Perhaps my colleagues and friends can help me out, since I neither play Minecraft nor have a deep understanding of computer science, but this astonished me nonetheless. It seems players in Minecraft have accomplished a great feat and made computing recursive by building simple computers within the game world.
The core gameplay revolves around construction. The game world is essentially made up of cubical blocks arranged in a fixed grid pattern, that represent different materials, such as dirt, stone, various ores, water, tree trunks, etc. While the players can move freely across the world, objects and items can only be placed at fixed locations relative to the grid. The player can gather these material “blocks” and place them elsewhere, thus potentially creating various constructions. The game has no set goals, and cannot be won.
COMPLEX STRUCTURES EMERGING
A number of players have begun cooperating with each other to collectively build massive objects and well-known monuments – such as the Starship Enterprise. Other players go it alone to build these objects as a monument to their dedication to the game.
Regardless of whether individuals or teams build these objects, it is a testament to the creative ability of players to create their own value and allow complex systems to emerge out of a simple, unguided ruleset. The developers probably did not have any of these applications in mind when they designed such a simple game.
But my favorite example is one that introduces a recursive twist on the idea of computer games – building a computer inside of one.
A COMPUTER WITHIN A COMPUTER
It seems that several players have built CPUs with Arithmetic Logic Units to perform simple calculations like addition, subtraction, and division. All of this from simple building blocks and torches weaving through intricate networks of paths and logic gates. The construction of these must have required delicate planning given the simple rules of the Minecraft world and the rudimentary resources. Yet these behemoths are often constructed by individual players (albeit very talented and dedicated ones). It is just fascinating how such a simple game can produce one of the most complex creations out there – a modern computer – albeit a very crude and simple one.
The minecraft recipe for success
The recipe for emergence in gaming is simple and demonstrated by Minecraft: create a very simple world with basic, consistent rules, give the players the freedom to do what they want unconstrained by goals or “victory conditions,” and sit back and watch them create and cooperate until a complex system has evolved.
I can guarantee that we will have many more posts and case studies centering around Minecraft.