Clive Thompson: ‘The Metaverse Is Already Here — It’s Minecraft

Clive Thompson:

The truth is, a thriving metaverse already exists. It’s incredibly high-functioning, with millions of people immersed in it for hours a day. In this metaverse, people have built uncountable custom worlds, and generated god knows how many profitable businesses and six-figure careers. Yet this terrain looks absolutely nothing the like one Zuckerberg showed off.

It’s Minecraft, of course.

I think this is a compelling argument. But the big difference from Zuckerberg’s stated vision is that Minecraft isn’t even just one metaverse. Minecraft alone is like millions of metaverses. Zuckerberg is talking about One True Metaverse that connects the entire world. Something, obviously, akin to Facebook’s position among “social networks”.


This hackability is part of why the game has remained so vibrant: Players are constantly revitalizing Minecraft and inventing new things you can do inside it. Third-party folks build tools like skin editors to make it easier for players to be creative.

As a piece of software, Minecraft isn’t open-source, but it’s very friable and gas-permeable around the edges. Mojang was willing to give their players a lot of control, and it’s part of why people are devoted to the game.

I could be wrong, but I honestly can’t imagine many of the big tech metaverses allowing this sort of Xtreme tinkerability.

I would argue that Minecraft’s sensational and enduring popularity isn’t despite the fact that it is not open source, but because it is not open source. Open source is not a panacea — far from it. An open source Minecraft would likely, in my opinion, devolve into something akin to Calvinball, where the only rule is that there are no permanent rules. A closed system that encourages and enables a rich amount of user hackery within a set of reasonable constraints is almost certainly more fun and rewarding to most users than an anything-goes free-for-all.

(Via Kottke.)

Friday, 5 November 2021