First, you should probably read Minecraft – A Software Engineer’s Experience Part 1.
August of this past year is a blur to me – a month remembered in terms of Minecraft. I spent the entire month enthralled with the possibilities the open-ended game allowed, playing most evenings and weekends, habitually.
Early on in the game my friends who played with me told me that I needed food to survive. They did this shortly after they had ridded our world of food, slaughtering all of the animals on the island and cooking the resulting meat for their own food stores.
Minecraft emulates the real world with incredible detail in a number of ways, and one of those ways is in spawning an animal every once in a good long while. Two animals can breed to create a baby, and a player can encourage this by feeding the parents.
Feed a cow a bit of wheat, he’ll display love bubbles animating above his head – if he finds another cow, they’ll make a baby. Harvest the cows and you’ll have food to survive, as well as leather to make armor or books or a variety of other things.
A common tactic in the game is to build a fence around a large area, lure a number of animals into the pen and breed them like mad.
That’s the theory, anyway.
Problem is, the infinite-food-supply theory depends on your teammates not killing off all of the animals.
Fortunately, there are other food sources – grass begets wheat begets bread which is fuel for you character to live on for another day.
So, we weren’t all dead, but we could have been had the grass not been an option – or if, perhaps, my jokester teammates harvested all grass on the island and threw the resulting seeds into a pit of lava.
For a little while, I was wondering if this was what my teammates had done – I was already angry about the lack of animals and their carelessness, and a clear-cut conspiracy was forming in my mind while on my first hunt for grass seeds. A short while later I had a farm of wheat going, had some virtual food, and much like real life food – I started to feel better and hate my teammates less.
With food under control I came up with a variety of things to do, and did those things. I was happy in my little island world for an entire real-life month just subsisting on stone-age technology – some bread, a pickaxe, and a sword. I mined for hours and hours, not knowing what I was doing. All I knew was it was pretty hard to find coal, and I needed coal for torches (light) and furnaces. I also needed some other rare elements, iron, and diamond – resources spread throughout the game with distribution algorithms not too far off from real world distributions of these elements.
My friends’ initial carelessness with the animal resources on the island sent me down an conservative environmental path of thought for a while after the food situation was taken care of. In fact, that act of wasting resources in many ways framed the way I interacted with the game for the entire first month I played it – clearly resources were limited, I thought.
I spent a lot of time just gathering stacks and stacks of wood (always being careful to replant the trees afterward), and digging up as much coal and iron and diamond as I could find.
I was an engineer in this Minecraft world, whereas my friends were a real life artist with his life work self-evident in the amazing beautiful things he builds in the game, and a real-life craftsmen who can build things in real life that I could only build in Minecraft. My primary concern, inspired by the experience with resource limitations earlier in the game, was to play resource manager – I would mine and mine and mine, and give resources to my buddies so they could build cool things.
At a certain point in my digging, I started wondering how many game hours I would go before all of the coal was gone. How many blocks of goal does the game have? A few thousand? Probably only a few thousand, right?
Because of this reasoning, I was careful to save my stash of resources and always be sure I used them for a good cause – because the resources would one day run out, and then we’d be stuck in a normal RTS end-game in a world barren of fruit.
Somewhere deep underground, while aimlessly digging around for more whatever, I had a realization based on a memory.
I remembered how when I was younger, my friend and I had thought it would be funny to use the game Pikmin as a manager testing tool – something to gain insight into how a person’s personality would affect their management responsibilities and their employees. If only the companies we worked for would screen out managers hell bent on productivity at any cost, etc.
While digging out yet another 64 stack of stone, far undergound, I mused to myself, “Politicians should have to play this game, that’ll teach them!” – what better way to teach the world about limited resources and ecological ruin than to throw them into a simplistic mini-world simulator on a world where my jerk friends Jon and Justin have greedily killed off all the livestock? Perfect.
Toward the end of August, I was growing bored. I had been on the server nonstop for most of 20+ evenings, and my friends had been on here and there. I felt many times as if I was working alone, and I just ran out of things to try – there were other things to try, I just felt alone and bored – what was the point anymore?
That last weekend of August, my friend Justin joined the game and he asked me if I’d like to go see Jon’s mountain hut, far far away. I said sure, and he told me to prepare with several boats and wait until morning, because the boat trip would take a full 15 minute day to travel *most* of the way. We waited until morning and set out.
Again, like at the very beginning of the game, I followed Justin in a boat toward something much bigger than I expected.
We traveled for what felt like hours, following the coast of this huge desert area called a ‘mesa’ biome. Sure enough, the sun set just before we made it to our “almost there” stopping point.
The distance we traveled by boat impressed me, deeply. For an entire month I had pre-supposed the entire world was perhaps 1000 blocks or 2000 blocks in length on a side, but we had traveled nearly twice that in one day.
During the night, while waiting for day, I told Justin all of this. He laughed, and said: “No way man, the game has a theoretical limitation of 1.4 times the surface area of the Earth.”
All this time I had foolishly taken the simple 8 bit style indie graphics and experience with every game ever made before including big MMOs to mean there was a certain limitation to the game and we were just playing on a big randomly generated block of land – this was untrue. The game’s worlds are proceduraly generated as you discover them – a player nears a 1000×1000 block that’s never been seen before, and the game generates that ‘new area’ on the fly, seamlessly fitting into the 1000×1000 blocks around it.
The worlds of minecraft are so large that you don’t have a map with an “island” and a “mesa” – you have a world with mountains, frozen forests, dark forests full of redwoods, intimidatingly huge oceans, deserts, mesa’s full of clay, open fields, hills, swamps, and more. Each so-called “biome” seemlessly jigsaws into another in such incredibly subtle but amazing ways that you never even think about it, it just looks like “the real world”.
The next morning, we make a half-days travel on foot (about 250 blocks) through some mountains – the first I’ve seen in the game, to Jon’s hut on top of the hill. At the time this was a simple set of four walls and a bed on top of the largest mountain Justin and Jon had ever seen in the game. You could turn your game’s graphics levels up to maximum depth drawing and see for what seemed like miles – mountains in one direction, ocean in another, and unending forest another – it was incredible.
Coincidentally, right around the time we were going to Jon’s hut on the hill, Jon joined the game for the first time I’d ever seen him in-game. He and Justin had played a little while before I joined – they had started our Bay island, and then, they went on a trip. The trip left them in these mountains, and Jon setup a hut and quit for a month.
Justin and I were in Jon’s hut, with a nice wood floor, and I had a bucket of lava in my inventory. I saw that Jon had joined the game, and quickly mused on the chat that “I think we should give Jon a housewarming gift, literally – I have a bucket of lava here in my inventory hang on a sec-”
At precisely the moment I said that, I met Jon’s character in the game for the first time.
By the end of that evening of gaming, Jon had reduced his hilltop house to a solitary bed on a mountain top and moved somewhere secret.
Was it something I said?
We spent that game-night in Justin’s so-called summer getaway – a little hut at ground level below a magnificent mountain that had a lava flow coming out the side. His little summer getaway had a single door and faced a little stream. We fished for a while, but fishing that way was claustrophobic. A moment later, we took a minute with our pickaxes and expanded the house to have plenty of room for two to fish safely – adding a little jaunt around the corner of the stream to the house.
It was at this point that Justin suggested we head back to the bay – another day’s boat ride seeing the mesa that I’d already seen. We had crafted compasses in hand, and knew the coordinates of the bay, so I suggested that instead we try to make it back on foot. Home was over 2500 blocks away and making it home on foot would be a perilous journey we most likely would not survive.
Naturally, Justin was excited about the idea of adventure with potential death, so we started work.
We mined some coal and wood, fished a bit, and stocked up for our trip.
Our trip took us 5 game days, or about an hour and a half of real-life time, and throughout the trip I grew ever more impressed without truly how massive and expansive the game is. Traveling 5 blocks a second on water on a boat everything feels a bit smaller – like looking at cars from an airplane window, but your sense of scale is wrong – so it takes a truly long boat trip or flight to really appreciate how big this world really is.
As we traveled along we saw the tallest trees I’d ever seen, mini grand canyons, and forests that went for miles. We traveled by day and dug in each night, keeping ourselves safe from monsters.
On our second day home we nicked the corner of the massive mesa we had skirted with our boats on the way to the mountains. As night approached, we climbed to the top of this mesa hill and dug in, taking in a magnificent sunset looking out on this cove that was a stark contrast of life and death – a land mass of desert barren of life unceremoniously holding back a beautiful bay full of fish and life. As we watched, we saw monsters in the distance spawn before our eyes and we were happy to be safe at the top of the hill.
Justin had seen it all before and played the game a million times longer than I had, so he generously spent that night fortifying ourselves from the monsters better while I sat there completely useless, taking in the view, and mocking him while I did it.
The next day we set out and quickly found a small town of villagers the game had generated. Villagers will trade you some item for some resource. There are some items you can only get from villagers without a ton of effort, so villages are an exciting find and extremely valuable.
Justin was excited about the village, and I was excited about the fields full sheep of sheep around the village. I named the village sheeptopia. We spent a full day without travel, just roaming around the village and harvesting wool from the sheep. We spent the evening in the village, fending off monsters. The next morning, we marked the village’s coordinates on our shared google document recording such information, and went onward home.
Three game-days later we were home, we took the last stretch by boat and found our way back to the very first spawn point I had spawned on a real-life month ago.
We went to bed and quit the game for the evening.
I went to bed in both real and virtual life that evening feeling conflicted.
I had just witnessed the true natural beauty of the minecraft simulation of the world – untouched by the human virus, unsculpted and strip-mined by the human touch.
I had thus far always preferred trying to leave as much of the natural world the same as before, because my limited skill set would never allow me to recreate the world looking as perfect as it had before I ruined it.
My friend Justin, the artist, may very well have been able to sculpt a convincing hillside atop a huge strip mined hole, but this was beyond my abilities – so I was careful.
When I looked at the hillside with my home, I wanted to see a little jut of glass for my entry way, and nothing more. I did not want to see a row of utilitarian stone boxes like a scourge of industry spreading like a rash across the hillside – I wanted to, if at all possible, leave everything as it was or better.
The natural beauty I had seen on our 5 game day trip back across the world impressed me – it was so beautiful and amazing. We had crossed a thousand procedurally generated lands that melted into each other in such a way that was a close match to true-life nature. I took this all in as we traveled, and enjoyed the simple and yet majestic beauty of the lands we were traversing.
At the end of it all, signed off for the night, ten minutes into real-life bed, the human virus in me awoke. I wanted to see that beauty again, forever. I wanted to *own* some of that beauty.
That night I decided to move my inventory to that same mesa cove overlooking the harsh death vs life simulation and setup a new shop, a new gaudy mansion all my own.
I spent days of game time gutting the insides of that hill – with an aggressive ferocity I had not harbored before. This previously beautiful place was now mine to “improve”, and I wrecked it with abandon.
When was all was said and done – I loved the inside caves of the hill, but walking around outside always reminded me of how pretty the place looked before I arrived, like this:
During that trip with Justin I had seen such beauty, something like a god’s work, and in prime human fashion, I had decided within the span of an hour that I deserved to ruin it, I deserved to be god too.
I also realized making politicians play Minecraft would be a bad idea. They should play the PS3 version, that version is limited to less than 1000 blocks a side – the PC version we were playing had damn near infinite resources, more than we could mine in our entire real-world lifetimes.
And, what do you do when you encounter a supply of something that will last greater than your real-life lifetime? You waste it like it’s going out of style, as fast as possible.
Long gone were my concerns of resource preservation. I no longer cared about precious animals and precious landscapes – I could always take my riches and spoils, and use them to upgrade to another place I had not yet ruined.
Case and point: My very first night back on that mesa, I couldn’t quite make it to the mesa, but I did make it to sheeptopia.
Justin warned me never to sleep in a village at night, because monsters spawn near players and will come eat the villagers.
Jason being Jason, I didn’t listen.
Within a few moments Justin’s chat log was endlessly repeating, every few seconds:
“Jason was killed by a Zombie”
“Jason was eaten by a Spider”
“Jason was killed by a Zombie.”
“Jason was killed by a Creeper”
“Jason was killed by a Skeleton”
“Jason was eaten by a Spider”
“Jason was killed by a Zombie.”
And so on.
Ten minutes later, the most beautiful Minecraft morning on memory dawned and the Sun came up into the sky, causing the hordes of zombies to magically alight in fire and die.
When all was said and done, sheeptopia, the village, was no more – a ghost town stood where once a small village of villagers lived and happily traded goods with us. While I was failing to fight the monsters of the night, those very same monsters killed every last villager in the village.
My greed and carelessness, not unlike my friends’ slaughtering of the bay livestock, had permanently killed off the village.
Ironically, those friends of mine who I was so mad at for being so greedy, those live stock they killed off – they did eventually respawn in the bay, albeit very slowly. The villagers though, they never respawned again – what I had so callously and foolishly done was indeed permanent.
I had been so angry at my jerk friends, so judgemental of their careless ways – then I took a trip and saw amazingly beautiful things, and then I took that experience and decided to turn into a monster I had been decrying all along. From PETA Activist to “Oh well, there’s so much land now, who gives a fuck, it’ll outlast my attention span.” in one short real-life evening.
I had turned into the monster I was so mad about from the beginning. I had yet again proven the rule.
“If you hate something, don’t you do it too?”
I was on my way toward becoming a captain of industry, a major part of a disease slowly spreading across our Minecraft map.
Fuck the environment, let’s get rich. Right? Right.
Continued here: Minecraft – A Software Engineer’s Experience Part 3
Music: 65daysofstatic – Wild Light