The idea of nonviolence in games is a subject I’ve found interesting before. After the awful events at Sandy Hook, I posted about my belief that the problem lies deeper than just violent media. They are a symptom, not the problem. I do, however, think that media and video games can be very much part of the therapy.
The average video game, not so much, as they are designed to require the use of violence. But free-form Virtual Worlds like Minecraft or Second Life have more potential. The need here is not that the game prohibits the player from the use of violence. The game should give us that option, but also the option of nonviolence, it’s important to give the player the choice. This allows the player to properly explore the use of nonviolence in a setting where violence is possible. I propose that Minecraft is the perfect place to do just this.
Let me start by giving a very brief overview of the game. Minecraft is a virtual world that is a huge and randomly generated. You (the player) starts in the wilderness with either nothing, or a supply chest with random contents. Your task is to build a shelter, thrive, explore, build and so on. The world is truly huge and has a very good crafting system, so you can build all sorts of things from buildings to technology. This is fine, but what makes it perfect for our purposes is the fact that the world is populated by various creatures, both passive and hostile. The hostile mobs will attack, but they can very often be avoided. The passive mobs mostly won’t attack, though some can be provoked. They also provide resources that the player needs, this can cause a useful dilemma. In my opinion, these qualities makes Minecraft perfect for the purpose of exploring nonviolence.
So with all of this said, am I completely pacifist or nonviolent in Minecraft? The difference as I understand it is that a pacifist is completely opposed on political/moral grounds to any use of violence. Someone who is nonviolent can espouse these views in one context, but agree that some violence may unfortunately be necessary in other areas.
I take the view that self-defence is permitted. The question is one of intent, I bear no ill intent to the mobs and will happily avoid them. If I am attacked, I will defend myself but this raises the point that such fights in Minecraft are often to the death. There are mobs that can sprint to chase the player and have ranged attacks, they can be very difficult (often impossible) to escape from. The best approach here, I think, is to do what we can to minimise such occurrences. We do need to be realistic though, these things will happen inworld sooner or later. We will need to use violence in defence, but only as a very last resort. With this, I find the Taoist attitude to offer illumination. In the Taoist view, violence is very inauspicious and should be avoided. But, Lao Tzu was a realist, he knew that sometimes a nation, a group or an individual would have to resort to such means. His view was that these things should be approached as a funeral, not glorified or relished.
To illuminate what I mean, I’ll include chapter 31 of the Tao Te Ching here. This is from Derek Lin’s translation which I can’t recommend highly enough. It can be found here, click on “Tao Te Ching” on the left hand side.
A strong military, a tool of misfortune
All things detest it
Therefore, those who possess the Tao avoid it
Honorable gentlemen, while at home, value the left
When deploying the military, value the right
The military is a tool of misfortune
Not the tool of honorable gentlemen
When using it out of necessity
Calm detachment should be above all
Victorious but without glory
Those who glorify
Are delighting in the killing
Those who delight in killing
Cannot achieve their ambitions upon the world
Auspicious events favor the left
Inauspicious events favor the right
The lieutenant general is positioned to the left
The major general is positioned to the right
We say that they are treated as if in a funeral
Those who have been killed
Should be mourned with sadness
Victory in war should be treated as a funeral
I’m going to go into a little more detail about my approach in Minecraft and my findings and experiences in future posts. I hope it’ll make a useful bit of reading!