That soundtrack compilation, the eBook on common financial mistakes, the marketing agency riding the coattails of #MotivationMonday, the meme spreading like wildfire, a Minecraft test of survival…
We all consume digital content, but our tastes are our own.
At times, there are criticisms of content as a concept due to how it influences the creative process; content at times does little more than fill a space. Should then the creator prioritise his or her work in its truest form, or should they attempt to be financially viable? It is an age-old question, and the fact that everything is parsed as content compounds the difficulty.
We cannot put the genie back in the bottle as far as the digital landscape goes. We cannot disavow content and adopt a completely analogue life as we inextricably a product of our times. Instead, we must mindfully manage our relationship to the digital and all of its “content”.
How do we do this? Perhaps the king of YouTube trending has the answer.
An Unlikely Saviour
I speak of course of Minecraft, a sandbox game where the world and its landscapes are made of blocks. The game has seen popularity for a long while, but at present, the game is almost the king of content. Superstars such as Dream boast a social media reach (3.7M) that would make most corporate brands and mega-gurus hide under the table.
If you have not played before, when you start up the game and create a new world, a random seed is generated. This ensures that the world is unique to you. Upon spawning, there might be a river in front of you, a desert in the distance. A dark wood forest. These curiosities of possibility are reminiscent of stories by C.S. Lewis and perhaps J.K. Rowling; who knows what lies beyond the next chunk?
The default experience favours a survival approach; gather resources, build a home, and fend off monsters long enough to establish yourself. You can choose the direction of the world for yourself as the game rewards both exploration and initiative. Do you want a factory farm that would make PETA squeal, or to construct pixel art in the sky? Hell, some people even made a working (albeit primitive) computer.
The platform is the content.
Welcome, There Are No Rules Here
The variability of digital content often has a middleman, and that is the creator. Video essays, for example, place the ideas between you and the subject. The same could be said about many other forms of content, but not Minecraft. In being able to act out ideas and simply narrate the action, the interpretation is for the viewer, but they are under no illusions about their experience.
In truth, Minecraft honours the universal experience. There is no story. No narrative, no ethical structure. It is a world unto itself, with no rules other than the mechanics of the game. The world generation serves the freedom afforded to the player. The only limit is your imagination.
This is further emphasised by people that play with commitment to hardcore worlds. Having one life changes the experience, it makes it pseudo-human. Your choices and decisions are altered, but once you are set-up for survival, what do you do then? Purpose must be self-generated, and this inclination, like a muscle to be trained, is what content creators rely upon.
Necessity is the mother of invention, after all.
Minecraft is a bastion against what content is at its worst —when it offers nothing of the spirit, nothing humanistic. What people produce has an earnestness analogous to life. Taking care of a newly built farm extends beyond the mechanics, it encourages you to care about nurturing and prosperity as broader ideas, from the quaint cottage to the epic underwater base.
The human element is a tonic to the virtual experience, it offers something uniquely imperfect, subjective, and true in the eyes of the person that built their own corner of the block world. In survival worlds, one must strive to develop resources, a throwback to the priorities of earlier human civilisations.
From The Ritz to the Rubble
As Minecraft content is so popular, it faces challenges inherent to the nature of content, with algorithmic pressures insisting people do better, do more, to rake in those views. You might ask, how can this devouring beast of digital optimisation be thwarted? The answer is it can’t, but it can be given pause.
When Minecraft is at its most ambitious, recreating the entirety of Middle Earth or building entire cities, it does something that transcends content, it speaks to the retired engineer building dioramas with epoxy resin, or the daughter that got a new Lego set eagerly desiring to see what she can make. It doesn’t matter that the container is managed by an algorithm, if the work itself musters awe.
Yet, that’s the high end of saturation. For the master builders, content is subsumed into their great ambitions to generate story and spectacle, but it’s only one ace in the pack. There are numerous quiescent videos of pastoral views with no commentary, for pure relaxation. There are series dedicated to the idea of starting over, building from the ground up, of involving new people, trying out new concepts. The potential is endless, and so too is its attraction to audiences.
See, Minecraft doesn’t prescribe how to play the game, who should play, or what the point of it is. That’s upto you; it defeats the boom-bust cycle of content, and vanquishes the derivative nature of endless consumption. It can dazzle with spectacle or it can make a house by a lake seem like an oasis in a world of chaos.
Minecraft can do both, it can do it all. After all these expansive projects and series, people are continually waiting for the next update, as the innovation never ends. When we are tired of content reducing art to an expectation, meaning to a marketing strategy, we look to the curiosity and creativity of a sandbox where newer generations amass followings from the incipient desire to play, reminding us all that Picasso was right.
We’re all born an artist, the problem is staying one.