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The Cult of Minecraft: Chain World

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You could play Minecraft right now, very, very easily. What you couldn’t play at all easily is a very special – unique, even – version of Minecraft known as Chain World. A game you could, even if you had the chance, play only once. A game only a very few people will ever play, and a game no-one who hasn’t played it will ever be told the details of.

You can know of it, but you will probably never know it.
Chain World is the brainchild of Sleep is Death/Inside A Star-Filled Sky creator Jason Rohrer, it’s a Minecraft world that lives on USB drive. Only one person may have access to that drive at any one time. Should they die in-game, a special script wipes the save game from their PC but clones it, with a fresh character, onto the USB stick, which must then be passed onto the next player. No replays. No do-evers. Once the world ends, it ends for you – but it carries on for just one other person.

That next player receives, and must play in, a world created and shaped by their predecessor, and by those who proceeded him or her. Every player must obey these commandments:

1. Run Chain World via one of the included “run_ChainWorld” launchers.
2. Start a single-player game and pick “Chain World”.
3. Play until you die exactly once.
3a. Erecting wooden signs with text is forbidden
3b. Suicide is permissible.
4. Immediately after dying and respawning, quit to the menu.
5. Allow the world to save.
6. Exit the game and wait for your launcher to automatically copy Chain World back to the USB stick.
7. Pass the USB stick to someone else who expresses interest.
8. Never discuss what you saw or did in Chain World with anyone.
9. Never play again.

(There is discussion about a tenth commandment – more on that on the current Chain World website). Whether that’s the official Chain World website remains to be seen – it’s the one set up by its current ruler, at least. No doubt there will be many more Chain World websites, as ever-more people inherit the holy drive and dream up new ways to pass it on.

Will Commandment 8 is the one most like to prompt gasps, Commandment 7 is the real key to how this secret world will be ruled and shaped. How is that interest expressed – i.e. how is the next player chosen? Well, being Jane McGonigal helps – she’s fourth in line for the sacred drive – but also an option is bidding for it on eBay. All proceeds go to charity.

So far, bidding to become Player 3 of this unique world is up to $510, but I’m willing to bet that’ll hit triple figures at the very least before the auction ends on Friday.

Once Player 3, whoever he or she turns out to be (you? Could it be you? It could!) perishes in-game, they then have the peculiar honour of posting the USB stick to Jane McGonigal for her go, who’ll be the only person to see what you made in its unadulterated form, and will probably write a book about it or something. Only she can’t because it contravenes commandment 8. Take that, McGonigal!

And what then? Here’s the current chain, which includes a few more charity auctions and – goodness me! – a promised slot for Will Wright a little bit down the line if first inheritor Jia Ji’s chain is stuck to. Which it may not be. There’s been some controversy about the use of bidding systems in the chain (see below) but I would imagine ever-new methods of selecting a successor will be devised throughout the project’s life – and often they’ll be secret ones.

If anyone wants to send it to RPS at some point, consider our interest very definitely expressed. We promise to be benevolent gods and definitely won’t just fill it with giant stone genitalia and statues of our cats*. Or blog about what we saw or did, which is the main thing.

At some point in the future, the theory goes, Chain World will have been shaped and reshaped by countless players, none of whom ever get to see what’s done with what they made. The concept is supposed to be analagous to a religion – something handed down from generation to generation, based on immutable values but forever changing as new minds get a chance to shape it.

What will ultimately happen, whether it’s a continuing success or not, I don’t know. What a wonderful experiment, though. I feel desperately sad that I will almost certainly never see it, but overjoyed that it’s out there, somewhere, evolving in secret. There is an extra sadness (expressed at length with varying degrees of rage here and here) that the first recipient of the game immediately dictated its near-future to such an absolute degree – charity auctions and guaranteed game-celebrity involvement.

Even Roher himself has recommended the winner of the auction shouldn’t give it to McGonigal, going on to argue that the eBay winner should break the “new rules.” Jia Ji can’t force anyone to follow them. However, Rohrer can’t force anyone to follow his unruling either. Which only makes it all the more exciting. The choice will lie with player 3, and player 3 only, and the choice as to whether to then auction it again will lie with player 4. Who might be Jane McGonigal. If she does get it, expect something pretty fascinating/divisive in itself to devise its next move.

Of course, what this so-called (by some) perversion definitely does achieve is that Chain World has very visibly become a sensation rather than just a quietly exciting GDC project. It’s on course to be a fast spread of belief and excitement, rather than quietly disappearing by being passed endlessly around a circle of friends – which could very feasibly have happened too. Is that more or less like a religion? In the co-opting of money and pomp, and in its controversial diversion from The One True Way into a new set of beliefs and principles, it’s certainly not a million miles away from being one… The rules are going to be ever-changing, ever-updated and ever argued about. There will be purists and there will be reformists. There will be religious flame war. Surely this is the real point.

Here’s how it all began, in a GDC game design challenge. Rohrer’s bit starts about 5 minutes in, and in its talk of how the act of creation figures into game world design is enormously fascinating in its own regard, whether or not you’re charmed by the project.

* I would definitely break the promise about cats.

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Who am I?

Alec Meer

Senior Editor

Co-founder of RPS. Dungeon Keeper & X-COM 4 Life.

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