DIGITAL IS REAL / A LOOK THROUGH MINECRAFT

22 FEBRUARY 2022
EDITORIAL



Historically, there was a distinct divide between real and digital. The very implications of this phrasing positioned digital as a non-reality. So in recent years, it has been reworded to accommodate contemporary viewpoints: now there is a distinct divide between physical and digital. This divide is decreasing, but a cultural recognition of the two points meeting is still absent. There is techno-utopianism and physical purism.

The past years of amplified online lives, accelerated by staying at home and Web3 advancements, created a schism between the digital and non-digital, regarding their validity.

NFT

spaces became the battleground, over which the public and large profile artists expressed options, from Damien Hirst’s and Takashi Murakami’s approval, to Brian Eno’s criticism, and Kanye’s disinterest. The fundamental misalignment seems to not be so much about the

content

of digital entities, but their very

medium

. Yes,

Bored Apes

are bad, but the cyclical outrage over the price tag of an artwork one doesn’t like is jaded now, and can’t be taken for institutional critique.

“How could someone pay

that much

for a jpeg?!” This reaction makes sense, since most people, even in digitally developed countries, were socialised in an environment with physical exclusivity, or at the very least, as in the case of Millennials and some of Gen-Z, physical-primacy.

There are several, already familiar, scenarios however, that demonstrate a non-binary categorisation of experiences. In this text, I’ll highlight some of these through Minecraft, revealing a bidirectional relationship between the physical – extending to income, identity, aesthetics and freedom of information – and the digital. Ultimately, this is a much larger question of what is considered “real”, but by drawing parallels between socially accepted forms of reality and emerging realities, we can discover that a fluent primacy inclusive of both categories is not as removed from us as initially seems.



Minecraft income:
Minecraft YouTubers find themselves in the peculiar situation that their income is dependent on a digital product. Their material conditions depend on playing Minecraft, and creating content of this process. Here, the digital materially communicates with the physical, in a bidirectional way – the “Minecraft money” with one’s needs for food, shelter and leisure. This process is of course more complex, but all throughout, it contains the same two-way communication: physical computer hardware + digital game and editing software; physical internet infrastructure + digital video sharing platform; and then for the consumer physical viewing device + digital video sharing platform. One redundant without the other.

Minecraft identity:
Identity is another area where digital and non-digital converge. One carries their personality and interests into the game, which may be determining their digital identity and play-style. If someone’s more interested in exploration, they might play Survival or Hardcore in Minecraft, whereas someone interested in making might only build in Creative. Minecraft’s skins, as well as gamer tag system, also reflects qualities in personality, expressing taste, both visual and linguistic. And, in turn, the digital, gamer identity can affect the non-digital identity, if one considers it important enough in their lives to carry it across from the game.

Minecraft aesthetics:
Minecraft YouTuber

WBC Builds

(2022), showcasing his

10 years of progress

on his creative world of Whiteburg City, touched on aesthetics in Minecraft. He discussed how his taste developed over time, and how he is now capable of creating more accurate, historic architectural styles in Creative. In the video he explains: ‘behind me here are some Georgian townhouses. ... You can see again where my building styles and designs [are] coming from. ... These are getting more and more proportionally correct, and you can see we are mixing and matching scales a bit.’ Minecraft architecture looks outward, observes physical structures, their features, historic specificities, which are then translated into the game. Through this, the Minecraft architect gains insight into city planning, historical expressions, geographic and cultural particularities, as well as balance, scale, materiality, and other design considerations.

Minecraft anti-censorship:
International non-profit Reporters Without Borders worked with Minecraft design studio BlockWorks to create a digital,

Minecraft library

, allowing readers to bypass oppressive government censorship and access banned content. ‘One of our most ambitious projects to date, we worked with Reporters Without Borders, … to create a Minecraft experience dedicated to the freedom of the press, and exposing press censorship’, says Blockworks. ‘We were asked to build a giant library inside Minecraft which contains censored journals and articles, banned in several countries, thus bypassing press censorship in oppressive regimes.’ ‘The project gained over 47.3 million impressions across social media, over 25 million visits to the library and resulted in a 62% increase in donations for our client, Reporters Without Borders.’ The Uncensored Library, a digital-only experience, elevates the deprived physical, material state of freedom in certain countries, demonstrating an agreeable application of fluent primacy.


The above scenarios of Minecraft gaming demonstrate already socially accept, ubiquitous cultural deployment of the physical and digital worlds meeting, positioning the digital as something just as real as its counterpart. Reframed this way, with the familiarity and weight of game experiences and content reassessed, other digital objects, such as

NFTs

become easier to understand.

Again, the divide is not a result of the quality or financialisation of digital entities, but the

perceived validity

of their medium. It is between those who hold the physical to be more significant, and those who put equal, or greater significance on digital. It’s not to assert either is better or more desirable, but to understand a fluid relationship between and across these two states is an option as well, an option that doesn’t deny or deprave the opportunities and freedoms found in each.

As of now (February 2022), digital objects are continuing to take up functions that physical ones do, only though a different medium. Recently, the cultural institution

180 The Stand

and nightclub

Village Underground

in London both offered visitors to their venues a digital object with their admission ticket. Much like a book or exhibition catalogue, or wristband one keeps for their sentimental value, these digital objects will hold a similar position for those whose primacy is a fluid one between the two, previously considered separate, worlds of culture.


Infrastructure:
One of the strongest arguments against the validity of digital entities, is the physical infrastructure and materials needed to create, sustain and expand digital entities. It is absolutely true that physical infrastructure and materials are the foundations of anything digital. But after their initial establishment, digital tools have been used for decades to create physical entities.


Endnotes / The physical in decline:
One accelerator of digital-primacy for the majority of technologically advanced population is the material decline they are facing. As living standards continue to decrease, since the advent of neoliberalism, with torturous reminders in 2008, and continuously since 2020, a simulated world might be more rewarding for most, than the dysfunctional capitalist system they are forced to sustain for the benefit of a few.

A Wojak animation by Low Budget Stories, titled

Living in a Metaverse

illustrates this point, with depressing, comical accuracy. In the animation, we are greeted with Wojak, dressed in an elegant, black shirt, in an affluent metaverse bar, talking to a Tradgirl. Eventually, Wojak’s internet cuts off, and he wakes up to a dim, unkept room, with a dark circles under his eyes and a distressed, yet pacified look on his face. He then finds himself in an Amazon factory, conversing with a younger coworker, who is enthused by an upcoming metaverse update. Unlike his coworker, who perhaps grew up in digital-primacy, Wojak understands the severity of this material poverty, yet he returns to the metaverse again to simulate a somewhat endurable life for himself.

With a possible techno-feudalist system unfolding before us, such an outcome doesn’t seem too unrealistic, and could push many towards digital-primacy as a result of unbearable physical existences.


References:

(1) David Rudnick on the

Interdependence

podcast delves into great detail about our time’s struggle for primacy. His thoughts served as the foundations for this text.

(2) Baudrillard’s “hyperreality” can be extended to this context of digital and physical. Eventually, we won’t be able to distinguish which one is the original.

Blockworks (2020)

The Uncensored Library

. Available at:

blockworks.uk/the-uncensored-library

(Accessed: 20 February 2022).

WBC Builds

(

2022

)

Minecraft : 10 YEARS in the Making - Whiteburg City : A History

. 2 January 2022. Available at:

youtu.be/vz-hm7mSyfY

(Accessed: 20 February 2022).




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