We destroy that which we love the most

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.


Clint Lalonde

Just a guy writing some stuff, mostly for me these days on this particular blog. For my EdTech/OpenEd stuff, check out https://edtechfactotum.com/.


4 thoughts on “We destroy that which we love the most

  1. I had a similar conversation with Quinn but based on the hero/human polarization and prompted by the #eduhero hashtag Mimi Ito was talking about during a presentation. I believe putting people on pedestals whether by calling them heroes or by making them the embodiment of causes or whatever does really bad things for the person and the audience. It makes them less human and they become someone we could never be. Once a hero everyone is looking for flaws- signs of humanity, that mean they can be torn down. Plays into the whole Jon Stewart stage managed politicians thing as well.

    1. It’s a weird dynamic in our society where we root for the underdog and, once the underdog reaches a certain level of success, we turn and try to tear them down. I think I am going to call this the Marsha Marsha Marsha syndrome.

  2. Word Clint … Minecraft served as a wonderful playground for my kids and I for years at a time when I was away quite a bit … it was the place where we could have a LONG 3 hour VoIP call while they toured me around their buildings, gardens, and terraforms. It was far, far more meaningful than a FaceTime or telephone call … we built things together, survived nightfalls of Creepers and Zombies, and had many laughs along the way. Minecraft was the perfect kind of telepresence for me and my children … thank you Notch, your work enriched my life immensely.

    1. Ditto with G. And (as you know), Minecraft provided a safe venue for my son to venture into the world of online social networks with kids he did not know in real life.The first time my son had a conversation with someone online who he had never met in person was in Minecraft. He learned how to make friends and that there are real people at the other end of the avatar.

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