Posts Tagged: nonviolence

Nonviolence in Minecraft, Part 2

Minecraft LivestockI posted last week about nonviolence in Minecraft.  Specifically, I talked about why I find it useful to use Minecraft to explore nonviolence and explained what I mean by nonviolence.  This week, I’d like to examine of the more problematic aspects of this, passive mobs.  A mob is a mobile entity in Minecraft and they can be either passive or actively hostile.  Examples of passive mobs are Cows, Chickens, Sheep and Pigs.  Examples of hostile mobs are Zombies, Skeletons and Creepers.

So, why do these passive creatures provide such a problem?  The issue is twofold.  Firstly, the player has a hunger bar which is depleted by activity.  The second part is that certain resources are gained by killing passive mobs.  So, what do we do about diet?  Well, it’s perfectly possible to be a Vegetarian in Minecraft, I’ve been doing it just fine. The Minecraft Wiki has a number of foods that don’t need an animal to die.  Unfortunately in the early stages of the game, you may be forced into killing by a simple lack of available vegetarian food.  You can speed things up early on by planting and coppicing Oak trees and waiting for Apple drops and using the banks of waterways to plant Wheat.  When planting Wheat, place some torches near to it to keep the light level up on the squares at night.  This will keep it growing at night. Advantages later in the game are that you can very easily produce large amounts of food by arable farming.  Also Sugar Cane, Pumpkin and Melon have their uses elsewhere so an arable farm is a worthwhile investment.  Cactii are also worth your time as they can provide another layer of defence and also green dye when cooked in an oven.

This does bring us to the more difficult problem of the other resources these creatures provide.  For example, arrows can only be made with a feather.  You get a feather by killing a chicken.  Books and leather armour need leather, this is obtained from cows.  This is quite a bit more serious as anything that uses books will require premeditated killing.  But, there are workarounds.  Arrows, leather armour and books can be obtained by trading with villagers and other players.

This begins to allow us to form a more concrete position with regards to nonviolence.  The first is that all other avenues should be explored before resorting to killing passive mobs.  The second is that a longer term view may be beneficial with regards to getting these resources via trade and that it may be the case that tactics would have to be changed if things like leather armour and arrows were unavailable.

What does this allow us to bring out of Minecraft to the real world?  At this point I think we can say that “instant gratification” can lead to ethical issues fairly quickly.  It also looks as if it can be simpler to follow ethical and nonviolent positions if you can be flexible on how you do things and take the longer term view.

Nonviolence in Minecraft

Minecraft ScreenshotThe 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!

A Violent Society

The most awful news broke last weekend of a massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut.  I sat, stunned, along with everyone else.  What in the world do you say? Why on Earth would someone do that? These questions are being asked elsewhere, I certainly have no ready answers.  My belief is that we seem to live in society that promotes violence.  This is something I’d like to mull over today.

I think it’s fair to say that we’re immersed by depictions of violence, we can be a violent society. I mean, how often does the hero in a film, book or game use violent means? Let’s look at the films currently in the cinema and the computer game top 10.  At the time of writing at least half of the current top 10 movies are primarily violent.  Almost half of the video game chart are violent, though I worry their impact is higher due to the more immersive nature of the format.  I would also like to point out that there is now evidence that prolonged exposure to violent games leads to greater aggression in children.  Exploring further, of the top 5 most wished for games on Amazon.co.uk, 4 of 5 primarily have violence as the content. For the curious, they are: “Halo 4”, “Call of Duty Black Ops 2”, “Far Cry 3” and “Assassin’s Creed 3”.  The only exception being “Just Dance 4”.  The exact content of these charts is variable over time, so I encourage you to look for yourself.

There’s an old saying that “you are what you eat”.  Fair enough, but I’d like to point out that this fully includes the realm of the mind, as well as that of the body.  This is why you have to take care what you allow into your consciousness. This beings to lead us towards Mindfulness and Karma, but I’ll wander that road another time.

Personally, I take the view that the problem runs much deeper.  The games and films are a symptom of the problem, not a cause.  Pointing the finger at them is easy, it neatly excuses us from examining ourselves.  Yes, we are the cause. Consider that Amazon wishlist, there is clearly a deeply held desire for violent content. This demand for violent content starts within us and it can only be stopped within through mindfulness and education.  I do agree that guns should be more tightly controlled, after all, who needs a military assault rifle for home defence?

We also need to honestly examine the conditions that produce a society that demands the violent content. Without this most important step, any and all controls that could be enacted are simply buying time.  This sounds negative, but I feel it’s important to turn this round.  In fact, this is the same turn around as Buddhism has.  The third and fourth Noble Truths.  The first two of the four Noble Truths describe suffering and the cause of suffering.  If Buddhism ended there, then as Alan Watts so wonderfully put it “the game wouldn’t be worth the candle”.  It’s the same here.

What makes Buddhism such a positive force is the Buddha’s point that we do have a cure and there is most definitely something we can do.  Here also, we are not helpless. In reality, the power to make a difference is within each of us.  We need, as individuals, to start to make even a small but consistent effort at mindfulness and nonviolence.  It’s something I’ve been working on since before the blog reboot.  I do intend to return to that subject, again, using the Minecraft game as my canvas.  But without this individual effort at awareness, all the external measures; the laws, will ultimately be for nothing.