PAX East Panel: The Hidden Value of Punching Trees - What Minecraft Teaches Us About Gamer Culture


Posted March 14, 2011 - By Guest Writer

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By Dennis Scimeca

The Hidden Value of Punching Trees


Alex Leavitt, a researcher of Comparative Media Studies at MIT and Microsoft Research, wants us to view Minecraft as a lens through which to view the current state of game culture, but first we have to tackle the question of what "game culture" actually is.

Game culture can be eSports fans hanging on the edges of their seats while they watch a Starcraft match. Or the wonders of the Nintendo Power Glove. Or a skilled Dance Dance Revolution player with one leg, on crutches, rocking out a score that most everyone else could only boggle at. Game culture could be hanging out with friends in World of Warcraft, or breaking our television with a Wii Remote. 

The fact that most of you reading this article will, in all likelihood, be familiar with one or more of the things I just spoke about underscores Leavitt's proposed definition of game culture: "A shared understanding of our cultural interaction with games." Or, to put it another way: game culture is the way people interact with the medium, mechanics, design, and narrative of games. So, what can Minecraft tell us about this culture? Read on to find out.

Game culture is more visible than ever before, owing to the power of ìnetworked communications, i.e. the internet. Minecraft was released in 2009, but didn't really take off until late 2010. Between August of 2010 and today, the number of Minecraft videos on YouTube went from 4,000 to over 800,000. And Minecraft videos are only a subset of a larger phenomena of annotated video game commentary, which Leavitt suggested could become more popular than mainstream television in the future. Through our ability to share our experiences more directly than ever before, we are injecting our culture into avenues which are easily accessible to everyone, not just those who already exist within that culture.

Our ability to collaborate on information sharing and creation has never been greater. Gamers are ìinfo nerds. Minecraft is supported by a huge network of forums and websites and wikis which offer advice and instruction to new players of the game. The lack of a tutorial for Minecraft almost makes this necessary as the first ten minutes in the game can kill the uninformed player. When Leavitt was a kid, he and his friends had to depend on sources like Nintendo Power for their game information. Now we live in an age where the Fallout: New Vegas wiki had over 2 million users contribute information within seven days of the game's release. The World of Warcraft wiki reports 5 million page views per day.

Games are also taking radically different forms than ever before. Technically, Minecraft isn't a finished game. It's still in Beta. And Minecraft is not entirely the product of its creator, Markus Persson. Persson has written about the importance of open development. By taking advantage of the opportunity to implement hacking as part of the game, Persson essentially allowed other people to help him create the game. Social gaming company Zynga, says Leavitt, has been known to release half games, or intentionally unfinished titles, and then use audience feedback to complete them. As game development tools get easier to use, we could be drawing to a future where anyone can make games for everybody.

I think Leavitt's best point was truly saved for last. In Minecraft, when you die, you get the same score as everyone else. It's not about winning or losing, but how you experience the game with other people. And perhaps this is what the rise of Minecraft really portends for game culture: a day when we make games not only to make money on AAA titles, or churn players into Vegas Whales through social games, but to bring us all together just to play games. Marcus Persson didn't design Minecraft to make him money, but to give him the ability to make more games.


PAX East Panel: The Hidden Value of Punching Trees - What Minecraft Teaches Us About Gamer Culture


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