The World Is Not Yours!

A brief commentary tonight since I’ve left it quite late and don’t feel like, you know, thinking. So, yes, yes, I’ve been playing a lot of Minecraft. The game has settled down into this kind of surreal routine of just living there. I have a house, a garden where I grow wheat. I go out onto the balcony to watch the zombies catching fire in the mornings and beat away the creepers when they come too close to my boundary fence. The simple life.

Something Minecraft does particularly well is present you with a world that’s indifferent to you. It’s true that you possess more abilities than the other beings in the world – neither pigs nor skeletons nor sheep can dig, craft, or collect sweet sweet ores. In that sense you have the traditional position as “most powerful person in the world”. But, unlike in most games, the world – the game – doesn’t care. There’s no external sense in which what you do is significant within the confines of the wall. Build a mud hut and cower, build a palace and crow, it’s all the same in the world of the game.

In that sense, Minecraft is quite a nice simulation of a “natural” world. The real natural world around us is similarly indifferent to what we say and do with our lives. Religious and other belief systems aside, there’s no cosmic reason or valuation out there that renders our actions meaningful. And so it is in Minecraft – though it’s definitively a designed world, it’s not designed with your particular significance in mind. If a blocky avatar falls off a cliff and dies in simulated world, who will mourn it?

I recently read that Notch, the developer of Minecraft, is planning on adding some kind of overarching narrative to the game at some point in the future. I kind of hope he doesn’t or that, if he must, he’s careful about not endangering the sweet simplicity of the world’s “just there”ness. It’s a tough balancing act to keep the game interesting, but ultimately I like not being the oh-so-special person in the world, relied upon to save it, or reshape it, or otherwise revolutionise it in some way.

I’m just a guy in a house, growing some wheat and thinking, dreaming about one day making a journey to the mountain I can see off in the distance.

30 October 2010
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