Nerd + Communism etc

Minecraft is a computer game.  This is a post I made on a forum for a particular Minecraft server, which hosts the game in multiplayer.  If you’re unaware of what’s going on in the MC community (or, perhaps, even of its existence), some of this will be very confusing to you, but the major points for lay people are:

1.  Minecraft has been a success because of modding – that is, volunteers reworking or modifying code to create variants on the game.

2.  Minecraft’s (now former) owners, Swedish developer Mojang, have recently begun legal processes to enforce their property rights over a community which has flourished in the grey area between proprietary and open-source software.

3.  Mojang has very recently announced the sale of Minecraft to Microsoft.

Hope you noobs can follow along.

Notch is a billionaire. That blows my mind.

A few things. First, on evil companies. Wauter, I can see some of your points regarding Apple, but as Steve Jobs never sent troops to retain his control of Palo Alto, I wouldn’t quite put him in the same league as Putin. That being said, Apple’s factories in China are pretty horrendous, so I wouldn’t call them a bunch of saints either. As it happens, I think a lot of the accusations of ethical shortcomings against Google also came about because of their business practices in China; specifically, they agreed to the government’s demands to filter out politically unacceptable content, like the Tiananmen square demonstrations and the response. Plus they gather a lot of data on people, which gives them a lot of power, which should be cause for concern if only because no one voted these guys into this powerful position (at least the NSA, as a government agency, is THEORETICALLY accountable to someone… alright, bad example). I would generally agree that microsoft is inherently no more or less evil than any other major capitalist firm. Bill Gates is pretty infamous for unsavoury business practices, but as you point out that’s more a difference of publicity rather than actual actions between Microsoft and Apple.

That being said, the real question here isn’t whether Microsoft is better or worse than Apple or Google, it’s whether it’s better or worse than Mojang. Here, I’m not convinced this buyout is a major game-changer (in the meta sense; sorry to everyone I’m losing with this post). In recent months, Mojang has been operating as you would expect any company which profits from its intellectual property rights to act. In a way, selling out to Microsoft is just confirming the status quo. We’re left with the same set of problems now as we had a week ago.

The fact is communism and capitalism make poor bedfellows (again, see China). Notch, from what I gather, comes from a background in open source. Open source, the cooperative design and sharing of articles of software, is what’s made Minecraft amazing for us all: it’s what’s allowed bukkit and all the neat mods and minigames that make the game about much more than breaking blocks and putting them on top of other blocks. At the moment, the future of the bukkit project (and, by extension, a lot of minecraft modding projects), along with countless Minecraft servers, is in question due to the decision that Mojang, not Microsoft, has recently made to enforce it’s EULA. I can imagine this has caused a lot of anxiety on Notch’s part: these aren’t his ethics. But capital has its own rules, and the bigger a project gets the less optional they become. I don’t remember whether it was Emerson or Fight Club that said that “The things you own end up owning you.”

It remains to be seen whether Microsoft will find a way to steer the Minecraft project through this current border dispute with the community. Maybe I’m a little less hopeful than I was when Mojang was in charge, because Microsoft has never attempted to disguise its hostility to open source, and has a track record of being extremely aggressive on issues of copyright, but I reckon that’s where Mojang has been heading anyway. That being said, any owner of Minecraft has a definite commercial interest in working with the community and encouraging modding; that’s what makes the property valuable, because it’s what keeps us all engaged. The question is whether they’re capable of doing so.

It’s dangerous to make predictions (c.f. Karl Marx, 1848), but we can at least evaluate some possible scenarios. Scenario one is that Microsoft figures out some position that satisfies their property rights while allowing the community a big enough slice of the pie to stay engaged. In that case, things will continue more or less as before, though we’ll all probably have to update our servers to whatever mod ends up representing the compromise solution, and certain business models are probably defunct (I think the dreams of servers producing a livelihood for members of the community are going down the drain; I’ve been observing the fate of several major servers which are in crisis at the moment over this EULA business). Again, this scenario relies on Microsoft finding some sort of compromise between its interests and those of independent server operators and programmers. Stranger things have happened.

The second scenario is that Microsoft tries to implement a compromise which is either too one-sided or even too slow (a lot of people are already searching for greener pastures) to keep the community on board. As this thread shows, they’ve got a lot of work to do against their own reputation, and they’re not entering the fray during a stable time. So yeah, we could see the end of Minecraft as the massive social phenomenon it has become in the last decade. A lot of servers would shut down, development of mods and plugins would slow to a trickle. Minecraft would end its days as a decent game on the X-box and not much more. But this would be a process, taking months, not days. You’re not going to wake up one morning and discover all of your favourite hangouts are gone.

I would really like to see scenario one come around, because I’m still having fun with this whole thing, but I feel prepared for scenario two. Again, it’s important to remember what makes Minecraft valuable* is the community, because, let’s be honest, in and of itself it’s a rather limited game with graphics for which “retro” is probably being too kind. Community is a slippery concept to define, so much so that I usually avoid using the term altogether, but in this case I’m talking about a network of relationships and a shared set of cultural concepts, and those aren’t going to go away even if this particular game stops being so fun and interesting. Minecraft was only ever a tool for us to find each other and have conversations and adventures together. There will be other tools and other adventures, no matter what happens. It’s hard to imagine something that could do what Minecraft has done. But then, no one, not even Notch, ever predicted that Minecraft would do what Minecraft has done. Minecraft has developed the concept of virtual social space in amazing ways that we don’t just unlearn when we log out. The most important lessons of Minecraft aren’t confined to its universe of creepers and zombies. No one’s got property rights on your friendships or confidence or creativity, even if you can’t hold on to every material thing you involve in those processes.

* I kind of want to get into the distinction here between a thing’s commercial value, called its exchange value, and its inherent beneficial properties, a.k.a. its use value, but I think I’d feel too silly.  [note: my in-game name is also usevalue]

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Experimental text-based horror RPG

Okay.  So my friend Andrew and I were discussing the possibility of some sort of online role-playing gaming.  We toyed around with the idea of skype, then Andrew suggested text-based.  So we had the following impromptu gaming session.  There’s a strong emphasis on horror.  As Andrew points out in line 14, it’s hard to achieve that in a role-playing game.  But I did my best by keeping him in the dark both literally (lines 15-34) and figuratively, by concealing the monster as long as possible (even at the moment of attack, see “a terrible something” at line 103).  In the post-game debrief (lines 140-162) Andrew commented on having felt genuine fear and suspense.
I did my best to convey an immersive world in text, using scent (line 3), sound (line 21), and physical sensations (94, 127).  With the absence of a visual medium (assuming it’s purely text-based, which needn’t be the case, but certainly there are limits on props) these things are important.  The limitations of the medium became especially apparent around lines 68-80.  While my opening description of the cellar at line 2 was quite precise, by that stage Andrew was obviously spatially disoriented.  Apart from the logistical problems posed, this interrupts the immersion of the experience, so it’s something to think about.  And of course there are the technological problems (line 102… you have no idea).  Finally, we were playing diceless, leading to the inevitable player-GM power-struggles, though in this case I like to think they worked out as negotiations.  See Andrew taking the initiative at lines 96 and 113.
Anyway, hope this is of interest to somebody out there in internetland.
  1. James:
  2. By the flickering light of your torch, you appear to be in a wine cellar. Casks line the east and west walls of the narrow corridor. Behind you, to the south, are the stairs leading up. To the north the corridor disappears in darkness.
  3. Your nostrils fill with the scent of old wine, wood, soil, and something else which might be mould.
  4. What do you do?
  5. Dm makes all spot and listen checks in secret too.
  6. Andrew:
  7. I brace myself, take a small sip of holy bourbon from the thask in my overcoat, and plunge sword first into the darkness ahead.
  8. I think txt based is the win
  9. James:
  10. Maybe, yeah.
  11. Torch aloft, you march down the corridor. After taking a few steps you’re startled by the sound of high-pitched laughter.
  12. Andrew:
  13. I scream, half in terror, half because i stub…
  14. ok this already turning into a standard game; the standard of nothing being taken seriously
  15. James:
  16. Oh yeah? You drop your torch. It goes out.
  17. Andrew:
  18. haha
  19. I reach for my flint and oil
  20. James:
  21. You are in utter darkness. You hear a scratching noise behind you.
  22. Andrew:
  23. I swing my blade back towards the noise with the fury that only fear can muster
  24. James:
  25. Your fingers fumble with the flint and steel. You hear something grunting and getting closer…
  26. Your blade touches nothing.
  27. Andrew:
  28. fuck
  29. James:
  30. The sound stops. Silence.
  31. Andrew:
  32. I soak a rag in oil, wrap it around the end of my blade and light it
  33. James:
  34. The flame licks eagerly to life!
  35. You appear to be in a wine cellar.
  36. Andrew:
  37. how big?
  38. James:
  39. The ceiling’s about ten feet tall. There are about ten feet between the rows of casks. The rows disappear in darkness.
  40. Andrew:
  41. I walk, in any direction, looking for an exit
  42. James:
  43. You can see your footprints in the earth floor, so you retrace them.
  44. You reach the base of the stone staircase and start hurrying upward.
  45. You reach the heavy oak door which leads back to the main hall of the castle. Thank goodness!
  46. You lean against the door… But it doesn’t budge.
  47. Andrew:
  48. open
  49. I coat the door in oil and set it alight
  50. James:
  51. After your hurried improvisation below, you have little oil left, but you manage to ignite a small flame.
  52. Andrew:
  53. I wait
  54. I scratch my itchy nose and try to pull my underwear out of my asscrackJames:
  55. The door is thick and the wood is dense and damp. The flame is slow to spread, climbing excruciatingly slowly up the heavy timbers.
  56. You hear a high-pitched cackle resounding up the stairway.
  57. Andrew:
  58. I kick the door
  59. James:
  60. The door is incredible thick, your foot screams in pain.
  61. Andrew:
  62. I tell it to shutup
  63. James:
  64. …but it seems to budge a fraction of an inch.
  65. Andrew:
  66. hrmph
  67. I look for a heavy thing to bash into the door
  68. James:
  69. The laughter seems to be drawing nearer.
  70. Andrew:
  71. wait, where is it coming from?
  72. James:
  73. You’re in a bare stone corridor.
  74. Below.
  75. Staircase, rather.
  76. Andrew:
  77. through the door?
  78. or behind me?
  79. James:
  80. No. Door at the top of the staircase you just climbed. It’s coming from behind, down in the dark.
  81. Andrew:
  82. I call out, who goes there?
  83. (dumbest adventurer ever)
  84. James:
  85. It seems to be picking up speed as it draws closer…
  86. Andrew:
  87. I draw my sword back ready to strike
  88. James:
  91. Andrew:
  92. “come at me, beast!”
  93. James:
  94. The flames have spread over roughly half the door. You feel the heat on your back.
  95. Andrew:
  96. I turn and kick the structurally weakened door
  97. James:
  99. Andrew:
  100. …and leap through the embers as it shatters under my mighty boot
  101. James:
  102. Ugh, losing so many messages. Fucking phone.
  103. As you tumble into the great hall of the castle, a terrible something leaps out of the darkness and latches onto your back.
  104. Andrew:
  105. I grab the dagger off my belt and stab repeatedly over my shoulder
  106. James:
  107. It’s suprisingly light, but the force is like a shot from a crossbow, and it catches you off balance. You roll onto the cold stone floor, the thing riding you down with claws it sinks into your shoulders.
  108. You fumble to gain an angle of attack, slashing wildly.
  109. You roll about on the floor, taking flailing attacks, when suddenly you meet it face-to-face. It’s huge bat-like face grins comically at you. It’s huge eyes seem to bore into your brain…
  110. Your limbs grow weak, relaxed… The dagger slides from your grasp…
  111. Andrew:
  112. “when i bury you, im coming back once a year to piss on your grave!”
  113. i sink my dagger into its eyeball
  114.  James:
  115. My phone… [eds yes, my phone was dropping many messages, but the ellipses also indicate my annoyance and Andrew’s pre-emption of my GM right to conflict resolution.  Whatever.  I get my revenge.]
  116. With a sudden blaze of anger, you seize your blade and thrust. The thing rears back, your dagger protruding from its eye socket, great gouts of blood splashing over you.
  117. Then its maw stretches incredibly wide, and engulfs your face!
  118. Andrew:
  119. I reach up and grab the dagger, stabbing again and again into its face
  120. James:
  121. Fangs pierce your cheek, your chin… The pain shoots through your face.
  122. You fumble for the dagger as the blood pours from multiple puncture wounds…
  123. The thing bites you repeatedly. You see red.
  124. Time seems to stop.
  125. You are lying on a cold stone floor. It’s freezing. You can’t see.
  126. Your face is a throbbing mass of pain, not shooting like before.
  127. Andrew:
  128. I take out the milk of poppy from my coat and take a generous swig
  129. James:
  130. The pain numbs somewhat.
  131. Andrew:
  132. I curse feebly
  133. James:
  134. Some of the liquid spills down your face. Your lips sting, and aren’t apparently fully functional.
  135. The sound is garbled. It hurts to talk.
  136. Andrew:
  137. I take a moment to remember why im in this dungeon…
  138. James:
  139. Suddenly you realise this is all merely a hypothetical example. Your face is intact, though no more attractive, and your sight is restored!
  140. Andrew:
  141. hahahaha
  142. James:
  143. It could work?
  144. Andrew:
  145. I really liked that
  146. I felt genuine suspense waiting for the beast to attack
  147. James:
  148. How about when the light went out?
  149. Andrew:
  150. Fear!
  151. James:
  152. Yeah. I was like “fuck you not taking my dungeon seriously.”
  153. Andrew:
  154. haha
  155. James:
  156. Smell and sound and feel seemed quite handy.
  157. Andrew:
  158. yah
  159. James:
  160. So text-based maybe.
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