On Minecraft and Materialism

What can be said about Minecraft that hasn’t already? You are given a world to play in and you are all alone. You are free to create anything and to sculpt your environment to how you see fit. But the fact remains you are… alone. No one to talk to, no one to help you, and no one to share your victories with. Anything you build will only be experienced by you and can only be appreciated by you. Yet people still build and create art even though no one will see it. Massive castles in the sky, complex mines, roller coasters, cannons, farms, even pixel art and 3d sculptures in their voxelized glory never to be shared.

Humans have an innate desire to create and preserve. Even if no one will see it, and sometimes especially if no one will see it. Yes, there are Multiplayer servers, and they can do fantastic work. But things built there are built to impress. They are made to gain the approval of others and let your work be preserved for the ages or until a griefer stops by.

The real game is in the single player survival. Multiplayer doesn’t have nearly the features and support single player does. At times, Multiplayer feels like it is hacked together. Every release brings on new game breaking bugs despite fixing some of the old. I cant tell you how many times I’ve have had to tell people on my Minecraft server “No mine carts”.

One of the things that drives people to play Minecraft is the freedom from physics. Your mind is your only limitation. You want an impossibly huge hanging garden floating in the air? You can do that. But what draws me in is that in minecraft you are alone. Far from the noisy cities and busy roads, sometimes it feels you are able to sense the breath of nature and sense history, even be a part of it. To stop time and motion, while gazing upon ancient mounds and majestic rocks, fathomless skies, endless valleys, swift rivers and sharp mountains. How long have they been here? How long have you been here? Was anyone else ever here? But now that you are here, what do you do?

I was talking with a friend about Minecraft and creativity when I mentioned Sand Mandalas. For those of you who are unfamiliar with this, Tibetan Buddhist Monks spend countless hours creating beautiful and intricate pieces of art with colored sand. Then once the work is completed it is ritualistically destroyed. It is done to remind the monks that life on this material plane in fleeting and temporary.

Creating something for the sole purpose of destroying it intrigued me. It seemed fitting to try and apply this in Minecraft. And with a little convincing from my friend, I will hopefully bring you all along for the ride. Beyond here lie blueprints, logistics, musings, reflection, and self discovery. Come join me, you may even learn something about yourself along the way.

mandala kalachakra

First off I needed a Mandala to recreate. I have chosen the one pictured above. In order for this project to have any meaning it must be a challenge to complete and something I would be proud of. So I decided to pick one that is colorful and bright upon first look but studying it deeper reveals hidden intricacies that draw you around the design. That level of design is very difficult to pull off in Minecraft seeing as how you are given cubes to work with, so I would need to make my mandala BIG. From my (poor) calculations I found this design to be 757 pixels in diameter. I could try for a 1:1 recreation but you wouldn’t be able to see it all, as Minecraft has a view limitation of about 300 blocks. So I created an arbitrary unit of measure called a “Cube-it” that is a 10×10 section of pixels. Plug in some numbers and I am going to need just under 72,000 blocks of dyed wool.

With my math done and project idea conceptualized it is time for me to start clear cutting, punching sheep, and harvesting dye. Updates on this next week!

Part two can be found here

Part three can be found here


  1. Tom

    That’s a fantastic undertaking, sir. I wish you the best, as someone who never has the patience to make anything in Minecraft.

  2. Really looking forward to seeing progress on the Mandala!

    However, what version of Minecraft are you running? Minecarts have been fine in SMP at least since the start of Beta, and in 1.5 the multiplayer implementation is basically identical to the single player. The only differences left are due to lag, which can vary, but is never completely avoidable in an online game.

    • Grant French

      Thanks! I am excited to get it started. But the logistics is going to be a nightmare. Currently my biggest problem is trying to place an outline, and I keep losing count. Probably going to need to make a system for keeping track.

      Well 1.5_02 has only been out for a short while and I do run that now. But I have been running/helping to run Minecraft servers long before that.
      From my experience Mine carts and Boats still cause lag. A great deal of it. But there are more bugs than that I still deal with.
      That link has pretty much every bug known. He has made great progress in fixing these bugs, but there are still plenty left to go.

  3. Pingback: Minecraft and Materialism part 3 « Nightmare Mode