So there I was, alone and lost. I wandered in every direction but nothing looked familiar. Despair set in. I climbed to the top of the highest peak. It was a beautiful view. I could see so far, yet not far enough. I took a deep breath and stepped off. Time stood still as I saw the world rush past. Then it was over. A screen of faded red with the words “You died!” appeared before my eyes. A simple press of the respawn button took me back to the spawn point, my friends weren’t far away. I was home.
Because I happen to know a small boy, I started playing Minecraft awhile ago. Previously I had no interest in such a primitive-looking blocky game — this is the age of high-end photo-realistic graphics. I had grown up with Pac-Man and Donkey-Kong, surely this was a step backwards. But I was wrong, because Minecraft is an open-ended world, inspiring philosophical questions as I play. The objectives in each game are up to me. I can build, explore, fight, or survive.
There are two primary game-modes in Minecraft, survival and creative. In survival mode, it’s you against the elements, chopping trees, digging dirt, mining stone, and building structures. There’s the option to have enemies (zombies, creepers, etc) or to keep it peaceful, where accidental falls are the biggest concern. In creative mode, you’ve got unlimited resources and the ability to fly, nothing can hurt you, you’re free to build elaborate scenes and structures till your heart’s content.
I’ve built significant structures in both modes. Due to the labor involved to obtain and place each piece, survival mode construction tends to be simpler and on a smaller scale. I waver on which mode is my favorite — one requires more investment and risk whereas the other is an unlimited canvas. And in survival mode, exploration feels much more significant. Yet I typically don’t play in survival mode with enemies on as I get a bit too jumpy, but it can certainly be fun once in awhile.
Survival mode reminds me that some frustration and fright can be enjoyable — but it also reminds me how sensitive I am and how intensely I perceive things. It’s quite the philosophical question to wonder whether I’d rather live in the real-world as a creative-mode character. Both lend themselves to feelings of accomplishment, just in different ways. What’s the biggest difference? The fear? In Minecraft there’s no actual pain when a zombie smacks you, yet I’m still overly cautious and eventually shrink from the intesity.
In order to feel the same level of investment in creative-mode, the structures must increase in scale and elaborateness — grand houses and even small cities must manifest. Whereas in survival-mode with enemies on, a simple cave with doors will suffice. In some ways I really like survival-mode with the peaceful setting on, I can explore and camp-out under the stars, gather far-away resources, and build tall structures as a testament to facing a fear of heights.
To me, the real-world has always felt like survival-mode with enemies on. Yet I can’t say that I’ve experienced zombie-like enemies around every corner — but I do primarily hide in my little cave nonetheless. Perhaps those that are externally active see the real-world as survival-mode with the peaceful setting on. Perhaps those that do really big things see the real-world as if it’s in creative-mode, with limitless resources and nothing to fear — or perhaps they achieve as a testament to conquering their fears.
My perception defaults to fearfulness and lack, which makes life a bit uncomfortable. But to be honest, I’ve been bored in creative-mode. Nothing gets the juices flowing like hearing a zombie banging on my wooden door. So again, I’m not sure which mode I’d ultimately pick if I had to play one permanently. There’s something to be said for having a little thrill now and again. If I were designing a world, I suppose I’d dial down the overall intensity, make it harder to get hurt, and have resources easier to find.
Sometimes I wonder if the real-world is a game. But before entering, we each select our own difficulty setting — all experiencing different settings within the same multiplayer environment. Perhaps some players were a bit too ambitious and turned it up to hard. Sometimes they might get overwhelmed and ultimately bail, quitting to start again. In that sense, over-confidence would be the underlying cause of hardship. But if they stick to it, they have the honor of lasting through hard-mode.
Yes, I just wrote a long rambling essay on Minecraft. Deal with it. The theme of this essay though, is the nature of existence and how a virtual-world can serve as a useful metaphor for the real-world. Such tools can help when discussing complex topics because they simplify the conversation. In this particular essay, I reached no particular conclusion but merely recorded an outline of my experiences and set the stage for further discussion.