This week, I died in Minecraft. This may sound a small thing to those of you used to dying over and over again in these cubic worlds, but for me it came as a shock, a disturbing act of violence against me. It was unexpected because I play - and have done now for over a year - on Peaceful. And partly because of this, I have made dying a big deal, something I had strived very hard to avoid. But like many deaths outside digital worlds, this came from nowhere, an unexpected accident that ended my (fictional) life.
The problems had been brewing for a while. Lag had become especially problematic when riding the rails of the elaborate mine cart network other players in this world had built, crossing great spans of the landscape in jerky, unpleasant motion. The world gad been occupied for months, although I'd not had much to do with it since I finished constructing our castle. Although my early Minecraft days were spent mining and exploring, I had long since settled into building as the source of my enjoyment, but since I also wanted to role-play (as much as is possible in such a game) it had to be Peaceful not Creative mode. I'd become comfortable in the world, willing to venture out on map-making expeditions and the like. The lag and crashes were irritations, but I hadn't thought of it as costing me anything but time until this fateful day.
I'd been thrilled to discover a sea coast to the far north of the castle, as our world had been terribly landlocked for me. Eagerly, I got my boat out of the inventory and set sail for a nearby island, map in hand. Then it hit me. A bubble of distorting lag, forcing me to quit out and rejoin. In the world, I'd been thrown from my boat, which drifted back and forth not far from me. I paddled over. Then the second burst of lag struck, this time crashing the game and sending me back to the desktop. Sighing, I restarted the client and returned to the ocean. I didn't know it, but it was already too late.
When I rejoined the world, I was at the bottom of the ocean. I half heard over the players' voice channel something about me dying, but I thought I'd misheard. But when I'd finished swimming up to the surface, I found it would not let me back in my boat. I thought it was just another problem with lag - until my screen was replaced with the simple, stark message: 'You died'. I was stunned... I'd drowned? From excitedly setting sail, to gone forever. One of the other players urged me to respawn and chase after my stuff before it disappeared, but I was still in shock, and besides I always hated that DikuMUD corpse run experience, now associated more with World of Warcraft than its origins. Anyway, there's only 5 minutes to do so before every trace of your life is gone forever, and it had taken me ten minutes to get where I was. I had to face it - I was gone.
The other players carried on regardless as if nothing had happened, exploring underground, dying sheep. My death meant nothing to them. After all, I'd just respawn and wake up in my cosy bed back at the castle, right? But I could not bring myself to do so. Respawning, this death really would mean nothing. But I needed to grieve for this lost soul, this builder of turrets and libraries, this timid cartographer. How could I do that if I just remade the digital flesh from virtual clay, made a clone oblivious to the fact - the terrible fact - of its death by misadventure.
I do not play games with permadeath happily, but here I faced an odd choice since I could choose death, permanent death, and be gone from this world save for the monuments and follies left behind. This felt right to me, it felt like the only way to honour what had happened, even if it meant leaving Minecraft, perhaps forever. For all that I have enjoyed and respected the game, it had always been a little too thick with its play - it could not match the genuine joy I felt wandering around Proteus, and the appeal of multiplayer had fallen once it became apparent that we were just playing in the same sandbox, and only barely playing together. I need more than that. Certainly more than the recently added experience system could provide - the game moved ever more inexorably closer to the Dungeons & Dragons/World of Warcraft legacy, away from the likes of The Sentinel or MUSEs.
So I died in Minecraft. I died, perhaps forever. While the others carried on as if nothing had happened, I loaded up Noctis and began my exploration of a vast and spartan galaxy. A new life, new worlds. Will I go back? Perhaps, I cannot tell if my time with this game is over, but I know I must grieve for this fictional being that died in a terrible seafaring tragedy, sucked down to the briny depths by a vortex of other-worldly origins. Farewell, you blocky worlds! You will always remind me fondly of my own Play with Fire, and what I had always hoped that might become. For now, however, I had died in Minecraft, and I was both dead and gone.