Essays…

Cyberpunk and Steampunk

Cyberpunk and Steampunk:

The story of an indomitable ethos in any age!

By S. A. Kehr

What is Cyberpunk? What makes a Cyberpunk story different from its near future Sci-Fi cousins? We can identify a few aesthetic differences that have come to define the genre for the majority of onlookers. It is at once futuristic and at the same time gritty. It has the ever present and all too sleek look of curves and lines everywhere. It has a color pallet that is dark and decidedly against earth tones and pastels. Neon is king, glass and steel (or their futuristic counterparts) are the materials of choice, there are few if any natural things and those that do exist are handled on a scale from incredibly valuable to divine. High technology is ubiquitous to the extent that it has become banal, social mobility is almost nonexistent. But even a definitive list of Cyberpunk style elements could never capture what lies beneath the veneer of highly stylized techno-fetishism that has come to mean cyberpunk in the pop-culture iconography. Those who have chosen to be more than bystanders know that in Cyberpunk, “cyber” is the style but “punk” is the substance.

So if the essence of Cyberpunk isn’t its cool haircuts and mirror shades what is its character? At its core Cyberpunk is inherently disenfranchised, disaffected, disinterested, and disappointed. It is the dystopia and a realization of our most banal fears made manifest by our own selfishness, sloth, and misanthropy. It scares and titillates us at the same time by appealing to the greedy, lazy, angry, and entitled parts of our ugliest selves and says, “Here is the world you really want”; Everything’s cheap and easy if you just let your humanity dribble out a little each day. Its a world of wonders with all the wonder sucked out. Characters regularly treat scientific miracles, nigh unto magic, like they belong in the dust bin. This is of course nothing new to our modern condition (how often do we find reasons to be dissatisfied with our phone, TV, or computer just to replace it with the newest version of the same). Nevertheless, it bears witness to the detachment between our wonders and the sense of wonder we feel towards them. But a Cyberpunk world is more than merely a peek beyond the grim veil of consequence; its also a world of stories about hope in the darkness, the indomitable human spirit, and the beauty that we can bring back if we are willing to bravely face a world that has given up. It looks forward and sees what we all fear and tells us a story about escaping that fate, the power of an individual, and how our humanity can be our salvation.

So what is Steampunk and how is it different? Steampunk is inherently engaged, interested, bright eyed and bushy tailed. It is a better tomorrow built on more promising yesterdays, its a nostalgic re-imagining of what was with all the dirty, ugly, and distasteful parts left on the cutting room floor. It is a Utopian revisionist history that seizes on the wonder of our world and asks us to recreate the past without the banal misery of what human beings have done. And like Cyberpunk it has an aesthetic all its own. Gears and gadgets are everywhere disregarding the pesky laws of physics, technology is regarded on a spectrum from very rare to divine. Idealized Victorian sensibility permeates every level of society. The people are unabashedly enthusiastic and plucky. Status and standing are the real currency of the times; everyone has the potential to rise above their station. Earth tones and pastels are in, most of the world is crafted in natural materials, firelight is key but the limelight is king. But most importantly everything is fanciful and full of flair. Steampunk worlds are filled with over the top personalities that care less about what happens than how they look when it happens.

But true to form the “steam” in Steampunk is the dressing but the “punk” is still the meat and potatoes. One might reasonably ask what’s so punk about fancy dress and style over substance? Can you be fanciful and frivolous while maintaining your punk cred? The answer is it all depends on where you are going, not where you have been. Steampunk is a story of a past that wasn’t where we aren’t the selfish, slothful, cogs in a machine slowly being worn down. but it’s also frightened, and dangerously close to losing the thread of its own better tomorrow. It is a story of darkness creeping into the dream, the failings of mankind, and the horrors we can cause when we lose our sense of wonder. The punk in Steampunk is a looming threat and an unacknowledged background hum of desperation. The average Steampunk character is most like a Disney park employee; Silently suffering, all the while bottling up their vast sense of unease and frustration with a world going to hell in a handbasket while everyone smiles and says what a lovely day it is. Steampunk plays at being chipper but deep down it’s scared to death we will not make it past Tuesday.

Basically Steampunk and Cyberpunk are two faces of the same coin. one dystopia, one utopia, one looking forward, one looking back, one asks us to see beauty in darkness, one asks us to see darkness in beauty, but ultimately they both tell us a story about the value of awe and wonder at the world we live in. Both dare us to be courageous in facing a world that’s barely keeping it together (either on the edge of losing what it has or on the edge or regaining what was lost). Both ask us to put wonder back into the wonders of a world we see losing its way. We look to what will be with dread and what has been with nostalgia. Both speculate that what can save us from this disaster is our own humanity. Both offer us a way to right the ship and emerge from the darkness we face (whether that darkness is upon us already or looming on the horizon). Each uses technology, albeit very different manifestations of technology, as a backdrop to highlight the role of the individual and their humanity in shaping the world to come. Each, in its own way judges, a world that focuses on external forces and finds it wanting.

What we make of that world is where the story happens. What we do and how we live matters. Will we be the slothful children of a new age of technology or will we embrace the pain and seek greater accomplishments for all mankind? Will our greed and ignorance lead us to exploit our fellows or will we realize the worth we all carry hidden inside us? Will we foster a new age of tyranny or a new age of egalitarianism? If you aren’t sure to which, Cyberpunk or Steampunk, these last few questions refer then I have done my job. What is common to them is the punk ethos, and it is a story about the rise of humanity against the powers that be. It is a story of discontentment with the status quo. It is a story about re-imagining who and what we are. It is a story about the power of individuals to change the course of behemoths. It is a story about what’s beautiful inside us, and it is a story about how truth can set us free. We tell these stories because we need to believe in our ability to overcome the darkness that sleeps inside us all and to fix our mistakes. We imagine grim futures to remind ourselves not to give in and to replace temptation with discipline. We re-imagine our history to forgive ourselves weakness and replace it with strength. We tell stories so the angels of our better nature can beat back the daemons of our weakest moments. A punk story is one in which we are all the leaders of our own personal rebellion, the “great men” of an unwritten history, the saviors of humanity, and the witnesses of our own worst fear.

So it doesn’t really matter whether it is cybernetics and matrix runs or zeppelins and Babbage engines. Either way, it is a ruse to talk about our own humanity and what deep hopes and fears we need projected into an ethos that lets us have control in a world of choices we don’t get to make. Maybe that’s the most profound similarity between these two genres; We didn’t get a choice. We didn’t get to choose the events of history so we revise with what we wish we could have done. We don’t get to choose the future so we speculate on what we fear from it. And in both we tell stories that let us reassert our own value, power and, individuality.

On the recent rise of indie and small developers…

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On the recent rise of indie and small developers

By Ryver H.

It seems strange that as triple A or big budget video games keep pushing for better and more realistic gameplay and trying to oneup each other graphically. We are also seeing a bigger outpouring of support and a rise in popularity of low budget, low res projects. Minecraft is probably the best known example of this phenomenon, with it’s simple, blocky textures reminiscent of games much older than itself, coupled with deceptively complex gameplay and near complete freedom for the player, seem to have made a highly sought after combination that many have tried to copy since its release. Why is it that with all the advances in graphics technology and this sort of push toward realism in gaming, are we seeing such a push back against it? The answer to this seems to be multifaceted, with nostalgia, innovation, and escapism all playing factors in this recent boom in popularity of these smaller scale games.

When I say innovation I don’t mean newer graphics or hardware, but rather new or interesting ways of implementing existing techniques or engine mechanics to create a new experience, to experiment with how the game works, or to challenge the player’s expectations of how the game will play out. While we do see this occasionally in larger company releases (Valve’s Portal series), mostly we see increasingly similar gameplay within big budget series, especially as yearly iterative series seem to be becoming more and more commonplace in the Triple A market. That isn’t to say there isn’t innovation in big budget games, but the changes companies make are often minor, opting instead to go with a known quantity that has shown good sales in the past rather than taking a risk at radical change to gameplay. While from a business standpoint it seems like the right move to make, go with a product that’s known to sell, many view it as stagnation and stifling of creativity, seeing it as more of a bane to video games than a boon. FEZ stands out to me as a great example of innovation in an indie game. It’s a puzzle platformer that blends 2D gameplay with 3 dimensional space in a way that forces the player to think and experiment with the mechanics to come up with a solution to the various levels of the game. The concepts themselves aren’t new, but the developer managed to implement them in a new way.

Nostalgia seems to be another big reason behind the indie gaming boom. Many older gamers these days grew up in the 8- and 16-bit eras of video gaming, where graphics where blocky and low res, so many developers had to rely on either fun and interesting gameplay or story, or more simplistic gameplay but at a much higher difficulty that challenged players, daring them to keep playing until they beat it. Many modern indie games take a lot of cues from games in this era, especially releases for the Nintendo Entertainment System. Shovel Knight, Super Meat Boy, and FEZ all take aesthetic inspiration from the system, with a somewhat cartoony simplified feel to them, as well as gameplay, being colloquially termed “Nintendo hard” in reference to the difficulty many of the more well known games. Shovel knight in particular stands out in this respect, with the developers having stated their intention to make the game as close to the classic NES experience as they can while still trying to create a complete and entertaining product. Many other indie games seem to pander to players’ sense of nostalgia to great effect, conjuring memories of simpler times where the only thing they had to worry about was how to beat the boss after level three.
This brings me to the final factor, escapism. These days, many popular large budget games advertise more realism, a push toward reality, in both graphics and gameplay. This is to make the game feel more visceral, to draw the player further into the story, and make them feel like they’re actually in the game. While this seems to work for some, others feel that games shouldn’t be about realism. They would rather play games to escape reality, to visit fantastical places and themes, leaving the real world behind. Again, we see indie and smaller developer games seem to strive for this. They don’t generally have the budget or workforce to render their games in ultra high definition, so they often have to rely on other methods to capture and keep the players attention. This is done with colourful art, immersive story, divergent gameplay, or any combination of these things and more. They tend to build a world that draws its audience in far more than “shoot some people in a dirt coloured arena”. They make us invested in the world and the characters, be it through storytelling (Shovel Knight, FEZ), a difficulty that almost taunts you into playing more (Super Meat boy, The Binding of Isaac), or the freedom of action that can lose you hours of time (Minecraft, Starbound).

There is, as always, a downside to this recent boom, especially in concern to the trend of crowdfunding many of these games. Indie developers can and have overextended themselves, making too many goals or offering too many feature and not giving themselves enough of a timeframe to complete what they set out to do. Under budgeting is also a major concern, a dev running out of money before they complete the project, threatening to turn a good concept into not much more than vapourware. There is also the risk of a developer burning out, getting too overloaded or overwhelmed by the project, leaving them wanting to walk away. One solution to this recently seems to be the advent of the small dev, where a larger company buys or absorbs a smaller company, leaving them to do the innovative and more bold development of their indie peers, but at less risk of floundering or drying up. Some see this as a type of ‘selling out’, giving up the radical freedom of being an independent dev for the job security that comes with a larger, more controlled pocketbook. I personally believe this trend is the best move for both sides of the arrangement. It breaths new life into some of the more stagnant large developers, while at the same time giving the more innovative developers a steady budget and enough wiggle room to be creative without the concern of over extending and eventually burning out. It often also allows for a larger platform for the small dev’s project, allowing them to get their name and projects out to a larger audience. Only time will tell how these sort of situations will pan out, but I am optimistic, especially with the rise of mid level developers and publishers, that seem to fit perfectly into this niche, pulling smaller developers into a larger public eye and bolstering the market with newer, more original content.

Some have said that the indie dev boom is coming to an end, to which I agree, sort of. I feel the reasons I’ve given above along with the fact that we are still seen original gaming content still consistently getting crowdfunded is reason enough to conclude that the indie game market is still going fairly strong. Its certainly not going anywhere anytime soon. That being said, it’s stabilized, we are no longer are hearing about the hot new indie title everybody’s backing every other day, but rather something new and innovative every so often. More large devs and publishers are recognizing the value of the smaller, more creative devs. The boom may be over, but it left it’s mark on the face of gaming. One that looks like it won’t be going away anytime soon.

Fear and Inevitability in Social Complexification…

Fear and Inevitability in Social Complexification

or

How I learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Post-Industrial Nightmare

By Bruce Carter

…modern man is strapped down by a network of rules and regulations, and his fate depends on the actions of persons remote from him whose decisions he cannot influence. This is not accidental or a result of the arbitrariness of arrogant bureaucrats. It is necessary and inevitable in any technologically advanced society. The system HAS TO regulate human behavior closely in order to function… The result is a sense of powerlessness on the part of the average person. — [Kaczynski, Industrial Society and its Future]

The world that we’re creating for ourselves is getting more complicated every day. It’s a process that we typically take for granted, enjoying the increased wealth it provides, and when we do take notice of it, the most common response is a looming sense of dread. We seem to be sliding into a dystopia – not in the classical sense of Orwell’s 1984 or Huxley’s Brave New World, where the problem is too much social order – but rather a more conventional dystopia, such as those described by William Gibson in Idoru and elsewhere, where the problem is too much chaos, a society that seems endlessly alien and strange even to the very people who comprise it.

But the fact is, we now already live in and rely upon a society and an economy which in a very real sense we do not understand. No one person can fathom the intricate and constantly shifting networks of exchange and contract that tie us to one another. This is true not only of society as a whole, but even for any one person.

Take the typical economics 101 example of a farmer owning a cow and selling the milk to his neighbor. In the world we’ve created, the farmer is employee and part owner of an incorporated entity which owns the cow and the milk, which in turn is partly owned by an agribusiness corporation, which in turn is traded on an open exchange market, with thousands of people holding a tiny piece of it, and those pieces changing hands every second. The milk is also conceptually bundled, sliced, and traded in tiny pieces on a commodities exchange (not the milk that exists now, but some future milk; today’s milk was sold months before it ever existed). Furthermore, all of these entities are tied together by secured loans, insurance policies, vendor/client contracts, regulations, subsidies, derivatives, bonds, and a myriad of other abstract agreements, many of which are themselves sliced up and sold as assets on their own trading markets as well. To merely answer the question “who owns this cow,” or “who owns that milk” would require a massive effort of financial analysis at any given moment, and even that will likely change in the next moment.

If such a simple question requires such a complex answer, imagine how more complex the answer would be to the question “what real, tangible value is created from this insurance adjuster working on that spreadsheet?” Then imagine the range of jobs that we each perform today, and you’ve got a vague sense of the staggering scope of trying to concretely answer the simple question “why do we do what we do every day?” This is Marxist alienation taken to Camus’ nausea levels. Not only are we separated from the wealth that we create through work, we’re more often than not separated from even having any clue how a great deal of the work that we ourselves do creates any real wealth for anyone anywhere at all. It’s like Alice in Wonderland, and this is our own day to day activities!

And what’s worse, we need that complexity. Intricate and complex methods of organizing the work that we do, of directing human activity, are required to leverage the immense productivity gains that technology affords us. It grants efficiency, flexibility and hyper-specialization in the creation of value. As such, each technological advance leads to a corresponding increase in the complexity of our aggregate behavior. Information technology takes this process to a much higher level, inserting decision-like causal changes into the system without any persons making decisions. We can track and manage decisionary processes without even knowing what they are, at least not in any detail. And more importantly, we can do so far more efficiently than if we actually understood any of them.

As with scientific and technological advances, advances in organizational complexity are simply inevitable. If we don’t do them someone else will, and then they’ll buy us. Economic competition is like running a race in which the people at the back of the pack are constantly forced to drop out, every financial quarter. There is no option for any corporation or country other than to do whatever it takes to win that race, because only those who win continue to exist.

But it’s not entirely unreasonable to fear what we don’t understand. It’s no wonder so many of us find it intolerable. Since we rely so thoroughly on this Baroque web of social contract, our lack of understanding of its permutations causes the justifiable fear that it may fail us and we won’t even see its failure coming, or be able to prevent it. This is often the case with economic recessions, but at least those aren’t complete failures; enough of the system exists so that it can recover. We have yet to see a market crash that can reasonably described as “fully post-apocalyptic.” But because we don’t understand it, no one can assert with certainty that such a thing might not happen at any moment. Our own social order is like a Sword of Damocles hanging over our head all the time. Or at least we suspect it might be, and without being able to understand it we have no way of ruling that out as a possibility.

When considering economic crashes, there seems to be something of a paradox (I use this not in the strict logical sense, but more in the strongly-counterintuitive sense). Per Adam Smith, all of the wealth in a society derives from its natural resources combined with the capabilities of its people – their skills and ability to work. But before and after an economic downturn, those don’t change. We still have all of the resources we did before; our people still have the same willingness and ability to work as they did before. If that is all that wealth is made of, then where did all the wealth go when an economy crashes? Some numbers in some computers somewhere change and now suddenly millions of people are poorer than they were yesterday? If nothing tangible was lost, then how can we say that anything was? The answer to all this is that what is lost are those myriad contractual agreements by which we organize our work. What is lost is that organization that governs our ability to cooperate. And without it, we’re less able to direct our activity in ways to effectively provide value to one another.

As such, a society without complex organization looks very much like a completely collapsed economy. Materially it looks like a pre-industrial society or a third world nation. However, unlike those we aren’t already prepared to live without it. In the Victorian era (as well as in third world countries), most households, even those in cities, rely in great part on subsistence farming, with most of their household goods being home-made. We hypothetically could choose to live like that. But I don’t want to, and I think that most people aren’t prepared to live that way either.

As abstract as all this sounds, this analysis is important because that sense of dread is very common. The rise in libertarian and anarchist sentiment today is a direct psychological response to it. We wish we weren’t so reliant on millions of strangers, and so we assert that we are not, that we are each self-reliant individuals needing no one and helping no one unless by specific intentional choice in each instance. But that’s conflating hope with belief. The fact is, we are not self-reliant at all – or at least very, very few of us could be described as such. We might blind ourselves to the benefits we get from society, but that doesn’t mean we aren’t getting them. So long as we are part of society, we are part of society. It is patently false to stand up in the middle of a crowd and shout that you’re not a part of it. It rises to ridiculous levels when more and more of the crowd starts agreeing with you, chanting along together that they are all lone individuals and that there is no crowd at all.

Nor can we fight against or otherwise prevent the ongoing march of complexification. To do so would be as futile as a Luddite sabotaging a factory to put a stop to technological advancement and scientific discovery. Or in even more extreme cases, to exercise radical freedom and lash out violently solely because you can do nothing else, with no hope of achieving a tangible goal, like Camus’ Meursault. Or the Unabomber (who did so for the very reasons described here). As things stand, a complex economy cannot be radically reformed or revolted against without millions of real human beings suffering massive deprivation. That would be bad. Destroying the system because we’re afraid it might fail us is like setting fire to the ship we’re sailing on to prevent it from potentially hitting a rock and sinking. There is no land in sight.

So what’s the solution? As with many problems in philosophy, the solution is to realize that the problem isn’t really a problem. This is how it is. Certainly we should try to understand our society as much as we can, and manage it as well as we can, to whatever degree that we can. But to rail against its very being is not only futile but self-defeating: we are it, and it is us. We need it because we are it, and thus we need each other. The fact that we’re all in this together shouldn’t be terrifying, even if the details are confusing. To the degree that we’re alienated from the value of our labor we’re also bound to one another, and ethically speaking that’s not a bad thing at all. Quite the contrary.

Our knee-jerk reaction of fear and anger at being part of a system that is too big and intricate for any of us to understand is an inevitable consequence of having organized ourselves into a society consisting of millions of people, as opposed to the small autonomous tribes that our brains are evolved to be comfortable with in a state of nature. But there’s no logical reason to give in to that fear and anger just because we’re experiencing it, because the fear and anger are not logical. We are human animals, and therefore have ingrained emotional responses arising from instinct; but we are also sentient beings, and therefore can rise above those responses by examining that which we fear with a rational perspective.

In short: get over it.

The Übermensch Arises

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The Übermensch Arises

or

Why Paul Atreides is the villain of Dune

Let me just start by saying that clearly I, Professor Metal, do not necessarily believe that being labeled a Villain is a negative thing. I myself carry this title with no small amount of pride. They say that no one is the villain of their own story, but I believe that is only somewhat true; I recognise and accept that I am the villain of everyone’s story and I treasure their fear and respect as I would a valued keepsake. Let me also state that the version of Dune I will be discussing is the theatrical release of the movie, though I will occasionally be referencing things from the book. I will state when this is the case. If you have not seen this movie and/or read the books, I recommend that you do. Spoilers do not apply to something as old or older than some of my Philosophers.

What do we see when we look at Paul Atreides at the beginning of Dune? We see a young man, born into privilege, given everything he could need or want for. He has the best teachers, the best training, the most advanced equipment. He has nothing that he needs to overcome. This alone would mean he could not possibly be the Übermensch, the Over Man, for this is a person (should we even dare demean them with such a title) that is defined by what they have overcome. They are of this world, as contrasted by the other-worldness of the current system. I will not pretend that Nietzsche’s ideas are not a blatant attack on what he calls “the master-slave morality” of the Abrahamic faiths, but I shall be setting this fact aside, as it is not relevant to my discussion.

What we see, shortly after Paul’s arrival on Arrakis, that everything is stripped away from him. All his wealth, his privilege, he is left with literally nothing save his mother, her unborn child, and the basic equipment that is needed to minimally sustain life on this hell-planet. He overcomes these limitations, and we see him come into contact with the Fremen, the indigenous people of said planet. And even then there are challenges he must overcome in order to remain within their world. And overcome he does. Eventually he goes on to lead these people. Then, when he has overcome everything put in front of him, he goes a step farther. He takes the water of life.

Now this… this is a moment that defines what it means to overcome. Every male what has ever done this has died, and done so in the most excruciating of ways. And yet even this challenge Paul Atreides, then called Paul Muad’Dib. Overcomes. We see him lead the Fremen against the Sardaukar Guard. A brief note from the book, as the movie did not touch on this about these people: they were the elite of the elite. They lived on a hell-planet almost as bad as Arrakis, their numbers thinned to 6 out of 13, and they were fanatically loyal. These were not people one should fuck with. And yet the Fremen grow up on a planet where the only thing not trying to kill you are other Fremen, and even that was not always true. On Arrakis, called Dune, in the deep desert, you overcome or you die, your water returned to those what gave it to you.

I feel pretty safe in saying we can see why Paul Muad’Dib is an excellent candidate for the title of Übermensch. He has risen above the society he was birthed into, struggled to grasp onto life and he has won over all. He rejects their morality and substitutes his own. He has the power, he has the will, and he enacts that will upon the Known Universe.

Which gets us to why he’s the Villain. He destroys throughout the known universe the system what people rely on to survive. The system they know and love. The system they are trained to obey. And he tears it all down. Does he feel his system is better? I’m certain he does. I cannot know the mind of a human, fictional or otherwise, that achieves that of which I can only dream. But let us not make the mistake of calling him the Hero. To the Fremen, I’m certain he is. They are as he is, without the old moral system. To the rest of the inhabitants of the Known Universe (of which I imagine there are a great many), he would seem nothing more than a super-powered Villain, come to destroy their way of life. And while many may read this and feel his is not the Villain of his own story, or the story of the Fremen (which, going forward, could be argued to also be his story), he is certainly the Villain of the story of the countless inhabitants of the worlds in which he lives.

Minecraft as Nietzschean playground

Minecraft-Steve-Pictures-HD-WallpaperMinecraft is a fascinating “game”. I assume most of you have played it and for those of you who haven’t, I’ll give some short background. Because of the special nature of this “game,” it will remain impossible to fully engage the subject and make our way to anything of real Philosophical value in this short piece. For that reason, and pure enjoyments sake, I highly recommend giving this deviously addictive plaything a try.

Minecraft is a combination of an open, somewhat randomly constructed, world simulator offering a creativity space and a low key action adventure role playing game. Visually, it uses a low resolution style and the basic form of all things in the world is the “block” a 1 meter cube that can be made of various materials each with different properties. These cubes can be harvested in most cases and placed elsewhere in the world allowing the player to build with them. It can be played solo or on servers with others sharing a world. The default avatar of the player is Steve, a generally blank slate with no goals, back story, or vocalizations of any language. The majority of game-play is in the rich item crafting system wherein players can create tools, armor, weapons, and parts to build machines from. The most interesting thing about Minecraft is that there are no goals beyond those imported by the player. An achievement system is in place to guide the player toward some of the games features but these are by no means necessary to enjoy the “game”. If any true goal exists in the “game” its mere survival which is complicated by needing to find food and shelter from monster attacks. But even this is only a strongly suggested goal as death only results in a return to the spawn point and dropping your inventory on the ground (there is a mode with permanent death for those who need a greater challenge). That in a nutshell is Minecraft a “game” you decide how to play with.

But what does this have to do with Nietzsche? Simply put an avatar of humanity with no allegiance to nation, philosophy, morality, law, value, religion, or even worldly comfort is given a world of becoming filled with impermanence and loss on which to express his/her will to power (here we should note that the will to power for Nietzsche is more correctly understood as the desire to create or change). That avatar is left with no culture or power greater than themselves to guide them through the hardships that will come from the world itself. In fact, we see this even in the mechanics of the “game” as the player is never given an explanation of how to craft anything but the most basic of items and from there without looking outside the “game” the player must merely stumble onto the recipes for new items. This represents an experience of the world where in the player is left to there own devices to figure out how to overcome obstacles and achieve goals that they themselves set based solely on values they create. In other terms a “free spirit” as Nietzsche called them is set into a world devoid of the corrupting forces of history to exercise their “will to power” and overcome the hardships of that world. In the process of this we see the player become a philosopher assigning meaning and value to the world only to have it destroyed by uncaring forces.

The newly minted philosopher follows Nietzsche’s cycle of the world of being through Nihilism and into the world of becoming as the player builds first what they value only to see it destroyed and then assigning value to that which can not be destroyed and finally finding the joy of impermanence and valuing a world of becoming in which one can create and destroy. With nothing to hold the player/avatar back and few if any limits on there creativity they choose to engage and overcome hardships and challenges often of there own making. They choose what to value and come to celebrate there creation. The player and avatar combine to become a virtual Übermensch (German for “Overman”). Thus, in my opinion, Minecraft represents the best model of a Nietzschean philosophy trainer ever to have been conceived.

Without meaning to, I suspect, the creators have in part noticed this same features of our world which inspired Nietzsche and made room for our humanity to guide us through the rest. It is in large part the role of the philosopher to be the observer of the conditions both of the external world and their own internal states and this is one of the areas in which Nietzsche was truly exemplary. As such, it should be no surprise to us that given some basic elements of the world and an avatar capable of receiving us that we should see his work creep in to that medium, too. But what of that avatar? It is Steve’s distinct lack of personality that makes him such a perfect blank slate for us to project ourselves onto. This phenomena is know in film making as the “neutral mask” and it is one reason the stars of action movies tend to be distant or unemotional. With no cue to tell us what a characters emotional state is we will instinctively project our own feelings in that situation onto them. It is for this reason that Steve’s complete lack of any discernible personality allows us to slip into him so completely as to become a part of the philosophical process.

Many of you will have noticed my use of quotation marks when referring to Minecraft as a game. This is because in some ways Minecraft is less a game than a toy (no clear rules, goals, storytelling, etc.) but toy doesn’t seem to cover it either because, as we have seen, it is a Nietzschean sandbox of the free spirit. Can such a powerful tool be thought of as a toy? Can a game be more true of the world than it is fantasy and still remain a game? Was Minecraft ever a game and if so which characteristics made it such? I have no good answers here as Minecraft seems to defy definition by most of the standards I know for these categories. Perhaps that characteristic itself lends credence to the notion that Minecraft is more than any game before it true to the world Nietzsche hoped to show us.