on MineCraft and Garudas pt. 1

IMG_3717Recently my 7 year old son discovered MineCraft, a relatively benign video game that involves building worlds, kingdoms, domains, palaces, whatever you wants, out of blocks and chunks of pixelated nothing.

CBC recently ran a piece on MineCraft and education.  Some teachers are embracing the game as a teaching tool.  They interviewed a class or school club that was all about it. They talked about how it works, how it engages young people, the skills it delivers, and resources available for parents to help their children get started.  The students described a tower or temple they had built in the club.  They were clearly proud and excited about it and reported that it had taken either two hours or two months to build (different kids said different things–cute.)  At the end, the teacher said that the point was that here, in MineCraft, these students can experience something they can’t in real life- the experience of creating something.

Whether or not MineCraft, or video games in general, have any virtue, educational or otherwise is not what this provoked for me.  It was the underlying feeling of the last statement that left an impression.

In real life you can’t create a tower.

There is a tangle here that needs to be unravelled with careful bravery.  When we feel that the momentum of society will play itself out, and that the general direction is toward entropy and defeat of humanity, there is a feeling that we can’t really do anything.  We can’t really build anything, or at least we can’t build anything worthy.  Even if we could create something, the things society has built have proven corrupt and destructive.  Empire building has brought about massive human destruction, business building has brought rampant environmental destruction.  The effigies of ego wrought by acts of creation are no longer appropriate.

With that feeling in the background, the way forward seems to be either passive or critical.  The passive approach is to assume there is nothing to do but survive in this world.  We must gather the skills and conditions we need to get by and hopefully have some fun.  Life is experienced mostly as a screen- something to watch and respond to, but not to fundamentally shape, unless we are literally in screen world, playing MineCraft.  We don’t feel like full participants in the co-creation of society.

The critical approach is about taking things apart and revealing their weaknesses.  This approach is sharper, more engaged, and highly intelligent.  It is being wary of assumptions, and examining complexity.  It is seeing through the surface stories and appearances of things, unveiling the hidden stories in Disney movies, smelling the starvation in a cup of Starbucks.  Higher education is especially geared toward this approach, but its ethos is not limited to academia.  It pervades our culture (we weren’t really surprised by Robb Stark’s demise were we?  It was his fate for having the audacity to embark on a noble venture, and for being a character in a postmodern novel).

We need this active, swordlike intelligence.  Without it we would be in the Middle Ages or the Tea Party.  The problem is the way it intertwines with the passive, defeated mind frame and yields up a sense of nihilistic pointlessness.  We feel that everything falls apart under analysis, revealing its underlying corruption.  So the only safe place to build a tower is in a fake world.


7 thoughts on “on MineCraft and Garudas pt. 1

  1. Hi Noel, interesting perspective. Do think however people are more readily engaging, or at least wanting/willing to engage with the creation of their world and that the cultural structures and habitus that determines how individuals and groups can engage is shifting. Co-creation is a truely human endeavour, I would say a birthright. Positions of previliage and power hold a responsibility to offer support for open co-creation, but instead are often threatened by it. Equally, surely those who do not ‘have the ability to build a tower in real life’ do not have less ability or impetus to engage.
    I agree that the interesting point is where the active and the passive meets.
    Minecraft has different settings when you start creating a world: survival mode or creative mode a koan in itself.

    Read your post to my teen daughter who plays Minecraft, and she felt that the perspective you offered is unlikely to be the motivation and experience of kids playing the game.

    After reading your article, we’ve created a new world in Minecraft: we called it Shambhala.

    Thanks again for your thoughts.

  2. I generally agree with your main point.

    From the perspective of embracing what is, I’ve been exploring how Minecraft might fit our culture. I’d like to see our children working together to build a society on a Minecraft island with buildings for governance, Protection, arts, living spaces, meeting spaces, sacred spaces, perhaps even a place that presents challenges to walking side by side. There might be three islands that have guidelines that progress from mostly unstructured to one with a development plan and mandala layout.

  3. Thanks for the comments friends.
    Just to clarify, I really don’t have much to say about Minecraft. I’m not saying the game is negative or that kids or adults who play the game are likely to have any particular attitude or motivation. What I’m trying to point toward is that there is a sense of disempowerment that is prevalent in our entire culture. I experience it, and I definitely see it in my students. It’s a feeling that we can’t do anything about the way the world is. We feel more like observers rather than co-creators of our world. It’s very easy to pass on this sense of disempowerment to others- we transmit it in the way we speak and act and respond to things. Those who are in positions of heightened cultural transmission, like teachers, will convey entire world views through simple comments and gestures.

  4. This post has really stuck with me. I hope you will write more or dialog in this vein of thought, perhaps in how community or society might fold in. For example, if one were want to eat less meat and doesn’t have swordlike intelligence yet, how does one either make that selection or find the “thought leader” to guide them? Beef was supposedly seven times worse than all other meats but the latest study says it’s on par with other meats. Seafood is generally good for you and has environmental ratings but a family would typically eat one to thirty creature(s) per meal as opposed to feeding a family for a year with beef. Then there is price, was it grown locally, antibiotics, pollution, who financed it, flavor, the time it takes to get to the store, social norms of friends and guests, what the children will eat, the undeniable efficiency of factory farming and big company logistics and gathering information on how animals are treated. My point is that complexity and choice is increasing exponentially, shifting daily and, as you say, causing destruction of our world. I can imagine various Shambhala practices to relate with when one experiences juggernaut, a huge, powerful, and overwhelming force or institution, and, of course, there is community, experts and just doing best with what you have, but it still feels like leaping an ever growing chasm mostly alone.

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