A few weeks back, my neighbour’s 8 year old son spent almost over an hour carefully spelling out ‘Minecraft’ in foot and half high multi-coloured letters on the sidewalk in front of his house and mine. When I asked him why he liked the game, he said: ‘It’s entertaining…. And it’s really good for spatial stuff and building things.’ His eyes lit up and he started describing all the things he’d built, the CN Tower, a castle, and various objects from volcanos to dynamite. Later this week he’s going to show me what he’s made and I can’t wait.
Minecraft is huge – an online game sandbox that allows anyone to build pretty much anything, developed by Markus ‘Notch’ Persson. Not only was Notch awarded the BAFTA Special Award in March 2012 for ‘significant contribution to a sector,’ Minecraft is now the best selling XBox Live Arcade game ever, with over 2 million games sold. So when a friend’s 14 year old son, Alex, told me he spent a ton of time playing in online versions of The Hunger Games built in Minecraft, I ever curious, immediately asked if he would show me. As he played through a number of games, he filled me in on the rules – it’s an open game world, any one can play, games usually have 8 players, though there are lots of variations.
You log in, choose an active game in the game world antechamber or lobby & then wait for a unanimous vote for the game to begin. During the interim, players can chat, form alliances & move around the environment. When it does start, following the rules of Suzanne Collin’s imagined game, you have to wait for the countdown, make a mad dash for the treasure pile to score weapons, armor, and consumables to maintain your health. Some game mods like Minecraft The Hunger Games Mod Minecraft 1.2.5 foreground details such as how ‘ Mocking-jay pins can be used to ally with characters who do not attack you. such as Peeta, or Katniss’ and the attributes of weapons:
- The Spear (throwable)
- The Knife (stackable and throwable)
- Katniss’s Bow (same as normal bow)
- Night-lock (poisons and blinds you)
- Night-lock Sapling
- Cornucopia block (gold and silver)
- It introduces mutts!
- Cornucopia Pack (found in cornocopia, right click to obtain item)
- sponsor package (given randomly)
- And the Mocking-jay pin
Other games outline a rigorous protocol to stay faithful to the original novels: ‘ We will be following the rules laid out in the book, The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins as closely as we can manage. Players will start in a lobby area; each player will enter a room, which will then be closed around them. The players will then be teleported to the arena, as soon as they arrive at the arena, the game begins. There will be chests of supplies nearby. Take whatever action you wish to ensure victory, be that fighting for the initial supplies or making a run for it and making your own gear. There are also a few chests with useful gear in them, but they are hidden throughout the level….’ <http://www.planetminecraft.com/forums/positron-servers-hunger-games-t79661.html>
If you know the game environment already so you know where the treasure caches are, you might choose to race to find the hidden caches so you can load up your inventory to protect yourself and begin slaying those less fortunate. Some games will have preset time restrictions (2 minutes? more? less?) before the killing can begin.
Any one can create a Hunger Game, and my guide told me about the epic game launched spring 2012, Minecraft Hunger Games ‘Free for All,’ which was built to host 150 players, with seriously extensive environments, game play, and many many hidden caches of weapons and supplies. The games I watched Alex play tended to be short, as he failed to score weapons in all but one of his games so he spent much of his game time racing away from others, repeating ‘I’m so dead, I’m so dead, I’m gonna die…’ When he did find a sword, the tables immediately flipped and he took off in pursuit of other players to kill them before he was spotted. Now, as he played he had the advantage of a tracking mod (paid for) which showed him where all of the other players were in the game world. As I watched, he confirmed that the players he was pursuing were blissfully unaware of his stalking until he killed them, unless of course, they had the same game mod.
And herein lies a beautiful lesson in the logic of fan adaptation. Where Collin’s novels are complex and layered in their politics and social critique, filled with ambivalences re. characters and the world depicted and an underlying rejection of contemporary American society, fans have taken the core of the action – kill/be killed within a specific set of rules & environment – and invested enormous amounts of time and creativity in remodelling Collin’s arena as a first-person shooter game.
Yet, if the games strip the novels down to a super simple narrative form, this phenomenon exists because of the commitment of individual modders spending hours building games to surprise and amaze others. What is really remarkable is that this explosion of creativity is possible because of the supportive stance the indie game developers Mojang (team of 2!) have taken. In a Gamasutra interview from January 2012, now lead developer Jens “Jeb” Bergensten talked at length about Minecraft’s indie process: ‘..we are such a small team that we can’t compete with the rest of the world with content. So, there’s a change in priorities, that we really need to open up the game for other developers to add mods, and share mods, and run servers more easily. So, what I mean is I will work less on features, and more on the engine part of the game.’
Numerous players are posting their game videos on YouTube, though again Alex informed me you had to buy the camera mod to record player games. These basic machinima videos – unscripted, unedited – are hysterical in their own way, particularly as you often find the disjunction between the first person pov negotiating through the virtual world with occasional, rapid fight sequences and then the parallel audio of individual players narrating their game play experience.
Not surprisingly, other properties have been rebuilt in Minecraft, most notably perhaps, Zelda Adventure, a 10 hour remake of The Legend of Zelda, which still appears to be playable online. Meaning that Nintendo, who have been ferociously guarded of their IP in the past, have chose to let this game continue. Lionsgate has resisted pushing the catch phrase ‘Let the games begin,’ and the extensive social media campaign deliberately avoids letting fans actually play the games in all aspects of their social media campaign. With 2 novels still to adapt and 3 films projected ahead, fans have gleefully bypassed studio to play directly in The Hunger Games and have taken control of their own engagement. Given the rate of game modding underway, who knows what fans and modders will have created by the time the next film is released? May the (r)evolution of fan generated content continue…
some works cited – for a full list of YouTube links – contact me:
Gamasutra ‘Talking the Future of Minecraft’
Hunger Games Mod for Minecraft
Positron Servers Hunger Games
Minecraft Hunger Games Server – YouTube
Minecraft Hunger Games Survival Captain Sparkles Part 2 - YouTube
MC Survival Games Servers – Ep3 - YouTube
Minecraft The Hunger Games Mod Showcase (And Gameplay) (Part 1) - YouTube
Zelda Adventure - - YouTube