Played some Minecraft multiplayer this evening for the first time in a long, long time. I spent quite a long period standing on a high point just looking out at all the stuff the people who lived there had made, watching them scurry across the landscape, and so on. In fact, I mostly tried not to engage much at all.
The whole thing of there being “other people” in a world put me in mind of the various social online worlds I used to play in in my teens. This is back when it was all textual. In those worlds, you had no actual location in a virtual space beyond your name being associated with the description of a particular “room”. Rather, your presence was more or less entirely related to speaking and “emoting” in that room and other people reading and reacting (by speaking and emoting) to you. Thus, your presence was heavily socially defined, thanks to the medium of expression.
On the other hand, in Minecraft multiplayer I found myself with a very strongly denoted location in space, and with a strong sense of other people’s spatial locations (I could see their little avatars running around or standing nearby). But I felt like I had little or no social location with respect to them. In large part because it’s not very easy to express yourself in Minecraft beyond the global chat box, which is a nice but ineffectual world of talking and reads more like “I, the person at the computer, am writing this” rather than something in character or even something that is inside the world of the game.
In fact, the strongest form of social presence in Minecraft multiplayer is probably something like “shared work”, which I didn’t participate in (much) this time around. There’s a communication not just around building something (as in, the need to communicate to coordinate), but a communication in the very act of building with another person – the shared understanding of the project (and even the contradictions between understandings) is highly social.
Still, a shared project is a rather large and amorphous form of “communing” rather than communicating. If you want to “say” something, then what can you do? At the moment I’ve tried to express myself with repeated jumping (though that was to commune with a creeper who was doing the same thing), and by spinning my head madly around (though that just ends up making you look like a malevolent spirit from a Japanese horror movie).
In short, not doing so well on relating to my fellow survivors.