Minecraft’s Impact on Creativity and Innovation
Adam Clarke & Victoria Bennett
From a child exploring inside the world of a Fauvist painting, to a United Nations global project affecting urban design, Minecraft is influencing the narratives of our lives, and shaping the ways in which we engage with our past, present, and future. Yet it was never a game designed to change the world, so why is it so successful?
A Force for Good
Minecraft gives people of all ages a space to play and allows us to try out ideas and find solutions to problems, to create from our imaginations, as well as pit our skills against threats in order to survive. We can quest, and we can create narratives. By combining these fundamentals of play, Minecraft induces a sense that we can achieve whatever we can imagine. No wonder we want more of it!
But how can it change the world? Jane McGonigal (Senior Researcher for the Institute of The Future, USA) talks about the need as a game designer to ask the following important question: how can this game lead to real and positive impacts? By encouraging the creativity of a huge community of players, and inspiring content creators to keep on coming up with more and more ways in which the game can be used to engage audiences, Minecraft has changed the ways in which people engage with narratives, and how they view video-games. Matt Booty, the Microsoft Executive who oversees Minecraft, sees its potential within the bigger picture:
“…Just as Microsoft Powerpoint is a fundamental tool for creating presentations, Minecraft is a platform for innovation that encourages player creativity…”
We have been lucky enough to be involved in this movement from the start, and it has been an exhilarating and inspiring adventure to be part of, as well as an important one. But what comes next?
The Minecraft Marketplace
In 2017, Mojang will be releasing the Minecraft Marketplace. This is a significant change in direction for the game, and one that is causing some concern. Mojang state that:
“The idea is to give Minecraft creators another way to make a living from the game…while giving Pocket and Windows 10 players access to a growing catalogue of fun stuff, curated and supplied by us, safely and simply……to make this happen, we’re introducing Minecraft Coins, which you can buy using in-app purchases on your device…”
Sounds all well and good, but let’s unpack this a bit. First off, by introducing Minecraft Coins, Mojang have introduced a new level of consumer currency that was not present in the game before. There is already the option to pay for an online space within Minecraft Realms, and there have been skin packs and mash-up packs available for purchase on console and Pocket editions. What is new about the Minecraft Marketplace is that, for the first time, content creators have a platform to sell their Minecraft Maps. This sounds good, but what impact could it have in the bigger picture?
As we write this, there are questions we don’t yet know the answers to. However, our initial concern, as content creators, is the narrowing of free content, legal issues around the commissioning of museum and other non-commercial builds, market-driven focus on maps that sell, and cross-brand promotions targeted at a young audience. We have already seen a skin pack from the Power Rangers movie appear for sale on the console and Pocket Edition Windows 10 version of Minecraft, in conjunction with the release of the 2017 movie. Does this represent the thin end of the wedge? Is Minecraft, as a result of its huge success at engaging new young audiences, at risk of becoming nothing more than a promotional vehicle? What is to stop a celebrity YouTuber from commissioning an exclusive map that is then sold through the store, played on their channel, and “sold” to their millions of subscribers as a “must-have” experience? What is to stop a commercial brand from doing the same?
In this scenario, it becomes less about creativity, and more about a market-driven venture, accessible only to the people who have the finances to buy into it. Immediately, it moves from being inclusive, to exclusive. Its starts to take away from the very thing that Matt Booty was talking about: innovation. Although Mojang state that content creators will continue to be able to “download free community creations on the internet”, as a content creator, you cannot put something on the store for free, and you cannot put something on the store without Mojang selecting it. This means that credibility will be given to Minecraft Marketplace maps. By becoming gatekeepers, Mojang are positioning themselves as the conduit for content. With profits to be made, what is to prevent those decision being driven, at least in part, by financial reward? What does this do to the role of Minecraft in museums, heritage, arts, education, and social issues? What does this do to creativity as a whole? Do market places encourage creativity and encourage innovation? Mojang are faced with the challenge of creating a market place that will continue to encourage innovation and creativity to flourish. Will content creators continue to push boundaries, break ceilings, and address issues that are not necessarily ‘crowd-pleasers’, or will they create content that will ‘sell’? Will they remain independent, or will they become corporate creators? Will Mojang select maps based on saleability, or their positive impacts?
The Future of Creativity in Gaming
As a global community, we are living in interesting times. Faced with very real threats and challenges across the world, and to the planet itself, there has never been a more urgent time to find creative solutions and pathways to change. As in all times of flux and challenge, creativity is pushing its way forward to enable us to discover how to do this. When we watch our nine-year-old son and his friends play online together, we see a future generation of makers, thinkers, creators and communicators. Through Minecraft, they are developing the skills needed to build a better future, and be the successful citizens of tomorrow. They are doing this, not by being told what they must do, or what they must buy or support, but by discovering for themselves what they are interested in, who they are, what they enjoy, and how they can make change happen. As Stuart Duncan said, of Autcraft, when a person is empowered to create from a place of self-knowledge and acceptance, “…the rest just sort of falls in to place…”.
We hope that Mojang, through Minecraft, continue to pioneer and provide an exciting and expansive platform for creative engagement. We hope that it continues to change the world, to create a positive impact as a game, and that it does not become the corporate money-spinner the community feared it would become when it was bought up by Microsoft. Tellingly, Notch, the game-designer behind Minecraft, broke his Twitter silence on all things Minecraft, stating simply:
“/me turns in his grave”.
Whatever comes next, it is important to remember that this is not the end of the story. Those nine-year olds playing together online will grow up to make the games that will shape their future. There will be new games, new platforms, and new ideas that will be used to engage new audiences and create a positive impact, but Minecraft will always be at the vanguard of that cultural shift. It has secured its position as a game-changer in the ways in which we learn, communicate, and play, and the role that video-games have in that process.
What does the future hold for us? As artists, content creators, and a family, we work to support the movement towards a more open, tolerant, creative and sustainable world. Whether this is breaking blocks, building code, or making mud-pies, we continue to say yes to the adventure, one playful experience at a time.
Adam Clarke & Victoria Bennett
Adam & Victoria’s CVs, if they had them, would include, amongst other things, Digital Producer, Global Speaker, Artist, Poet, Publisher, Minecraft Educator, You-Tuber, Creative Activist, Home Educators and Dad and Mum.
Their work, both as artists and parents, is about bringing together their experiences, skills and intentions, to create an inspiring space filled with possibilities, a space that encourages curiosity, creativity, investigation and collaboration, be that real, virtual or on the page. Through their creative work they aim to continue to engage themselves and others in exploring the personal, cultural and social narratives that we build every day.