Endless Supply? An Ecocritical Perspective on Crafting and Resources in Minecraft

Kristopher Purzycki


As seen in The Progress & Freedom Foundation's Magna Carta, early prospectors of the wealth to be had in an economy founded on immaterial, information-based goods nonetheless relied on the language of Nature and ecological themes for describing their motivations. The authors of this libertarian stance evoke a distinctly American rhetoric fueled by notions of exploration, discovery, and of conquest to perpetuate an ideology of Third Wave dominion over the "digital frontier." Another branch of American philosophy, however, is positioned as counteractive to this utilitarian view.

Although their preservationist tenets might seem familiar, Ecocriticism has only recently transcended literary origins to attract multidisciplinary regard and participation. Ecocritics such as Camilo Gomides have urged an expansion of scope to accommodate other art forms, such as film, worth examining from an ecological standpoint. Despite this earnest intention, however, little ecologically-grounded theory has approached computer gaming or explored how virtual worlds perpetuate the hegemonization of natural utilitarianism.

When employed by game designers, Nature is most likely rendered as a degeneration of the dominant technology - as the intrusive rust and decay. On the rare occasion when actually distinguished as an interactive entity within these digital playgrounds, Nature is typically portrayed as a malevolent force to be defeated (often as a result of humanity's trifling). While this trend certainly continues, both casual and serious gamers are increasingly being offered games that rely on a virtual industrialism based on the extraction and repurposing of raw materials. This digital reduction of Nature as a tool necessary only for the survival and success of the player evokes the mythicized early American pioneer, exploring the unknown in search of resources that will ensure survival or wealth. Given the temporal condition of the digital, how do we employ ecocritical concerns towards the preservation of the environment as well as the the overarching concerns for subsequent generations?
Released to the public in 2009, Mojang's Minecraft is played across the globe, having recently approached the landmark 5-millionth unit sold. Playing the game in single-person mode positions the isolated player within an implicitly endless ecology constructed of 8-bit rendered materials; survival and success within a world of near-limitless freedom demands that the land be excavated, harvested, and exploited for material goods. In a digital realm where players are motivated by exploration and this utilitarian harnessing of the landscape's natural resources, Minecraft provides an ideal platform for application of an Ecocritical criteria.

Utilizing ecologically-grounded sensitivities, I will examine Minecraft as the epitome of a computer game genre that necessitates crafting as the primary economic expression of time and resource management. Once this analysis has been procured, the ecological attitudes derived from Minecraft will be compared to other popular computer games that utilize the same resource-based economy such as Blizzard's multiplayer World of Warcraft and Zynga's social games Farmville and Castleville. Once the criteria of eco-utilitarianism is spotlighted within these virtual worlds, further research into these implications and whether the player's relationship with Nature - real and digital - may proceed.