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The Tao of Minecraft -- Exploring its Philosophy and Underlying Value

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Now that you have survived your first day of play and, hopefully, you have obtained the first tier of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs -- safety, a reliable source of food, and the ability to make the basic tools that you need to survive -- it is time to think about making your life better through conveniences and through nice things.  While the former is pretty obvious, let us discuss the underlying value in the latter, because this seemingly voluntary and optional element in game play actually makes up a much larger role overall in both your real life and in your game life than you may be aware...

You will note that I have repeatedly mentioned Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs in the writing of this guide -- and my reason for doing so is largely because Maincraft is the perfect game to represent it -- and of course there is the coincidence that it factors so significantly in the act of being human and human existence... 

I mention this because a major element of your game life following that first painful and terror-filled day as you established the foundation of Maslow's Needs must naturally lead to your expanding your desires to fulfill the rest of the equation -- a process that is made all the better by -- and certainly leads to -- a higher sense of enjoyment through fully grasping the nuances of its meaning.

I mention this because I am about to digress into a lengthy and seemingly unrelated series of subjects that, when taken together and as a whole, serves to further illustrate this phenomenon and the way that the Hierarchy of Needs neatly fits into the game philosophy, and adds to its enjoyment. 

If at first, as you read this section, it strikes you that I am indulging in a journey of personal recollection that is only tacitly connected to the game, please know that I am doing this to illustrate several points, and because at the end of this you will see that in order to better appreciate the experiences to be had in Minecraft it helps to understand how connected all of the seemingly unconnected actions and opportunities really are.

There is an underlying thread --  an invisible link -- and a genuine connection between the seemingly disparate elements and actions in the game and the real life actions that they represent that distinctly maintains the potential to present as more than simply a learning opportunity or a chance to benefit from play through better understanding things like the motivations, the wants, the needs, and the desires in real life that are mirrored in your game life.  There is, if you will excuse the tired and ancient analogy, a wisdom to be had in the gathering, the crafting, and the making of this bread of ideas.

Because I believe this strongly I am asking you to indulge me in the reading of this section -- taking in the information that it provides and then processing it in terms of your own experiences in the game -- because in its way this modest series of examples serves to highlight a basic truth behind why this game has the appeal that it does -- so they can serve as a key to interpreting these experiences and the spirit from which Minecraft is played that will, if you allow it to, deepen your appreciation for both the philosophy, the experience, and perhaps of more note, the motivation that served as an element in its creation by Notch and all of the many volunteers who helped to turn what is easily the most popular throwback game of the 21st Century into the social phenomenon that it is.

"They" Say...  Whoever "They" are...  And we Listen.

According to Cartoonists, columnist, and all-around wise fellow Doug Larson, "a weed is a plant that has mastered every survival skill except for learning how to grow in rows," which is a witty observation that it should not surprise you too much has managed to make its way onto T-Shirts.  What Larson was talking about is an aspect of survival that is easily overlooked -- the process of adapting to the conditions that you face in order to reach the elements that are beyond survival, that which leads to happiness, and the safety and leisure to have the time to think and to make such witty observations.

Simply possessing and using the tools that you need to survive, while they will keep you alive, is never really enough for most humans...  Beyond the basic needs there is the real question you will eventually be asking yourself:  what will make me happy? 

If you step back and observe the process over the course of the past few thousand years as human culture evolved, it probably will not surprise you too much to learn that a great deal of the focus and attention -- and a massive percentage of human thought, effort, and labor -- has been spent not on survival, but on finding ways to be happy.   Well, it has, and that process is reflected within the body of Maslow's work and his hypothesis, and to some degree (the point at which this occurs is different for each gamer) in Minecraft as well. 

Maslow spent a great deal of time and effort both in his study of what is often called the "Human Condition" and in finding meaningful and effective ways to communicate his discoveries and observations.  That makes sense -- having a good idea being rather pointless if you cannot devise an effective way of sharing and propagating it...

While it is a very complicated and complex set of concerns, and is the focus for several of the many schools of philosophy, one of the more applicable aspects of the Human Condition as it relates to Minecraft can instantly be summed up in the observations that man wants what he wants; often wants what he cannot have; will work hard to obtain what he believes will make him happy, and for the most part is still pretty much confused...

Note the wording of that last bit...  A man (and when I say man I really mean a human, so a man, a woman, a child, it is all one) will work very hard and, in some cases, make huge sacrifices, in order to obtain the object or experiences that he believes will make him happy.   So what happens when he strives for and makes great sacrifices for his goal only to discover that it fails to make him happy? 

The well-adjusted man will step back, review the experience, conclude that at some point in the process they miscalculated what it was that they actually wanted (or what it was that they expected to happen as a result of their efforts), and then they will eventually devise a new plan -- usually requiring even more work and sacrifice -- in order to obtain this new interpretation of what it is that will actually make him happy!

The Human Condition in Minecraft

The "Human Condition" with respect to the game covers mostly the areas that Maslow was interested in and that he included in his research, experiments, and theories (including the stuff that he never actually had the time or opportunity to prove), but it also encompasses features of life that are unique to  being human within the artificial constructs that humanity has devised in order to strike boundaries and create order.   These artificial devices are, depending upon who you ask, either a basic building block in the process of situational morality that is necessary for human beings in large numbers to coexist peacefully, or it simply presents as a natural manifestation of the need in humans for cultural, social, and personal identity in order to fix in context the concept of the individual as part of the group.

It has also been described as the irreducible part of humanity that is inherent to the species as a general trait, being disconnected from factors like gender, race or even social class -- and that last hypothesis is certainly a bit more palatable and easier to accept than are some of the competing versions...  

The point to this is that, with few exceptions, the study of the Human Condition is invariably undertaken to answer a question or questions, or to reinforce or establish the position of the person doing the study (whose "conclusions" are often reached prior to any actual research or study being conducted), because the subject tends to offer effective support due to the ethereal nature of the very large body of "facts" that has developed over the course of centuries of individual study and all of the conclusions that have been created.

Ultimately when we strip away the rhetoric and expose the motivation of the individual the reason for this is that man is, by and large, a silly git who, if given sufficient time and bad information, can convince himself that he wants something he really does not want, is motivated by purely subjective motivations, and can be relied upon to choose the arbitrary over the sensible at every turn.  Seriously. 

Do you watch TV?  What do you think the point of all of those commercials are?  Still not convinced?  Bear with me for a long moment as I digress into a series of tenuously connected teaching moments -- but do try to remember that the subject we are presently hoping to illuminate is one of philosophy as well as motivation and the concept of happiness, so of course it is going to be rather convoluted and complex, but if you actually read what follows, in the end it will all make sense...  Mostly.

Finding Happiness

Considering the fact that you are playing a game, the notion that you need to create your own entertainment and find your own happiness may not be obvious to you, but consider this: Minecraft is different than almost any other game you have recently played.  It is not rail-based, it does not tell a story, and there is no mission system to maintain your forward momentum.  Once you achieve safety and security, a reliable food supply, build your base, and acquire your stockpiled resources, the rest is entirely up to you!

The Tao of Minecraft -- Exploring its Philosophy and Underlying Value

If you set goals for yourself that are attainable, you will find that the time you spend playing the game is time you enjoy, while wandering aimlessly with no clearly defined goals often leads to boredom -- which is really a shame as Minecraft has so much potential to keep you entertained.  This notion, this idea, is the underlying reason for this section of the guide.  It was written to provoke you into thinking about what you want to do, see, and accomplish.

By setting small and attainable goals for yourself, you all but ensure that you will have a good session and enjoy what you do -- and make real progress in the game -- even if your goal is to find and stockpile a stack of Gold Ingots, or to use the Obsidian Generator to make a stack of Obsidian Blocks.  Perhaps your goal is to create a renewable Sugar Cane crop or a Wheat Field?  How about a Cactus Sanctuary Trap that you can use to automate the process of killing Spiders for their String?

Maybe you want to build a pond inside the walls of your Stronghold?  How about obtaining Ivy Vines to plant on your Stronghold Walls so that you have the pleasure of watching them grow over time?  Perhaps you need to lay in a supply of wood -- and you want to grow the trees yourself using Bonemeal and enjoy harvesting Wood, Apples, and Saplings as part of the process?

Now that you have created your Stronghold and improved your home to your satisfaction, and you have mastered the art of farming, perhaps it is time to try Ranching?  Seeking out and luring the animals you want is no small task and a great accomplishment!

Designing and creating objects and machines can hold great satisfaction for you -- building a canon from which to fire Pumpkins is one challenge -- but how about a canon you can fire Pigs from? 

Do you possess all of the Seeds available?   What about Melons or Cocoa?  Those can only be obtained in treasure chests in dungeons and Abandoned Mines you know?  Is it time to explore for those so that you know where on your map they reside?

Have you been to Hell?

All of these questions and observations are intended as suggestions for you in the ongoing process of creating goals for yourself.  They in no way represent the limits of what you can do in the game, but rather are presented as ideas to get you thinking.  With any luck in the reading of them you have yourself thought of a dozen other personal goals...

You know that there are Achievements in both the game and the Xbox 360 Arcade side?  Read the Achievements Section to learn more about these in-game challenges -- as they add a new and exciting set of goals that you can pursue!

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