to take my walks quite seriously, paying attention to the shape of the land, particular rock formations and the locations of trees, my position relative to the setting sun of the coastline, and so on.

Especially because most of the walk hasn’t been built up by myself or other players on the server, it means being attentive to the “natural” landscape that Minecraft has generated. Rather than particularly detailed landmarks, there’s a the need to develop a sense of the walk, the look of a particular cliff-face, the location of a pool of water.

Because Minecraft so often seems to be about changing the landscape, rather than preserving it, or just as often about admiring it and moving on, it’s been quite intriguing to develop a more “natural” relationship with a stretch of land that neither I nor anyone else uses for anything. It’s just there, being land, and I walk through it on my way to somewhere else, but attentive to the land as I pass through, both so that I don’t get lost, and because it has a affective significance as “the way home” as well.

It can be tempting to take Minecraft‘s landscapes more and more for granted as you play. Mountains, caves, waterfalls, yadda yadda. It can be particularly tempting to say to yourself, well, the landscape is just computer generated – there’s nothing special about this mountain or this cave, it’s just what was spit out of a random number generator. This thought process lends itself to the “transformation ethos” that is central to traditional playing of the game – it’s a “random” world, so you change it, establish order because that’s what it’s there for.

On the other hand, the world outside the window, the real world, isn’t any different. It’s just there for no particular reason. Mountains, caves, waterfalls, yadda yadda. Expecting a landscape to “be inherently meaningful or suffer the consequences!” misses out on how special it can be that that specific landscape is there at all…

This world, and no other.

3 March 2011
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