The Glass Mountain Project

I’ve been working on a “project” within Minecraft for the last few days that it finally seems worth mentioning on the blog. Put very plainly, the idea was to start a new world, find a mountain, and then replace the mountain’s surface with glass and hollow out everything else. I can’t quite explain why I want to do this except that it’s some kind of aesthetic need. (Click on the screenshot here to get a slightly better view of progress to date.)

It’s taken a very long time to get as far along as I have because of some important features of the game world. Specifically, Minecraft is great because it is a world, rather than a highly curtailed “story” or other construct. A huge part of the appeal of the glass mountain is that it’s something you can do in the world, but not because it’s something you ought to do, not because it’s something you’re rewarded for doing, and certainly not because it’s easy to do. To make this work I’ve spent a rather large amount of time risking my life for the crucial resource for the project: coal. In order to make a lot of glass, I’ve needed an equivalent amount of sand and a lot of coal, then the time to smelt the sand into blocks of glass. It’s time consuming.

Fortunately enough, I started off on a beach, so sand isn’t a scarce resource. Coal, though, frequently goes hand in hand with caves, and those go hand in hand with zombies and other things that are unfriendly. So my need for coal has led me deep underground as I try to find veins of it. In addition, because I’m doing so much terraforming, my tools are constantly running out, which has led me to need a lot of iron for replacing the tools. Further, because I get beaten up with some regularity, I’ve needed to grow food (wheat), make armour, build a safe-house, and on and on.

What’s wonderful is that my ostensibly trivial project of replacing a mountain with its glass shell equivalent has required all this work. It’s not at all clear to me that there are many games that have this sort of property. It properly connects the aesthetic or artistic domain (making something beautiful) with hard work, something that is vanishingly rare in most games I can think of.

The nuances of the experience that comes about from the twin poles of work and self-expression through landscaping are quite lovely. The contrast between my fearfulness as I explore dark underground caverns looking for coal and then stand in the sunlight carefully replacing block after block with glass is one I feel quite deeply. As much as I dread the exploration, it has a very real purpose beyond the simple interest in exploration that happens in the early days of playing Minecraft.

While there’s a “creative” version of the game that allows you to simply have any of the blocks you want, the process of working for my creation in every sense (staying alive, finding resources, patiently working) is a big part of what makes it seem genuine and special.

It’s quite possibly I’ll never manage to cover the whole mountain (it’s pretty big), but for the moment I am a man on a mission!

1 February 2011
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