Minecraft has got to be one of the most innovative and original games of recent memory. I’ve been playing since the beta release. Not continuously, mind you. I play for a few months, run out of things to build, take a break, and then come back, realizing the team at Mojang has released more content and fixed bugs (and probably also created a few new bugs).
Every time I step into Minecraft, though, I find myself compelled to build churches, crosses, sanctuaries, and other Christian works. It’s usually one of the first things I do when I create a new world. Sometimes I build a giant cross, and cover the entire thing in torches: the cross, then, serves as a luminary landmark when the world gets dark.
Whenever I’ve played Minecraft in the past, I always did so on Survival mode. Creative mode–which gives you unlimited blocks, makes you invincible, and allows you to fly–was always too intimidating. Now that I have all these blocks, what am I supposed to do?
Recently, I came up with an idea for a castle. I spent several weeks working on it, then update 1.7 came. The greatest addition of this update, in my mind, was the inclusion of stained glass windows. A simple addition, I know, compared to all the new biomes they added. With stained glass windows, I could now work on the cathedral I’ve always envisioned.
Creating in Minecraft is a spiritual pursuit
A focus on Creation as a theology is something I often feel lacking in American Christianity. Christians, of course, acknowledge that God created the universe, and many of them say they enjoy “being in creation.” But Creation is more than just stating a fact about who created what.
We are made in the image of God, and that means, we share desires and abilities that God has. God is the only being that can truly Create: make something where nothing existed before. But since the beginning of time, people have mimicked God’s creative side by creating works of art themselves.
What we create isn’t so much important: music, painting, sculpture, architecture, pottery, light bulbs. I believe humans have a need to create, that everybody possess that creative spark, whether they use it or not. And when we create, we should do so as an act of worship.
Minecraft is one of the few video games that is solely about creation. It’s not about destruction. While there is some killing, I believe that killing can be seen in a Christian light, which I’ll get to eventually.
When I play Minecraft, I always want to create bigger and better things. And when I create churches, crosses, and sanctuaries, I want God to be proud. In Minecraft, I can create something out of nothing.
My first Cathedral, a monument to Christ
Creating the Red Cathedral (as I’m calling it for now) took hours of work. I started with a base of sandstone, and from there, added glowstone, quartz, and red and pink stained glass.
The cross was constructed entirely of glowstone, which emits quite a bit of light. Now for those who are unfamiliar with Minecraft, let me explain something about light. The world of Minecraft is inhabited by “mobs,” some friendly, some hostile. The hostile mobs–like zombies and skeletons–only come out at night. They spawn as soon as it gets dark, and when the sun rises, they either burn up or seek shelter under shade.
Hostile mobs can be warded off, though, if an area is bathed in light. Light from torches and glowstone will keep mobs away, as long as the area has a certain level of luminosity.
As I constructed my cathedral, though, I realized that even the light from my massive cross wasn’t enough: the mobs filled the space anyway!
At first I killed the mobs at night: get off my cathedral! But every night, they come back again. No matter how many lights I put up, it was never enough to keep out the mobs.
But after awhile, I stopped killing them. I thought, maybe there’s a metaphor in here somewhere. Perhaps the mobs are simply lost people seeking refuge in the church. Now, I know that’s a silly thought: there’s nothing in the game’s programming that says mobs are attracted to church-like structures. The mobs are simply appearing based on an algorithm. It doesn’t matter what structure I’m constructing.
But then again, Minecraft is one of those games where the player is encouraged to project their own story onto the game world. The game world certainly provides the player with no story. The player, then, is free to create the story that makes sense to them. And this was the story I created.
Minecraft is “procedurally generated,” just like the Universe
Building the Cathedral is repetitive. I do the same thing over and over again, and when I change my mind, I find myself deleting dozens of blocks, only to remake them a few squares away. Building this Cathedral, though, is by no means boring. Rather, I get “into the zone” where I start thinking about spiritual matters, things I wouldn’t normally think about during the hustle and bustle of the day.
The world of Minecraft is “procedurally generated,” which means, the world is created anew each time a person starts a world. Rather than the world being predefined, like almost all video game worlds, the world of Minecraft is created “on the fly,” according to certain rules and parameters (procedures or algorithms). The world initially only renders what the player can see. As I move into new areas, more of the map is generated. This map generation is theoretically infinite, and theoretically different for each player.
Just as the Minecraft world is created according to certain basic rules, so is the Universe. God created a set of rules at the beginning of time: the laws of physics and chemistry. He determined how elements would interact with each other, how gravity would work, how galaxies would function, and so on. And then He created. He set the world in motion, and the Universe has been following these same rules (procedures, algorithms) for 13 billion years. The Universe is expanding every second, and it is being created according to God’s rules, just like the Minecraft world.
The procedural generation in Minecraft, though, isn’t perfect. Sometimes blocks end up floating randomly in the air, just one or two. Sometimes holes appear in the ground, just one or two missing blocks. Sometimes the different biomes don’t mesh properly: older versions of the game used to create frozen lands right next to deserts. In short, glitches enter the system, and as a player, when I see these “mistakes” in my mind, my desire is to fix them, to help my Minecraft world “come into being.”
God’s Universe is also affected by a glitch, the glitch of sin. Sin frustrates Creation. I’m not exactly sure in what ways, but we are told in the Scriptures that Creation is groaning and longing for that day when it will be realized and perfected. When I see mistakes in my Minecraft world, I want to fix them. God, in the same way, is helping His creation come into being. What that looks like, I don’t know. What God does outside of earth, in the Milky Way, in the galaxies beyond our ken, I don’t know.
There is a difference, though, between the glitches in Minecraft and the glitches in the Universe. The glitches in Minecraft are due to imperfect humans creating imperfect software. The glitches in God’s universe aren’t due to an imperfection with his original software, the Law of Nature. Rather, He allows the glitch of sin–but only for a time.
I started adding people, and nothing good resulted
Once I had constructed the two wings of the Red Cathedral, which had doors blocking them off, I started adding Villagers. Villagers are friendly mobs in Minecraft. You can trade items with them, but they aren’t too intelligent. When night comes, Villagers will hole up inside buildings. Hostile mobs, though, try to break down the doors and attack or infect the Villagers. Come morning, they exit their huts and go about their lives.
I added about 15 or so people near my Cathedral. I wasn’t sure what they would do, but I was hoping they’d protect themselves at night. While the Cathedral itself has no front door, they can find safety in the wings.
That first night, the Villagers holed up in the library, bracing against the relentless assault of the zombies.
And here’s the thing: the Villagers did survive the night. But in the morning, not all the mobs burned up. Some of them hid in the shadows. What happened next? I knew this would happen, but I couldn’t prevent it. The Villagers opened the doors too soon, went out in the world, and were promptly slaughtered.
As I reflected on the massacre of the Villagers, I thought, there’s another metaphor buried in this situation. After God freed the Israelites from Egypt, He gave them the Law, the Ten Commandments. The Ten Commandments weren’t about control or making their lives miserable: the Ten Commandments were supposed to protect the Israelites and give them a prosperous life. The Ten Commandments were supposed to protect them from evil. But there’s a catch. For the Ten Commandments to actually protect them, they must be followed.
I gave my Villagers protection. If they stay within the walls at night, and if they don’t open the door in the presence of mobs, they will live. But they couldn’t even follow these two rules. The opened the door anyway, perhaps out of curiosity, perhaps out of ignorance, but they were killed nonetheless.
Now, Minecraft is a game, so I have to play by its rules. I wondered, though, how I could theoretically fix this problem of Villagers not following my rules. Two options came to mind:
Give them weapons. In Minecraft, I carry a sword and bow, but the Villagers don’t have weapons. Perhaps if they had weapons, they could protect themselves from mobs. That sounds good in theory, but if the mobs are really lost souls, then I wouldn’t want the Villagers indiscriminately killing them in my world. Also, I thought, what would happen if the Villagers started using weapons on each other? Something given to protect them, then, would actually end up harming them.
Teach them the rules. Perhaps even better than giving them weapons, though, would be to teach them the rules in a personal way. What if I could become a Villager, speak their language of nasally chirps, and explain to them how to live a better life? That’s what Christ did for humanity. The trick, though, is that I’d want the Villagers to have free will: I’d want them to follow the rules, guidelines, on their own accord. And whenever people have free will, they always have the option of doing what they want, for better or worse.
The completed Red Cathedral
This post has been a capturing of just some of my spiritual reflections while playing Minecraft. I could go on, but this post is getting long enough as it is! I’ll conclude by showing up some more pictures of the completed Cathedral.