Note: I wrote this in September of 2014 when the Minecraft sale to Microsoft was first announced. I don’t know why I didn’t publish it then. But I came across it today in my drafts and felt the need to hit publish despite it being old news and not at all about edtech, or open education.
It’s not about the money. It’s about my sanity.
It was with a deep sense of sadness that I read Markus Persson’s (aka Notch) personal blog post about why he is leaving Mojang and the game he created, Minecraft.
Minecraft was purchased by Microsoft for $2.5 billion dollars, a move that has divided the Minecraft community. But after reading Notch’s post, the real conversation should be not about the sale, but about the blurred lines the internet creates between the private and public lives.
I’ve become a symbol. I don’t want to be a symbol, responsible for something huge that I don’t understand, that I don’t want to work on, that keeps coming back to me.
As someone who is on the fringes of gaming, I know a little about the public perception of Minecraft and, more generally, of Notch as folk hero; someone and something that succeed from the margins, outside the established way of doing things. And, on occasion, someone who has thumbed their nose at “the establishment” for the way it was being done
Minecraft, from the start, was different than most games. It was open ended, full of possibilities, and it quickly became something that burst well beyond the gaming community to capture the interest of the general public. Even if you are not a gamer, chances are you have heard of Minecreaft. Which is why it is worth $2.5 billion dollars to Microsoft. It has transcended the gaming sub-culture and moved mainstream.
But this post isn’t about the business deal or the future of Minecraft (although interesting and an important discussion likely happening all over the web right now). But instead this post is about the culture of the internet, personal privacy and the fuzzy boundaries between public life and private life.
I’m also aware a lot of you were using me as a symbol of some perceived struggle. I’m not. I’m a person, and I’m right there struggling with you.
You can feel the conflict in Notch. Rarely have I read something so personal, honest and human that captures the struggle that, quite frankly, anyone who engages with social media at any level could have thrust upon us at a moments notice.
Reading Notch’s post, you can feel the conflict of having to be true to yourself, of having to live up to the public expectations of what “the audience” wants you to be. Notch had crossed this line between being a basement developer hacking away at code for fun, to suddenly having the thunderous weight of unachievable expectations thrust upon him. The public perception of the person and the private person were colliding.
I can relate to this as we all struggle, we are full of contradictions and are all trying hard to do the right thing. We get hurt by comments made about us by people who don’t know us about things that are often out of our control.
I don’t try to change the world. Minecraft certainly became a huge hit, and people are telling me it’s changed games. I never meant for it to do either.
As I said, I am on the fringes of the gaming community. But I do play Minecraft a lot with my son. I know of Notch because I have played the game. I feel I have a sense of who he is because of the game that he created. The reason why I felt this connection to the person is because I have a deep belief that technology is not neutral. I believe that the tools we create are imbued with the values and beliefs of those who create them. The way software works says something about the people who make it, whether that is conscious or not. And because I have this belief about the way our tools are developed, it was easy for me to transfer what I saw in the game to the person who created the game.
There are bits and pieces of Minecraft that made me think that I knew something of the developer and their values. The choice of music, for example. If you play Minecraft, you’ll notice the soundtrack. Subtle, ambient, gentle, peaceful. The decision to have that kind of music in the game signaled to me that the person who developed this game had a certain type of personality. It felt gentle. It felt kind. Even the scary bits were not that scary.
Maybe that transference is wrong, I don’t know. But I don’t think so. I think that there is a lot in Minecraft that is a reflection of its creator, just like there is a lot in other software that is a reflection of their creators. Software is designed by people and, consciously or unconsciously, the values, experiences, perceptions and beliefs of those people influence the way the software is designed.
You always had this sense that Notch was uneasy with being in the public. A few weeks ago my son and I watched the Minecraft documentary and, even in the doc, you got the sense that Notch truly felt like an outsider in this whole crazy world that was beginning to gather around him. He was no longer just this coder working on a game in his spare time. He was now the figurehead; the symbol, and you could sense the unease he had with this position. His happy little side project became something else. It became a business with Notch no longer as a developer, but as a figurehead with Mojang basking in the glow of the public perception of Notch.
And then the internet got it’s hate on. This summer, Notch, the person, bore the brunt of some corporate decisions at Mojang. The community came down hard on him. Hard enough that he has finally said “screw this, get me out“. And along came Microsoft.
All this is a long prelude to the real issue at play here. Not whether Notch somehow “sold out” (which, after reading his post, I don’t think he did), or what will happen to Minecraft now that Microsoft owns it (which is an interesting question). But the conversation to be had here is where do we draw the line between the private person and public personality? How do we define “celebrity” in this internet age when any one of us can become a celebrity at a moments notice? Where being a “celebrity” means having every word you write scrutinized to the nth degree by “the audience”? Where the pressure of being someone in public causes such cognitive dissonance in a person that they begin to shut down and withdraw when the conversation needs their voice more than ever?
What role did we, “the audience” have to play in the growing disillusionment of Notch and, ultimately, his departure from Mojang and the sale of Microsoft? Because it is clear that the sale was not to make money – it was to escape. Escape us.
If I ever accidentally make something that seems to gain traction, I’ll probably abandon it immediately.
This is 20 minutes long. It was linked to from Notch’s post and it is a really well done mini-doc on the new phenomenon of internet celebrity, and the blurring of the lines between public and private life. It’s provocative and has some sharp analysis. Well worth the watch, even if you are not involved with the game community as it speaks to this new notion of celebrity in our culture. NSFW.
To Notch, a heartfelt thank you for Minecraft.