Tag Archives: Minecraft

Freedom of action

Trailhead: Tom Chatfield. "Ending an endless game: an interview with Julian Gough, author of Minecraft's epic finale". Boing Boing (2012-01-09).

TC: It always seems to me there are two approaches to stories in games. The first is where the story is a linear thing, albeit with many branches, and you trot along making decisions and progressing through a plot that has been scripted in advance. And the second is what I call environmental story-telling: where everything is simply there to be discovered, and rather than a plot progressing as you take actions, the real narrative occurs as you piece together how the world you're in came to be like this.

Most games have a mixture of these things. But I always worry that there is something fundamentally bogus about the first type of story-telling in a game, because it betrays the power of games as a medium: you're squandering the chance to build a truly exciting, coherent other world based on allowing a player freedom of action.

Again talking about Minecraft... sorry, I'll grow up tomorrow or next week or next life, I don't know.

I don't have much interest in the question "are games art?" They can be. I guess. I don't play many games. Or make much art. I'm not who you to give an answer.

The distinction in the quoted bit above is interesting though: a good game can allow the player to be free to make art. A linear model is just completing a task, like work. An open model gives some rules for how things work, but what you create, and when, and why, and how much, and on and on, is up to the player. What does it mean to win? To play?

I found the freedom hard to deal with. I aimed for a conventional metric: collect as many resources as possible. Then I gave that up because it was boring. Dig dig dig smelt smelt smelt repeat repeat repeat. Scale things and wait until some voices Congress from the (game) sky to say "yes, you win, you have so much stuff". Later it became more interesting to build things, and repair things, and train the villagers to do things, and other boring tasks that were... well, about making the (game) world better. There's no logic to it. No rationale. It's not even a real world obviously. That was simply the goal or ethic that emerged while playing.


I mentioned it earlier this week, but like an idiot, I actually downloaded Minecraft on my phone. I'll have to delete that soon. It's a time eater, and to have that time for other things. Just need to explore a few more areas and I'll get rid of it...

Three things catch my attention, scratching itches that I have in an an incredibly effective way:

  1. Over the next hill. Just like going for a hike in the real world, I have this urge to keep wandering the map to see what else is out there. This is crazy and I know it in my brain—it's an infinite map generated from a seed. There is literally—or at least practically—no end to the map. There will always be a next hill to look over.
  2. Keep it local. And there's also local features that make it possible to keep looking and looking right where you are. There are caves and underwater areas and if that gets old, you can just dig yourself down or sideways. There is always more local if you keep digging.
  3. Landscape. Here's the most insane thing: I keep getting this urge to take a picture of the scenery as if I was actually out there walking around and exploring—as if I was going to bring those photos back home to show others where I had been. Look at this mesa, look at this jungle, look at this beach. I know how stupid this urge is—and I've avoided it so far—but it's right there in my brain when I play.

An infinite game is an interesting concept. If I had infinite time to both play and get things done is love to keep playing it, but I don't.