Steve Wilson discusses the video game with his M.I.S. (Moralizing Inner Self)
SSW: Hi, I’m Steve.
MIS: Hi, Steve.
SSW: OMG, Minecraft! It’s awesome!
MIS: First of all, aren’t you a little old to be saying either “OMG” or “awesome?”
SSW: Are we in a mood again?
MIS: Are we obsessed with a video game again?
SSW: Do you have to be such a downer? I don’t want to talk about how old I am. I don’t want to think about how old I am. I here to impart interesting information. To get you to open up to the new horizons offered by technology. Being open to new things keeps you young, by the way. Are you even aware of Minecraft?
MIS: Technically, of course, it would be impossible for me not to be aware of it but, and pardon me while I mentally sigh, let’s accept this flimsy excuse for a dialogue. We’re talking about the game where everything is a cube? Where trees, water, and clouds are cubes? Where pigs, cows, chickens and people have bizarre cube heads and cube bodies?
SSW: You know, it already seems like your only response to my heartfelt enthusiasm is going to be to rag on me the way you did about my playing Plants vs Zombies.
MIS: I ragged for very good reason.
SSW: Well, fyi, Minecraft is totally different.
MIS: Really? Totally different from Plants vs Zombies or, God forbid, Sky Odyssey?
SSW: Yes! Plants vs Zombies is a level-based tower defense strategy game with a defined end-point, i.e. a boss battle. Minecraft is an open-ended sandbox exploration game with the additional elements of both survival horror and RPG. Its possibilities are virtually limitless!
MIS: Meaning it is a virtually limitless time sink.
SSW: How did you get so negative?
MIS: I just happen to remember when you used to get lost in creative writing instead of video games.
SSW: Okay, here we go: DOWNER! When you don’t even know what I was about to say.
MIS: That MindGame is uplifting, stimulating, world changing?
SSW: Minecraft. It’s MineCRAFT.
SSW: And I was about to say that what makes the possibilities virtually limitless...
MIS: Is that virtually-actually or actually-actually?
SSW: Shut up! I’m trying to tell you that Minecraft allows you to use a huge range of raw materials to build things. You can experiment endlessly with design and construction in a gaming landscape based on and governed by real-world physics.
MIS: That’s what I always think of when I think of video games: the real world.
SSW: Keep flaunting your ignorance. Painters paint with an understanding of the laws of light. Sculptors work with an in-depth knowledge of anatomy. And the great game designer, Notch, has done the same with physics in Minecraft. The game mirrors real-world principles. For example, stone is a better building material than sand. Iron provides better armor than leather.
MIS: I know. I hardly ever wear my leather armor any more. People sometimes make assumptions about my orientation.
SSW: Can you lay off the sarcasm and let me finish?
MIS: I’m acting out of fear that you will never finish. This game is a WASTE OF TIME!
SSW: This game is an in-depth creative endeavor! I’ve probably explored less than a tenth of the its potential.
MIS: That’s precisely what horrifies me!
SSW: Seriously, I’ve only scratched the surface of the exploration it offers. I’ve traveled a lot in the Overworld and some in the Nether, but I’ve never even made it to the The End.
MIS: The end of the game?
SSW: No, no, no, it’s a place in the game: The End. But I have to find a stronghold. A strongholds is supposed to have a portal to The End. Right now, I don’t even know what The End is.
MIS: You certainly don’t know what the end of play time is.
SSW: Okay, as usual you are over-reacting in your painfully literal-minded way. Are you aware that the main character in Minecraft is rumored to be named “Steve.”
MIS: And thereby, I assume, you imply some cosmological significance?
SSW: I’m just saying.
MIS: What? That this obsession was pre-ordained? Meant to be?
SSW: Look, I can’t help it if I find Minecraft captivating.
MIS: To be clear, by “main character,” you mean your clunky little in-game avatar, who doesn’t even have hands, just grotesque pink cube stumps?
SSW: Dude, very un-PC.
MIS: I beg your pardon. Let me approach from another angle. How many hours have you played Mindcrap at one sitting?
SSW: Well... it’s not like I keep a log.
MIS: The game keeps one. You could check it. I think you just hit F3.
SSW: You know what, I think we’re done here. You’re obviously going to remain closed to true creative expression.
MIS: I am closed to being hunched over a laptop, cultivating carpal tunnel syndrome, pretending that cube things are real, and wearing headphones to even further seal myself off from human interaction.
SSW: I wear headphones because it makes it easier to hear approaching monsters.
MIS: Excuse me? This realistic world governed by the laws of physics has monsters?
SSW: A few, yes. But they’re simply in there to enhance the challenge. They are metaphors for real world obstacles to success. Like -- like if you couldn’t get a loan to capitalize your business.
MIS: You just made that up.
SSW: Not at all. I interpreted an aspect of the game as I experience it.
MIS: Oh! The sad rationalizations! Your real-world game has monsters!
SSW: Don’t make such a big deal out of it. There’s only skeletons, creepers, spiders, zombies and...
MIS: Wait, what? Zombies? The game has ZOMBIES!?
SSW: That’s a total coincidence. I did not know the game had zombies when I bought it.
MIS: Yeah right.
SSW: And actually they’re just annoying, like when you’re in a cave trying to find iron ore or coal or red stone, you’re constantly having to fight them off because they spawn in darkness.
MIS: Spend a lot of time fighting off zombies, do you?
SSW: Will you stop? Zombies are a totally minor part of the game, okay? If you want to talk about monsters...
MIS: Oh I do, I do!
SSW: Then the worst ones are the exploding creepers. You’ll be like all concentrating on something, and a creeper will come up behind you and explode. You get killed and everything you’ve collected gets scattered all over. Then you spawn somewhere far away, like at the last bed you slept in.
MIS: Of course. Makes perfect sense.
SSW: And unless you can get back to where you were killed in like five minutes, you lose all that stuff!
MIS: Yep, just like in the real world. You drop your hammer and don’t pick it up for five minutes, it evaporates!
SSW: That’s an over simplification.
MIS: Oh, pray but let us pursue the subject of the real world. You pointed out that in this game, one of your tasks is to collect raw materials for building things.
SSW: I was trying to say that, yes.
MIS: And you collect the materials with a pick and shovel, do you not?
MIS: So, let’s say you’re realistically gathering some stone with which to build something realistic. Is it not true that you can shatter a cubic meter of stone with a mere three blows of your trusty pickaxe?
SSW: No, smug one. At least not when you start out. At first you can only make a wood pickaxe.
MIS: Am I allowed to point out that any real-world caveman would know better than to make a pickaxe out of wood?
SSW: It’s a leveling-up thing, okay? You can only do the three-hit thing once you craft an iron or diamond pickaxe.
MIS: You can have a diamond pick axe? Who in the real world has a diamond pick axe?
SSW: It’s a simply a representation of the concept of creating better construction tools. It’s, you know, poetic license.
MIS: Fine, fine, let’s move on. So you collect your cubic meter of stone.
SSW: Or sand, or gravel, or dirt, or Nether Wart, or...
MIS: Nether what? Never mind, whatever! My point is, you collect stone blocks and you can carry hundreds and hundreds of them at a time, yes?
SSW: You can carry 64 blocks per inventory slot. And you have, like, I don’t know, a lot of slots.
MIS: And you are aware that in the insignificant backwater we call the real world, a single stack of 64 cubic yards of, let’s just say, granite, would weigh around one hundred and sixteen tons!
SSW: I repeat, to no avail: poetic license. Yes, in reality you’d need trucks or cranes or whatever to move that much rock, but the heart of the game is what you design and build. You accept certain conventions in game mechanics because they enhance game play.
MIS: Sure, if you’re an addict.
SSW: I am not an addict!
MIS: No? Does it ever bother you that you play so long that our mouse hand gets numb?
SSW: Creativity often requires sacrifice.
MIS: It’s not creativity. It’s mind-and-hand-numbing busy work!
SSW: Look, when you watch a movie, do you sit there saying, “This is really just an uncreative two-dimensional representation of reality”?
MIS: Sometimes I go to 3D movies.
SSW: Okay, then do you say, “This is really just an uncreative simulation of three dimensionality on a 2D surface”?
SSW: Stop lying! You make a living writing and directing movies. You cannot mock Minecraft if you live in that universe!
MIS: Ooh, now we’re getting all philosophical. And sounding a little defensive, aren’t we?
SSW: You’re deliberately blind to the artistry! A zillion of people have done a zillion amazing things in Minecraft? One guy built the Starship Enterprise at full scale.
MIS: Full virtual scale. It’s not a real space ship. You do know that, right?
SSW: And another guy made a huge computer that actually works! It covers acres of Minecraft real estate and makes inventive use of the elemental red stone circuitry provided in the game’s tools.
MIS: Does his computer run Windows or Linux?
SSW: You are missing the point!
MIS: I am making the point! He spent untold hours clicking cartoon blocks together so that he could walk his herky-jerky Lego-man across a cheesy Lego countryside and watch his “computer” add 2 plus 2! Not that you’ve done anything nearly as creative, I’ll grant. I’ve seen your sad little one story houses.
SSW: You refuse to recognize that he had to overcome untold obstacles to achieve that goal!
MIS: Like what, boredom? Mouse-hand fatigue?
SSW: Like finding and mining enough coal and iron ore and red stone to make tools, work benches, furnaces and armor. And to cook his food.
MIS: Cook his food? You mean to tell me you can starve to death in cube-ville?
SSW: Don’t pretend you’re unaware that maintaining a health level is a time-honored video game convention. It’s just another parameter you have to monitor. So, yes, you have to hunt for, or raise, cows, pigs, or chickens for food.
MIS: Do the steak and porkchops taste like the chicken?
SSW: You’re exhausting. I’m actually getting pretty good at raising animals. I built some corrals and have a good-sized plot of wheat growing. Lately I’ve been focusing on chickens because you not only get food and eggs from them, but feathers for making arrows. Raising the other animals seemed like a waste of time.
MIS: Heaven knows we wouldn’t want to waste time. But I’d like to be really clear on this point. In order to be able to do all the super-creative design stuff, you have to maintain a cube food supply. You have to till soil, plant wheat, water the wheat, let it grow, harvest it, and then feed it to your animals.
SSW: It’s just a sidebar activity.
MIS: But you do know what it sounds like, don’t you?
SSW: Don’t you dare say it!
SSW: You said it! Wrong! Totally wrong! Farmville is nothing more than a simplistic series of repetitive activities whose primary purpose is to encourage online interaction and, more importantly, online purchases of fantasy farm accoutrements. Minecraft, which you pay for only once, is a creative outlet for serious gamers.
MIS: Yeah? Let’s list a few other creative conventions you accept so seriously. If you pour a single bucket of water on a slope in the game, it turns into a limitless river! If you feed two of your animals wheat you FARM, they immediately have a baby! If you happen to pick up an egg laid by one of those eerily cube-shaped chickens, and you throw that egg on the ground, it makes another chicken!
SSW: Only sometimes. It’s a percentage thing.
MIS: Shut up! I’m on a roll and you know it. And if you chop a block of rock out from under another block of rock, the higher block simply hangs in mid air!
SSW: Not if it’s sand or gravel.
MIS: But if it’s not sand or gravel, the cubic meter of solid rock hangs in mid air! Admit it!
SSW: Poetic license! Poetic license! And for somebody who’s outwardly so judgmental, you know the game surprisingly well.
MIS: I can’t help it! I have to live with you!
SSW: All right, all right, let’s just forget I ever brought it up. I obviously went down the wrong path, mentioning the game’s incontrovertible parallels to reality, since you are obviously going to use a mindlessly literal interpretation to belabor a weak, one-note argument in service of your stunningly anti-creative point of view.
MIS: Wow, for a second there you reminded me you used to be writer.
SSW: Ha-ha. Let the sarcasm continue, when it’s so obvious you’re not even listening to me. If you were, we wouldn’t be... Oh, CRAP! Did you see that? Freaking creeper! He just blew up my storage chests! I had all my diamonds in there!
MIS: Wait, you’ve been playing all this time? I thought you seemed more-than-usually distracted!
SSW: I’m multi-tasking.
MIS: You couldn’t multitask if your life depended on it. That’s it! I’m out of here! You hear me?! I am done trying to save you!
SSW: OMG, come back! I just found a stronghold! I’ve been looking for one forever.
MIS: [fading away] Forever literally.
SSW: But strongholds are where you’re supposed to be able get to The End!
MIS: You are at The End! I am gone! Leaving!
SSW: Only figuratively, of course. So long, loser.
copyright 2013 S.S. Wilson