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Minecraft: Mobs, Mods and Mines – How is this Fantasy?

Spoiler Alert! (I bet you didn’t even think this game had one.)

Minecraft by CrowbarTK-HulloWhen you finish Minecraft…What, you can’t finish Minecraft? Are you currently holding aloft your giant rubber pick-axes and announcing how Minecraft is an open-world, creative, survival simulator and has no definitive ending? Well, allow me to be the barer of strange news.

For those not in the know, Minecraft is a game where you begin in a large cube-based landscape. By building tools from the elements you discover you can build a house, mine and protect yourself from ghoulish monsters that spawn in the dead in the night. This game, then, seems to have no end, the only goals self-set by the player in an attempt to cure pathological procrastination. However, in the game you can progress to other dimensions, one of these being called The End. Are we sensing some clever naming protocols here?

In The End is an enormous black dragon, which when defeated acts as a final boss prompting the credits screen. Along with this is a story, written by Julian Gough (@notch) which completely changes how you perceive Minecraft, and the message it is trying to deliver.

At this point, let it be known I have re-written this article about 4000 times in my mind to try and tie this to the central theme I wanted to deliver. I wanted to apply fantasy convention to Minecraft, as if it were a story or novel, much as I did with Pokémon. However, this proved difficult as I did a little digging and discovered this “End Poem”.

waiting for morning by ohmonahBefore delving into this confusion, allow me to illustrate the simpler points as to how Minecraft can be construed as fantastical. On the main level are the creatures, and the kind of story that emerges from them creeping out of the voxel nightscape. Many fanfiction theorists assume that, if Minecraft did have a cohesive narrative, it would be post-apocalyptic in nature. You are the only true human in the world – even the villagers don’t look like you, as if mutated – and being the last human you are tasked to survive in this new landscape. You must forage and mine your way to safety, against the hideous things in the dark. And no wonder it would be post-apocalyptic when cacti can explode, spiders hide in the caves and skeletons have perfect aim every single time they fire their bows and arrows (can you tell I am a little spiteful to the undead in this game). Even simpler still, the dead have risen, there are other hellish dimensions filled with even worse horrors, and there are no humans anywhere.

You can only assume something terrible happened to Earth, or wherever else you may set the Minecraft universe in. Perhaps this is first colonisation? Did Steve – the player character ‘name’ – arrive on a new Earth-like planet and discovered it was really not a good place to live? Who knows. Minecraft doesn’t offer enough cohesive narrative to prompt a decent theory as to the plot, but that is the beauty of the game. You apply your own interpretation to inspire your goals in the world as to what you create. And then there is that end credit poem, that changes things. We’ll come back to that.

Minecraft by DjohaalAs I said though, it comes down to what you apply to the world. So from monstrous mobs we move to human mods, the modifications to the game that really bring Minecraft to life. The best example of this is Feed the Beast, a collection of Mods created and maintained by a large collection of volunteers intending enrich the Minecraft experience. Feed the Beast includes packs for magical creation, building huge industrial landscapes, other dimensions to visit and other crazy modifications of near infinite complexity and creativity. To look at it this way, to say what kind of fantasy story Minecraft becomes is like asking what novel a blank notebook is. The community completely decide what they want out of such an expansive sandbox, building the universes they want to play within. In this regard anything from high fantasy where you have to learn over many real life days how to become the best sorcerer to epic science fiction with the endgame being replicators and machinery I just gave up trying to understand. I’ll personally stick to just cutting down trees and building a hut, but the mods are truly fantastic.

And this leads me back to the “End Poem”. The only way I can even begin to discuss what Minecraft is, if it were anything other than a sandbox universe, is to use this poem. So far it is either a post-apocalyptic vision, or a collection of grounded story archetypes controlled and developed by a heartfelt community. But that isn’t true. And all of this is true. Because of the “End Poem”.

(Here’s the spoiler boys and girls.)

The poem speaks of The Long Dream – a term, I must add, I adore – which essentially explains that humanity is moving up various levels of understanding on a cosmic level. From how I understand it, it is must like ascension, where we are currently existing with a long evolutionary dream that we have some control over. Minecraft is humanities attempt to relive a more simple life. The poem is from the perspective of two higher beings, who muse whether they should interfere with humanity and help them reach the next level of consciousness, agreeing it is best to let us get there ourselves. Minecraft is a dream within a dream (I hope you are keeping up, I only did to a point), where we looked back through our Long Dream (reality) and decided to play with something old. This is wonderful meta. Reality and gaming are all one big experiment created subconsciously and consciously by humanity to better their understanding of a universe we cannot yet comprehend.

Enderman Robot by Iya-Kandie-RedIn this regard, Minecraft becomes a wonderful philosophical conversation about gaming culture and humanity. In the former, it goes against the grain that gaming culture promotes violence (which, I will add, I do not believe in, though this is an infinitely longer debate not for now), but rather that gaming can promote key thinking, understanding and to a point enlightenment. And the latter merely expresses a love for a species as curious and wonderful as our own.

The story of Minecraft then are akin to those lovely old school science fictions, with sprawling worlds, where humanity is visited by something extraneous and incomprehensible, enlightening us rather than destroying us. At the end of the day, though Minecraft may have exploding cacti and LEGO zombies, it in fact promotes the kind of creativity that advances humanity rather than stopping it. And the “End Poem” merely creates a meta-universe of science fiction ascension, enlightenment and beautiful curiosity. This is one of my favourite kinds of science fiction, the one that shows humanity as the curious beast we are, building to something bigger and newer. We aren’t just destructive and evil. We are open and kind.

I would heavily suggest reading the “End Poem”, even if you are not a Minecraft fan, as Julian Gough has written a beautiful little short story about what it means to be human, or more than human. Minecraft is the mentality of creation over destruction, and everyone needs more of that in their stories, and lives.

Title image by Djohaal.

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One Comment

  1. Avatar Bibliotropic says:

    Interesting. I’ve never done enough in Minecraft to feel comfortable tackling the whole End part, but I’ve played it for hours and hours and over time came up with my own little mental story behind it. I always seem to play as if I’m an android sent to terraform a new planet and set it up for eventual colonization, only to discover signs that the planet wasn’t actually an uninhabited as my human overlords seemed to think. No idea why I play this way. Honestly, it’s a game that doesn’t even need a story behind it to be endlessly entertaining! But that’s what always came to mind, as I suspect it came to the minds of dozens of other players. The fact that it actually has a story is interesting, and makes me want to push further ahead in the game so that I can experience more of it.

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