Marxcraft: Introduction

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“Why on earth would a Communist waste their time playing Minecraft?” a comrade asks, interrupting my somewhat endless flow of syllables . I do not respond, but stare blankly at them. I mutter something about it being fun & theoretically interesting. I drop the conversation. 

It is now 3 months since that question; you could say that this is me refusing to let it drop. Regardless, this is the 1st post in a series that will provide an analysis of Minecraft, from the perspective of a Marxist-Leninist. As I seem to be on somewhat uncharted territory here (Marxist video game analysis doesn’t seem to exist), this 1st post serves the purpose of explaining why an analysis of video games is necessary & why I think Minecraft is significant.

Arise workers of Minecraft!

‘In the social production of their existence, men inevitably enter into definite relations, which are independent of their will, namely relations of production appropriate to a given stage in the development of their material forces of production. The totality of these relations of production constitutes the economic structure of society, the real foundation, on which arises a legal and political superstructure and to which correspond definite forms of social consciousness. The mode of production of material life conditions the general process of social, political and intellectual life. It is not the consciousness of men that determines their existence, but their social existence that determines their consciousness. At a certain stage of development, the material productive forces of society come into conflict with the existing relations of production or – this merely expresses the same thing in legal terms – with the property relations within the framework of which they have operated hitherto.’ [1]

To set the above quotation in context, Marx classifies the production of artistic work as a form of social production which, as we may see above, is related to the material forces of production (their development). The artist is not, has never been & cannot become separate from this. What arises when we consider the various different forms of artistic production – beginning with the pictorial, going through the literary & returning to the pictorial (painting -> literature -> film) – is that the mode of production has inevitably changed. To explain this at an immediate level, a film camera is a more advanced form of artistic production than a pen & a sheet of paper. What logically follows is that video games are the result of a more advanced force of production – computers.

There is no space in the present text to consider the various different developments in this form of productive technology. However, it is worth noting that, say, a ZXSpectrum is hardly comparable with the modern computer in the consideration.

In order to understand why this development in artistic production is significant – in another word, what makes it different – we must consider a further point of the Marxist analysis. As the above quoted Preface tells us, art itself is not simply a mechanical thing, representative of only technological progress, it is ideological: ‘it is always necessary to distinguish between the material transformation of the economic conditions of production, which can be determined with the precision of natural science, and the legal, political, religious, artistic or philosophic – in short, ideological forms in which men become conscious of this conflict and fight it out’ (Marx).  It is important to understand this as it allows to understand, at a rudimentary level presently, the development of consciousness. New ideas arise from the new possibilities offered by the development of productive forces – old ideas are the result of older productive tools. As Marx notes, this is where conflict arises from.

From this, somewhat overarching, philosophical framework, we move to the esoteric – the artistic  commodity. Traditional forms – by I refer to literature, painting, photography, film etc but not video games – work upon the consciousness in the production of aesthetic effects. Either through an internal symbolic structure, or through societal accepted symbols (for example, society accepts the image of Jesus upon the cross as a symbol of noble suffering), the consumption of an aesthetic effect leads to an emotional response: ‘Art systematizes a very special sphere in the psyche of social man – his emotions’ [2]. The emotional response, generated by artistic aesthetics, can be said to be the effect of art, at its most fundamental level. The problem resultant, to a Communist, is the individualist approach inherent in this form of productive. The subject of an artistic work is passive; their emotions are guided by the artist, so that the artist may generate a specific response: ‘Wundt, in establishing the origin of social creativity, was finally forced to resort to the creativity of the single individual. He says that the creativity of one individual can be recognized by another individual as an adequate expression of his own ideas and emotions’ (Vygotsky). Of course, 1 must admit that there are exceptions to this & that a work of art is, very definitely, effective only insofar as it is located in an adequate material context. However, the point stands, art possess a hierarchical & individualistic tendency, the anti-thesis to Socialist, collective organisation.

We now turn to video games. The fundamental characteristics of the traditional form, if we are to speak in a general category, remain: aestheticism still guides our hand. However, what has shifted is something that, hereto, has not been achievable in the realm of artistic production. In order to complete the video game, the consumer must engage with it actively. Regardless of whether we are discussing Pong or the latest in reactionary theatrics (Call of Duty), the gamer is a participant within the work of art – they shape certain aspects of how it functions & certain aspects of the aesthetic effect. This is by no means collective but it holds within it the idea of a collective approach to the consumption of art. In essence, video games provide us with that which has been impossible in art (due to limitations in the mode of production) – agency.

It is important, at this point, to note another comment from Marx: ‘No social order is ever destroyed before all the productive forces for which it is sufficient have been developed, and new superior relations of production never replace older ones before the material conditions for their existence have matured within the framework of the old society‘. (Marx, Preface to a Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy; italics mine).

My AI will bow to no pad.

With all this in mind, we come at last to Minecraft. An analysis of this game is important for more than can be listed in 1 post. What is, however, evident, is that Minecraft has both advanced the form which video games take by presenting the consumer with more freedom than in any artistic work prior to its construction, & it has popularized this. In Minecraft the player is presented with very little of the aesthetic, but is instead tasked to create their own. Again, this process is not collective, but it is participative.

Aye, that’s why a Communist would play Minecraft.

[1] Karl Marx, ‘Preface’, A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy (1859), reproduced on Marxists’ Internet Archives: http://goo.gl/Vyxv3.

[2] L.S. Vygotsky, ‘On the Methodology of Art’, The Psychology of Art (1925), reproduced on Marxists’ Internet Archives: http://goo.gl/ZEfNBz.

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