[How Minecraft Can Teach Us About Sustainability]

Games Added on 29/12/2014

I have recently started playing Minecraft, a game with an open world that consists of small destructible blocks that you can mine, chop, harvest, craft from and build upon. I know that playing Minecraft is one of the most geeky things you can do these days, but just bare with me. This post is actually not about gaming, it is about how the game can help people understand the issues of sustainability.

In the survival mode of Minecraft, your main goal is to survive by hunting and gathering food, killing zombies that want to eat you, make better and better tools, weapons and armour and ultimately cross 2 dimensions to defeat the main boss of the game. While it certainly is an interesting game concept, I was actually the most surprised by the game's ability to teach me the value of renewable resources. In the game, you need to eat periodically and create a shelter to protect yourself from different monsters. You can eat many things - you can hunt cows, sheep, rabbits and chicken and then cook their meat (on a stove you make), or you can gather apples, mushrooms, pumpkins and other things. To build a shelter, you can dig a hole in a mountain or in the ground or build yourself a proper house out of wood, stone or brick. The common theme being that whatever you do to survive, you need to exploit the environment around you.

After my first couple of Minecraft days, I had a basic shelter that I felt relatively safe in carved in a mountain wall and I started running out of food I initially gathered. I also needed to chop more trees for wood, so that I could build more tools and more importantly, doors and torches to make my makeshift home even safer. I set out to explore the area around, happily destroying trees and killing any animal I saw. This provided me with sustenance for another couple of days, after which I had to repeat the process. But this time there was nothing nearby (I killed and destroyed it all!):

I had to venture further, exposing myself to more monsters and the scary night, which is when the terrain is basically covered with zombies, spiders and exploding creeps. Without any armour or weapons, you generally don’t want to be outside at night. This was when I realised that I would have to work towards securing sustainable resources - I would have to plant a tree for each I destroy, get some farming and animal breeding setup close to my home, so that I could secure long-term resources where it was safe. By now, I have created a basic tree line close to my home and built a pen for chicken (I still have to capture the chicken somewhere though!):

The game has taught me that simply exploiting the environment is not an option if I want to survive for long enough to complete the game objectives. But how about non-renewable resources like minerals? In Minecraft, the world is pretty vast and offers a lot of various mineral blocks like iron, gold, diamond, etc. You do have to travel further and further to obtain them though. You can build rail infrastructure to get to distant places, but that costs you even more resources. Just like on Earth, the ability to exploit non-renewable resources is finite. I find myself valuing all the ores I gather in the game and thinking about what tools I need the most to make from them. On Earth, we often fail to think that way. We simply take and take, creating large debts that no one will be able to pay back. Until perhaps we start exploiting asteroids and other planets.

Is this really what the human race is? Exploiters of the Universe, moving from place to place to damage, kill, devour and move on? It currently appears so. I certainly behaved that way the first few days in the game, because it was easy. All animals actually do this, but with the very big difference that they only take what they need to survive. Humans on the other hand are greedy. We want pretty things. We want expensive things. We want new things. We want to buy better social status, more comfort. But it is ultimately not money we buy these things for. It is lives of other living beings we share this planet with. Humanity, it appears, is the most deadly virus in the world.

I think Minecraft is a great example of how our planet works. It makes sustainability even more important than it is in real life, as the game world is considerably smaller than our whole planet is. It is perhaps the vastness of our planet and our short life spans that make us so benevolent towards sustainability and recycling. To an average person, it seems almost unreal that some day we would run out of things to exploit.

But it is never too late to change. It might be too late to save our planet, but not to save other worlds. Perhaps games like Minecraft should be played by more people to help our race realise how destructive uncontrolled expansion is. There is already a Minecraft educational project to help integrate the game for teaching purposes. There is also this video about how renewable energies can be simulated in the Minecraft world. Will this be enough to spread the awareness and take action? Hardly so. It is a good start though.

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