Minecraft’s Atom


Given that the fundamental element of Minecraft (Mojang Studios, 2011) is appreciably large, what its players discover is a sandbox-style game in which the ubiquitous block, Minecraft’s atom, stands for an unparalleled degree of immediacy. Alongside the seemingly counteractive effort of modding communities to overhaul a videogame with higher-resolution textures and examples drawn from a range of other media, this article reinterprets Minecraft’s functionally retrograde look as symptomatic of nostalgia for a mechanically direct conception of reality and what Henri Lefebvre (1974/1991) theorized as any space’s continuous “production.” Compared with the endless regression of nature—and, consequently, its decreasing comprehensibility—implicit in a materialist worldview, the geo- and biological stratigraphy of a Minecraft environment may be thought ontically homogeneous, insofar as a house and mountain will vary principally in their number of 16 px3 blocks. These issues are motivated toward a consideration of the artificial shortcomings of digital games generally, or their “fictional incompleteness,” and the paradoxes that arise from the suggestion of visual depth. After introducing what I describe as the translation from life, or “itemization,” of those objects, settings, and events that form the content of digital games, a final discussion of the miniature allows me to revisit Minecraft’s appeal at the phenomenological level. In turn, the clean manageability of ludic artifacts is understood as a desire for control in increasingly opaque daily life.

May 4, 2024