Minecraft & The Uncanny, Part 2

This is the second of a two part series on Minecraft.  Up until now you could only read it if you bought my book, but I am posting it here to give you a sense of what the book is like.  You can buy it here.  More importantly, I’m hoping you will find the topic interesting enough to vote for my presentation proposal on Minecraft & Mindfulness for SXSW this year.  You can do that here.

In Minecraft, nothing is present-at-hand, at least initially, until you realize that the ground you are running on or the mountain you are climbing aren’t just that, they are materials.  You can dig up stone to make a furnace, then bake bricks out of clay, build a house and so on.  The world gradually becomes ready-to-hand.

There is no avoiding the sense of throwness when you begin playing Minecraft.  It comes with very few directions, although there is plenty of info on the web to be had.  The downloadable beta allows you to play single and multi-player, with the single being a good way to practice the basic mechanics.  The multiplayer version opens up a whole new vista.

The multiplayer game is hosted on individual servers all over the world, some of which you can log into for free, others for a small fee.  Once logged in, the virtual world is a huge massively multiplayer sandbox, which can be a very social experience.  The cooperative building in some of these worlds is incredible.  My first journey to a server in France threw me into a world which included a vast underground city beneath a dome of molten lava.  Players are allowed to explore the world, and at a certain distance from their neighbors mine, farm and build.  Like Second Life, you can port to various places on the server, and encounter anything ranging from a Waterslide Park to a model of Hyrule, all built out of the game materials by the players.

Once in the multiplayer world, the social element of the game can become compelling.  People on chat are offering to sell gold ingots, suits of armor they crafted, or tracts of land they have developed, for both in-game and out of game monies.  You can have as much or as little to do with that as you like, and you can teleport to far-off corners of the map if you want to build and play in undeveloped lands.

In its simple mechanics, Minecraft allows us to glimpse the uncanny experience that I would suggest all video games have.  Video games are a unique art form in that they are both interactive and aesthetic by nature.  In fact they are far more stimulating and less anergic than watching television, and stimulate more regions of the brain.

Video games allow us to experience our throwness in a new world, and the animistic state of being inherent in the uncanny. We are never completely at home in the world of the game, although the game may become more familiar over time (or not, in the case of the indie game Limbo.)  We are always just visiting, strangers in a strange land.  But within the game world, mana and magic are also real, and our thoughts and strategies can quickly and permanently change the world.

Psychotherapy is in many ways, another sandbox game.  There really is no way to win in it.  The office becomes a setting for a potential space that can be shaped and altered by the patient and something new created.  Psychotherapy is also an uncanny space, one that resembles the world outside the office and yet does not.  It is a place for “everything that ought to have remained … secret and hidden but has come to light.”  Within that space, the patient experiences hauntings by ghostly relationships from the past, encounters the internal monsters of the drives, and explores the wishes behind their secret injurious powers.  Unexplored and avoided, these have calcified into symptoms, and the anxious, exciting, process of therapy helps the patient break down that calcification for a more flexible psyche.

Any child or gamer knows that play is a serious and dangerous business.  There is always the risk of annihilation, and no place worth going to doesn’t have its hazards.  But there are great treasures to be found in the game.  Further, the emotional and intellectual changes encountered within the game can then be taken out of it into the daily life of the gamer.  This is one of the reasons that video games are so compelling.  Why else would people spend hours making houses out of pixel bricks?

Both psychotherapy and video games create very real thought and feeling states in people, and that is part of their curative power.  In this book I hope I have shown that they can restore a sense of purpose and achievement that our patients have lost.  I have discussed how they can help people stay connected with others over great distances in times of duress, help us feel the sense of achievement necessary to learn and change behaviors, and explore aspects of their personalities that may be less easily seen or developed in their daily lives.  I have also explored how we can use the experience and metaphors from video games with patients to help them understand ego defenses, communication patterns and strategies that impact their relationships, and apply game mechanics to their lives to change them.  I have tried to discuss the stigmatization of gamers and technology in terms of diversity, in particular social class.  Finally, I hope I have shown how therapists can apply the principles from video games and gamification to impact both their clinical work and business skills.

All of this pales in comparison to doing the actual work, and by this I mean two things.  The first and most obvious one is the practice of psychotherapy.  Theory is a necessary but insufficient precursor to clinical practice and healing.  The second piece of actual work will be for the therapist to begin playing some video games.  Reading is not the same as doing, and it is only by entering the uncanny and enriching world of the video game that therapists can hope to truly understand them.  Never has play been more important in our work, and never has understanding video games been more urgent in healing the world.  To do so we need to rethink our attitudes and reconsider our biases towards gaming and technology.

It’s time to reset.

Gamer Therapist is on vacation, so we’ll see you in two weeks!  In the meantime, please vote for our minecraft panel at SXSW!

Like this post? There’s more where that came from, for only $2.99 you can buy my book. I can rant in person too, check out the Press Kit for Public Speaking info.  Subscribe to the Epic Newsletter!


  1. perfect to pass on for my son. Very cool.

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