But this most recent time, when things got dull, I decided to become a nomad. Minecraft creates the world as you travel through it, so it’s as infinite as your hard drive can handle. There are wonders to see: vast falls of water and lava, mountains and deserts, forests and grasslands. There are surprises, like the sandstone water temples that appear to be generated alongside the natural features. I have come upon perfectly circular rooms6 deep underground, and watched shoals of squid swim at sunset far out to sea.
But I’m finding this mode of play surprisingly difficult. Not because I’m struggling to feed or defend myself, but because it requires a completely different attitude toward things. The game has an encumbrance model, meaning that I can only carry so much. Everything I keep, necessity or luxury, reduces what else I can pick up. I have had to reconsider my entire way of interacting with possessions in the game.: ... One outlet has been to return to Christo-like gestures: an entire hill covered in torches; a fountain taller than the trees around it. But even that activity is transformed: not only do I have fewer resources to make things with, but when I’m done with them I walk on and leave them behind7. I am collecting the experience of having made them and the memory of the sight of them receding into the unrendered mist behind me. In a finite world, I think I’d disassemble them. The challenge of playing this way makes me think of the conversations we were all having a couple of years ago when the bubbles started to burst, about moving to a post-growth economic model. As we pass peak oil (and peak plastic, and maybe peak cod, and possibly peak dirt), it’s increasingly believable that leaning forward and running to keep up is an unsustainable way to live in the ecological equivalent of a brick-walled house. Perpetual growth is impossible; eventually we run out of atoms.8 We need a new model, something closer to a steady-state universe than a big-bang one. But living in a new paradigm, coming from the old, is even more difficult in meatspace than it is in a virtual world.