The Tao of Minecraft Part 1: Power

You’re alone in a harsh hostile world with perils all around you. To compound the problem, there are few resources and you need to find shelter before nightfall. So you dig a hole and cry in it while monsters make horrific noises just outside. This is the world of minecraft and to the outside onlooker it seems like nothing more than digital legos.

Outside observers are likely uninterested or perplexed by the obsession that one might have over such a game. They likely see their children play it, or they know someone who knows someone that likes building vast castles and cities in their blocky pixelly realm.

Admittedly there was a time that I even thought it was stupid. I saw how addicted people got to it, and I told myself that I wanted no part in it. Why would I? I had better stuff to do right? An ex-boyfriend got me to try it long ago, and I remember the odd fear that crept over me as night fell and I heard zombies looming in the darkness. I freaked out, dug a hole and piled the dirt on top of me.

I didn’t pick it up again for years. Never had I felt so beaten by a game. It had gotten to me on this weird primal level that I didn’t quite understand. There was something that got to me about being alone in the dark, with no one to help. Just outside there were monsters waiting to kill me or to blow up my house.

Then it dawned on me. This is how humans once felt all the time. Surely there were no monsters, but this was what it felt like to be prey. Minecraft is not merely digital legos but a simulation of how the majority of humans once lived. The feeling of satisfaction derived from the game is that same satisfaction you receive when overcoming the elements.

There’s something to be said about the current state of the world when a game like Minecraft becomes popular. Why would the people of the first world, who have more money, rights, and choices than most of the world, choose to play a game that forces you to become the master of a hostile world?

I think that the answer lies in some deep primal urges that are unsatisfied by the modern world. Our lives are relatively safe. We don’t have to fight off wolves, and we don’t have to worry about hunting and killing our next meal. We are creatures who lived in a hostile world for thousands of years, but adapted to living in this safe, boring realm of domesticity. It’s a place that is so safe, that it alters our perception of the nature of the planet itself.

Most people living in this world have never known what it means to be homeless. They’ve never known hunger. The most dangerous thing in the first world is the threat of other humans. People dwell in a sea of strangers. We dwell in an odd, uncomfortable place, where people who’ve never even spoken, choose to live practically on top of each other.

When you think about it that way, it starts to make sense. There was a time when people felt a connection to the world they lived in. Everything had a sense of meaning, because life was rough. You had to make everything you owned. A house was something that you either built, or your village built together. You weren’t picky, because food was scarce and you appreciated whatever you could hunt, gather, or farm.

Everything around us looks and feels artificial. We feel disconnected with our lives, and though we have money and safety, we often feel powerless. I myself know that feeling. Often I’ve felt like nothing I do matters, or that I have no meaningful control over my existance. I feel more accomplishment typing this sentence than I’ve felt on any job that I’ve worked.

The lure of Minecraft is in that sense of control you feel as you build a house, and farm your crops. A kind of relaxation passes over me as I mine for resources and change the world as I see fit. I feel a rush as I defend what I’ve built from monsters and spiders. I find solace in knowing everyone in my digital neighborhood, and building a garden.

There is a kind of excitement washing over me as I gather resources and make some place new. It only gets better when I play with friends on a server. But that is a story for another time. I suppose the lesson to be learned here is that despite all we’ve made as a species, we feel powerless. It is only through the process of fighting for everything we have, that we truly feel alive and accomplished. We are so apathetic and jaded, that it takes something like pixelated blocks, to make us feel like we’ve done anything at all.

The power in Minecraft is an illusion. None of it is real. Much like the power we assume we have in our safe secure domeciles. All of it is just as easily taken away from us. Just as a creeper can blow a hole in the front of your castle, a burglar can break into your home and shoot someone you love. Our power is an illusion, and any real order to it all is fleeting like life itself. The only way to derive real power is in the knowledge that nothing is promised, and safety is the lie we tell ourselves to make peace with the chaos just outside our door.

So we lock ourselves into our gilded cages and pretend that everything feels right and normal. People rally in the streets with signs, demanding that we make things safer. But they don’t know that they are demanding that we turn that cage into a larger prison and build bigger and better prison guards. But unlike the world, Minecraft doesn’t lie to you. A hostile world is presented to you, which you are forced to accept. It is world of chaos like our own, where the only sense of order is that which you create, build, and destroy.