On February 13th, 2015, at Concordia University, I presented my research working on The Big Fried Chicken Company in Minecraft for the Amplab at The Building Blocks of Life: A Minecraft Colloquium (see the event page). I've decided, for posterity's sake, to place these notes up here for all to enjoy!
Many thanks to the eloquent and brilliant Saeed Afzal for the BFC graphic!
If you are interested in glancing over some of my weeknotes/blogposts over at the amplab, please do by clicking here! And last but not least, here are the slides of this presentation in PDF form!
Enjoy the presentation notes. I read out the notes below to the assembled Colloquium participants. I was very honoured to be there talking about work I had done. It was my very first Colloquium presentation!
Presentation Slide 1
Our project began with an interest in the everyday ideology of Minecraft play. We wanted to focus on what we probably never think about, the least sensational aspects of playing Minecraft. Yet when we started reflecting on the mundane intently, the results of our investigations turned out to be very interesting.
Presentation Slide 2
But first, let's explain the BFC, or Big Fried Chicken. Our first action as a team was to create a small company ( not unlike a company of Knights, or perhaps more accurately, a team of Minecraft venture capitalists ) and establish roles. I took point as the Glorious Leader. Marie took charge of the workers as BFC's friendly Union rep. Saeed had his own office as well, over the workers barracks. Only Sean abstained from explicitly role-playing a capitalist, though perhaps in retrospect we could have assigned him the title of architect or engineer.
Presentation Slide 3
BFC is a fast food restaurant on the mLab server, situated down the beach from Site Lambda. As mentioned a moment ago, we first began playing on the server together, we emulated a corporate structure. Then we actually built the thing. The building process was challenging, as we were tasked with reproducing a structure someone else had already built on a multiplayer vanilla server. Bringing it to the mLab server, however, we were set back with challenges such as the partial destruction of the vanilla BFC we were basing our design on, and we had to improvise building the mechanics of the chicken death box.
Presentation Slide 4
The chickens of BFC are hatched, grown, and killed via lava in this box. The designs have been documented extensively by Marie on the amplab website. This machine is powered by red stone, the killing is done with lava (ostensibly the most hygienic roasting method available) and the production is distributed from the machine into the front of the restaurant with hoppers.
Presentation Slide: Etymology
Sidenote about the word companion, company :
The word companion, from which the word company is derived, comes to us from two Latin words: cum panis, which translates to “with bread” — as Donna Haraway explains in her work on companion species: “Messmates at table are companions.” (When Species Meet 17)
The chicken of Minecraft, the companion species of our project building Big Fried Chicken, meet the capitalist underpinnings of a fast food restaurant — mirroring the evolution of the word companion into the word company.
Presentation Slide 6
The manner in which we performed the construction of BFC gave us a lot to think about with regards to the mundane and the quotidian. We questioned the premise, but only after construction started. We sometimes focused too much on the business of replicating a structure, and not enough on actually playing Minecraft and exploring the server. Some of the BFC researchers had never played on the mLab and not only had to become familiar with the added complexity of the 100s of mods installed but also had to navigate sometimes puzzling digital landscapes shaped by months of play by other, more established players.
Presentation Slide 7
Our project was governed by the limits and reach of Minecraft's rules. We had to gather resources, set up shelter and come up with strategies - play in Minecraft, like much play in video games, is outlined by rules imposed by Minecraft as a computer system but also by Minecraft the social, public space. This gives us a framework to work with: by examining the ideology behind the hard "system" rules and the "social" rules of Minecraft, are are given a window into the ideology Minecraft perpetuates as a system, or that we as players bring to the game. Talk about Carpentry, about the creation of objects that do serious philosophical or theoretical work.
Presentation Slide 8
After months of play we were able to narrow the theoretical focus of our project to four crucial aspects of the mundane: movement and building in digital spaces, consumption of nonhuman digital entities (otherwise known as eating), the concept of the digital ruin in Minecraft, and civility between players sharing a digital landscape.
Presentation Slide 9
The modded server run by Joachim Despland is described as a research server, where access is limited by technological factors (the right mods being installed with Technic) and where types of play are moderated if not explicitly then socially. Other than the video game-specific rules inherent to Minecraft, the mLab server has socially-enforced rules, also called “local rules”, rules that players create within their own social groups, or by the server’s host. When multiple social groups play on the same server there can be differences in interpretation of which local rules are the “real” rules and who should obey them. These differences in interpretation, by groups or by individuals, can yield subtle or not-so-subtle results as players alter the landscape of Minecraft and establish ownership, purpose, or the aesthetics of territory. The formation of relationships between players, which is then reflected in the civilization, infrastructure, and conquered territory on the mLab server, is contingent on these social rules of the game.
Presentation Slide 10
There is an important relationship between gathering food resources and playing effectively on a Minecraft server set on Survival mode. Without food the player is at greater risk of perishing in the wild from environmental threats. While Minecraft offers a variety of food to eat, some types of food restore more of the hunger bar than others, and can slow the rate of depletion: cooked chicken restores 6 ‘units’ of hunger, while apples restore only 4, carrots restore 3, and mushrooms restore nothing at all. Efficient play of Minecraft almost requires the player to adopt a carnivorous diet, implying that one’s best shot at a healthy and productive lifestyle demands eating nothing but cooked meat.
The project came with it a lot of insouciantly capitalist overtones, leaving a lot of room to investigate the clash between the machinations of industry and bioengineering of nature cultures within Minecraft. What concerned me most was our company’s unquestioning dominance and manipulation of the nonhuman chickens. This unquestioning totalitarian control on how and where the chickens reproduce, what their bodies and communities produce within Minecraft reflects real-world attitudes of the subordination of the nonhuman in our industrial and scientific nature-cultures: underneath the Big Fried Chicken’s productive goals on the server is a huge ethical assumption about our inexorable power over the lives of animals.
Presentation Slide 11
As creatures moving across the Minecraft landscape, we leave tracks of our activity behind us. Our interactions, our definitions of territory, and our sense of aesthetics are left behind us long after we’ve stopped playing on Minecraft.
Presentation Slide 12
Minecraft gives us an area to explore and play, but does not give the player clear boundaries when it comes to interacting with mobs, other players, and objects. There is no “right” or “wrong” way to play.
Open-ended simulation games can cause players to have a greater attachment to outcome. If a player has laboured for many days to create a castle in Minecraft, and suddenly someone destroys it, that player then might feel cheated and upset. Although the player has not “lost the game”, he has lost his time. It is at this point that local rules become a defining factor of attachment and enjoyment in open-ended online games.
Minecraft allows the players themselves to host servers, and create legislations and ban members. These servers employ “Local rules” – additional player-rules that provide secure environments for play in which all members agree to play in a certain way. Civility in one server can thus include damaging other players’ property while it might be wrong and uncivil in another server. Additionally, while these imposed rules might provide a semblance of security it can also disrupt a players’ ability to have “fun” and reduces the game to labour.
Presentation Slide 13 & 14
- Minecraft is a game built around the concept of making work fun. (Playbour)
- Minecraft is a game about building ruins.
- Humans are masters of the environment and animals.
- Minecraft as a system and space for play don’t give the player much opportunity to mess with that mastery (perhaps except in the Nether, or “Hell”, which is incredibly hostile to the player).
- The quotidian of Minecraft play offers us an opportunity to look closely at our own values in the non-digital quotidian.
- Perhaps more important than the hard-set, software-defined rules of Minecraft play, the rules created by the players about territory, colonizing, civilizing, resource-use, building, production, inventory and cultivation can drastically change the digital and social landscape of the game.