[This is part of a series of posts on examining the “play” that arises out of sessions in Minecraft. For this post, I examine how playing Minecraft is not unlike trying to tame animals.]
Have you ever just stood still in Minecraft? Have you just examined the world generated around you? Have you done nothing for long stretches of time? The answer to all three of those is probably no. Minecraft is about taking actions, performing, building and destroying. The possible verb combinations in the game are numerous and most people seek out immediately to test all their cases, to examine the world, to play. They go about this by interacting with various things, punching all objects, until they build up the necessary mental grammar to translate the world’s rules and systems into meaningful models for communication. This is not unlike trying to domesticate an animal.
There is the trial period. During this time, you and the animal interact in ways that are confusing to both of you. One of you might take an action that causes pain to the other. The other may attack in responses. This is a time of errors. Each of you is feeling the other out. Both of you are trying to understand the alien other and are going about it by the instincts that each of you bring to the relationship. Your language, body signals and even smell may be sending out messages via form of communication you are not aware of. The animal may be doing the same thing. Both of you learn together through the many mistakes that each of you make. Eventually though, after much time and work, there is an understand, the foundation for the continuing relationship.
Minecraft is interesting in that it does not speak in a way you might understand at first. Despite it practically yelling at you via the mechanics of the world, it takes time for you to understand the various systems. You must take actions that might cause yourself pain, take away health from your character. In order to learn the grammar of the world, you must take chances with yourself, test yourself. The world too can be hurt, but not in a noticeable way. The very existence of the character in the world causes the world to change around it. When the character gets wood from a tree, the tree is destroyed in the process. Although the world never tries to understand the player-character, she is the one learning through the errors. The game is deaf but speaks. The player must listen and then learn from each session.
After the taming begins, there is time where the relationship is based but needs to be fed. Each side must remember the beginning and the continuation. What lessons were learned from the trial period must be remembered. Tempers at mistakes that still happen must still be reined in and controlled. If the relationship is to continue, there must be one who is dominant. One of them must take strides to teach the language of their self to the other. However, the roles can and should be reversed over time. One speaks. One listens. Repeat. Domestication occurs when one, the animal, is trained by the human.
This is where Minecraft differs from the process of taming an animal. While a human might communicate to an animal, and the animal in their way to the human, the relationship is highly one-sided in the game. The players changes things. The more they play, the longer they exist in the world, the more the world is changed. It is mutated. It is evolved. All changes though come about not because of the duality of both existences but because of the player. The player changes the world to match her own needs, her own wants. The world can react, water and lava flows and creatures attack, but time is the only thing holding back the player from true dominance of the space. Instead of listening to the world, the player achieves domestication through force. Through mining and crafting, the materials of the world are transformed into other items that the play might need.
While an animal might be tamed with time, its species lives on despite or on account of it. The animal is an individual. The Minecraft world is not a simple thing. The systems are changed by the existence and work of the player. The pursuit of consumerism, the getting of items of worth to the person, is at the core of the experience. The more time is spent in the world, the more likely the character might find metals and materials that are rare. Exploration is needed in order to find things of worth. Time is needed to produce items that aid the player, that reduce the amount of time needed for certain activities.
The desire of the player is one of conquest, the domestication comes at the cost of the environment. In order to tame the world, the animal in the equation, it must be destroyed and changed through the will and mind of the character. An animal might be tamed. Both time and the willingness to communicate with another sentience is needed. But the world that is generated by Minecraft is tamed at the cost to itself. It is rendered through the will of the player into a creation or waste by the process of the player’s exploration. As the session continue, as players mine and craft, the world is transmuted. Parts are lost in the process of creation, the original position is lost.
The paradise of the original is lost block by block as the play continues. It is an endless fight to maintain what exists, the drive of wanting more drives the player to exceed the limits of the world, to push at its boundaries. The animal is not within a relationship but it dominated by the player over time. Domestication comes from destruction, creation from the chaos of the player in the world. The animal is killed. The world is killed. Dominance wins.