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Minecraft and The Art of War?

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Depending upon who you ask, Sun Wu (whose name is also widely translated as Sun Tzu and that is what I will use from here on) lived some time between 722 and 481 BC -- with some historians placing him in the service of Chinese King Helu (544 to 496 BC) which nicely narrows his likely lifetime a bit more...  Most of the historians agree that Sun Tzu attained the rank of General in the military service of the King, as well as being the military strategist and philosopher thought to have written the groundbreaking book "The Art of War" (though to be fair and accurate, some historians dispute that claim, suggesting that the book was written by a large number of military strategists and philosophers as an ongoing manual of sorts, and in a conjectured game of musical chairs, Sun Tzu just turned out to be the last General to revise the book...  But who can say for sure?

What we can say is that The Art of War is an influential and clearly ancient Chinese book on military strategy that has had significant impact initially upon Chinese and Asian history and culture, and in the past hundred years or so even more significant impact upon military strategies in the Western world.  The gap between it being embraced by the Eastern military and that of the Western powers is easily explained by the fact that the entire nation and the region within which it is contained was largely closed to trade with Western nations until the middle of the 19th Century.

Before 1840 China was completely closed and isolated from the rest of the world except for a very limited and controlled avenue for foreign trade within the city of Canton, and that, combined with the fact that very few Western scholars were fluent in Chinese, and those that were had little interest in translating a military textbook, explains why it took so long for the book to make its way into other cultures.  Bearing in mind that within cultures there is a military culture, once the book was translated and spread through the military culture of the various Western nations, it took longer still for it to cross the barrier of the military culture and enter the mainstream culture to obtain a wider audience.

The book includes 13 chapters -- Laying Plans, Waging War, Attack by Stratagem, Tactical Dispositions, Energy, Weak Points and Strong, Maneuvering, Variation of Tactics, The Army on the March, Terrain, The Nine Situations, The Attack by Fire, and The Use of Spies -- but it is not the chapters individually or the book as a whole that is important to us, but the journey that the book takes in communicating its ideas.

When you read it, The Art of War serves as an advanced textbook on waging war, and includes a very refined and well-spoken consideration for its subject, but when you read between the lines, and begin the process of interpreting it as an object rather than as a textbook, you will discover that it shares many characteristics with the the worlds created for video games.

The Art of War functions under rules, and by a presumption of purpose, as not so much a book about war, but rather observations of philosophy, and in that character is widely used outside of the military as a teaching tool.   It is fair to say that much of the book contains wisdom not on how to fight a war, but rather on how to avoid fighting a war, and in another sense, it is really a book that is intended to teach the reader how to think and reason -- an approach that goes a long way towards justifying the opinion of many historians that rather than being the work of a single author, is instead an ongoing product of wisdom that spans generations.

An online version of the book can be read on the web at and you will easily find wisdom in its pages that can help you in your play in the game -- consider just the following as the first offering of The Art of War:

"All armies prefer high ground to low and sunny places to dark."

Obviously Sun Tzu never played Minecraft, but this observation certainly applies!  Creating your Den or Stronghold on high ground, in a sunny place, ensures that you have good visibility to approaching threats and a high natural light level in the morning to destroy any Zombies or Skeleton warriors who have spawned in the night.

"Hold out baits to entice the enemy."

Rather than doing battle with the enemy one-on-one or one-on-many, consider the lowly trap as your method for farming the items that are helpful to you but that can only be obtained as loot from the enemy...  A large pit in which Creepers become trapped and which they cannot attack you from within makes it a much easier process when you are armed with a Bow and Arrows... When a combination of Creepers and Skeleton warriors are lured into your trap you can make use of the Skeleton Arrows to increase your chances of obtaining Musical Discs

"Now the general who wins a battle makes many calculations in his temple ere the battle is fought. The general who loses a battle makes but few calculations beforehand. Thus do many calculations lead to victory, and few calculations to defeat: how much more no calculation at all! It is by attention to this point that I can foresee who is likely to win or lose."

Planning out your expeditions and exploration is a key to success -- understanding the predictable conditions under which you operate and planning for them presents opportunities for success.  For instance carrying a Clock with you on an expedition allows you to predict the time remaining until darkness descends upon the world, giving you time to create a shelter in which the night might be passed in ease rather than in worry.

Having adequate time before nightfall thanks to the information that your Clock provides you, you can easily ensure that you have the materials required to create a secure Den, as well as a Crafting Table, a Furnace, and the disposable supplies required for convenience -- thereby spending your time wisely as the night passes making food, replacing torches, and converting raw resources into useable crafted resources. 

"We may distinguish six kinds of terrain, to wit: (1) Accessible ground; (2) entangling ground; (3) temporizing ground; (4) narrow passes; (5) precipitous heights; (6) positions at a great distance from the enemy. "

Understanding the limitations of your enemy and the nature of the terrain allows you to use the terrain to your advantage and to the disadvantage of the enemy!  Finding and marking the location in your mind of likely spots for the creation of traps is always well-spent time.

When you locate a series of openings above ground that lead to caves and Abandoned Mines, knowing the location of nearby Lava flows and water translates to knowing the locations for building successful traps!

"What the ancients called a clever fighter is one who not only wins, but excels in winning with ease."

By study of the tactics that are used by the different types of enemy you learn the best methods for their defeat.  A Skeleton prefers to attack from a distance, and is more vulnerable the closer you can get; closing the distance so that they are within melee range means you can quickly defeat them.

The Creeper requires the closeness of melee range to activate its strongest weapon; denying the Creeper the ability to so increases your strength, making ranged attacks the obvious choice, and trapping them a natural defense.

Zombies require proximity to do damage to you; ranged attacks are your best defense.

Study your enemy!

"Indirect tactics, efficiently applied, are inexhaustible as Heaven and Earth, unending as the flow of rivers and streams; like the sun and moon, they end but to begin anew; like the four seasons, they pass away to return once more."

Trapping the enemy gives you options -- exploring new ways to use common resources and conditions to build traps is always time well spent!  Remember that an enemy inside an inescapable trap cannot harm you, and gives you the option of their destruction or an orderly retreat with no danger.  You never have to reload a well-designed trap.

"Knowing the place and the time of the coming battle, we may concentrate from the greatest distances in order to fight."

Situational awareness is your first concern when you are outside the walls of your Stronghold.  Being able to see a threat approach gives you the advantage of being able to choose to engage them or retreat; failing to see the approaching danger through a lack of attention to your surroundings is not simply a mistake, but a failing.

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