Gaming

There is no storytelling like Minecraft’s exquisite emergent narrative

Image: Kate Gray

Today is the fifth anniversary of the release of Minecraft on Switch, and we’re celebrating it the only way we know how: by writing a lot of words about it. Hooray!


I was not at home when my house caught fire. I didn’t even hear about it until the next day, when it was too late: the beautiful Tudor cottage was nothing more than a smoldering shell, the fire long gone out.

The living room downstairs, completely furnished with wood, didn’t stand a chance; the copper countertops in the kitchen upstairs looked better, but the long-gone wood floor made it impossible to actually use This is. The ladder, also wooden, was hidden in a corner that the fire had not reached, so that I could look at the ruined upper floor. Where the window frames used to be were gaping holes surrounded by charred stone, and the oak roof where the lightning had caught fire was completely gone.

This was not the kind of house I could live in. I was devastated. It took me clock build.

(If it is not clear from the name or photos, this is a house in the city of mine craft. My real home is still alive, at least for now.)

But as the early morning light filtered through the rubble, I realized something: what I now had, instead of a livable home, was a beautiful ruin—something lot more creatively inspiring. After all, anyone can build a house, and ruins are something organic, something that only nature can create. Or, well, an imitation of nature.

With the help of friends who were very sorry that I had to start from scratch, I filled the dacha frame with plants. Moss grew happily on the exposed foundation, and vines snaked along the remaining walls, descending onto the grassy carpet like long curtains. The deep browns and grays of the house were replaced by vibrant greens, as well as pinks, whites, reds and yellows from various plants; sunflowers and roses bloomed joyfully where sofas and tables used to stand.

It took me a long time to build the original house, but turning it into a ruined garden took even longer because it was my project, not a textbook, and not something that requires symmetry and perfection. Its beauty was in the chaos, in that it looked like a natural mess in the open air. It was incredibly fun to both build and look back, and while I couldn’t live there anymore (I mean, technically, the beds were still there), I liked the ruins a lot more.

Emergent storytelling is a story that was not written or added by the developers, but happens organically.

This is just one example of what happens in games called “emergent storytelling” – a story that wasn’t written or added to by the developers, but something that happens organically. Games are great for this, because many of them are unscripted and unpredictable, but even those that are a fairly well-written script will give the player a sense of belonging to their story.

For example, in The Witcher 3, my Geralt shaved and cut his hair right before going on a date – something unnecessary, which the game does not require, but it adds to my feeling of freedom in the game. AT Fallout 4my romantic interest is gone is absent because of, well, the legendary crappy Fallout scenario I guess – but I didn’t really mind because it turned a relatively ordinary romance into the tragic story of a widow from a wasteland. So cool, even if he was carrying some of my best equipment when he went AWOL.

In games like Minecraft, which are much more sandbox-like, the emergent narrative is shaped directly by the players. The story of my tragic house fire and my inspiring recovery was not created by Mojang, nor was it facilitated by NPCs or story quests, as in the examples I just gave. Instead, Minecraft gives you two things: a box of toys and the freedom to use your imagination to create stories with those toys.

As a result, I have tons of Minecraft stories. Some of them are more interesting than others – I don’t think you want to hear the story of dragging a polar bear across miles of tundra to bring him to a special bear cave I made for him in my house – but the thing is, which they all have in common is that they my.

They are even part of my life story.

A trading hall for the villagers, which I built with my distant partner, where all the villagers were called “Toby”, and therefore the hall itself was called “Tobatorium”; the time we went on a massive underworld adventure only to end up at the bottom of the sea; the special secret rooms we would build to cheer each other up are all part of our relationship.

Of course, Minecraft has been around for much longer than five years on the Switch. It first went public in early access in May 2009 before being fully released in 2011, making it older than many of the people who play it today. Some people have more than a decade of emergent narratives like mine behind them: worlds they built from shacks to huge metropolises, people they got closer to by building blocks, hard times they got through with big cube polar maps. the Bears.

So, I invite you to tell your emergent story from Minecraft in the comments! Happy birthday Minecraft, and may there be many more.




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