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The Chain World Controversy: Jia Ji Speaks

Featured post that's not him on the left

Chain World, the secret Minecraft game that we first posted about here, has already encountered a difference of opinion that threatens to tear it apart. On the one side, you have the supporters of Chain World’s original intentions – for the world to stay closed, relatively mysterious, and for it be passed on from player to player with reverence.

On the other side you have the second custodian of Chain World, Jia Ji, who has elected to bend the rules and, rather than simply handing the USB stick with the world on it to someone who “expresses interest”, turn it into a charity auction. With the auction to be third inhabitant of Chain World ending in a matter of hours – head over now if you want to bid – we spoke to Ji about exactly why he’s so controversially changed the project and what he intends for it next…
RPS – Tell us about yourself.

Jia Ji -Yes, I usually try to keep a relatively low profile so most people have probably never heard of me. I started off as an MMO developer in both the US and China. A Tale in the Desert is probably the only thing I’ve worked on you’ve played. I also launched an exercise gaming platform to promote senior fitness, but after that was acquired in 2008, I semi-retired from the gaming industry to do full-time charitable work (http://couchange.org). Nowadays, I only occasionally help out with gaming projects I believe in, which usually have a socially-beneficial slant like Apps For Healthy Kids or Chain World. Oh, and I’m a longtime reader of RPS and usually post under my WoW character name of Zoetrope.

RPS – So how’s being the second custodian of Chain World playing out? It’s got a whole lot of profile for something that started so small.

Jia Ji – It’s been interesting and unexpected. Before we set up the charity auction and ChainWorld.org, our main worry was if people would actually use the site and if we’d get any bids outside our circle of friends. And now we’re on the frontpage of RPS, so I guess we’ve hit the big time :) It really does feel like being a custodian, or perhaps more accurately, a janitor. I’ve mainly been trying to clean up messes and put out fires. I prefer the title, FlashDrive-Bearer of the Sacred Chain World though…

RPS – How do you feel about the criticism about what you’ve done with it? Do you sympathise?

I totally sympathize with the criticism and appreciate people bringing up valid concerns about the meaning/intent of Chain World, suggested commandments, and generally adding more drama to make the meta-game more interesting. However, what I don’t appreciate is personal attacks, especially those directed at my friends and colleagues who are merely trying to support creative gameplay and charitable works. Any vitriol about the charity auction should be directed solely at me, but please try to keep your death threats and insults creative and humorous, not creepy and offensive (http://chainworld.swio.ws/?page_id=2#comment-69).

RPS – Any plans to adjust your plans for it in the wake of what’s been said? And do you think McGonigal and Wright will play ball if it does end up with them?

Jia Ji – Plans will be adjusted, I have a habit of being accommodating, but it’s impossible to please everyone. Volunteers are aggregating the discussions at ChainWorld.org and the @ChainWorld twitter account, so I’m reading through all the commentary nightly. I even read the translated non-english commentary and listened to the first podcast about the situation last night, so we’re trying our best to make sure everyone’s opinion is heard. So far, the best suggestions I’ve heard are:

1. Donate to the tsunami relief efforts. Which we will be doing with all proceeds in excess of $1000 (the amount we need to run the annual children’s hospital fundraiser), so please continue bidding here, currently only halfway to our goal.

2. Schism Chain World into at least two copies/sects, one being the orthodox free-for-all advocated by Darius and the other being the cause-oriented charitable version proposed by myself.

3. Destroy Chain World, as devilishly advocated by Jonathon Myer. If he wins the auction, I offered to personally take a trek up the nearby active volcano and toss it into the crack of doom like any good FlashDrive-Bearer would do.

4. Create a hidden physical shrine for the original Flash Drive in an isolated area with guardians for intrepid Indiana-Jones/Lara-Croft/Nathan-Drake wannabes to track down. The is actually more feasible than it sounds since I’m currently interacting with off-the-grid jungle communities. I’m reluctant to get any more detailed or commit to a specific plan because another suggestion I like is to be intentionally vague/mysterious and even go so far as to propagate false rumors/myths. As for Jane and Will, I’m pretty sure they’ll play Chain World if it’s sent to them and do something great for their preferred charity. That’s another thing I didn’t understand about the protests, why wouldn’t you want to play a design game with amazingly skilled designers? It’s like if people complained about the opportunity to play music with Mozart or paint with Picasso.

RPS – You seem fairly interested in breaking the original Chain World rules/concepts, or at least bending them: why is that?

Jia Ji – Rules were made to be broken or at least challenged, stretched, adapted, and built upon. How else do we make progress and leave our mark upon the world? I think that’s the part of Jason’s presentation at GDC that spoke to me personally. I loved the story about his grandfather and the legacy he left on his small Ohio town that arguably made it much better. Being also from the Rustbelt (Pittsburgh), I can appreciate that Midwestern stubbornness.

RPS – Have you stuck to/will you stick to Jason’s original rules?

Jia Ji – I’m trying to follow the spirit of Jason’s commandments, but perhaps not to the letter. Obviously, it’s hard to accurately interpret somebody’s will and intention (a challenge many religions have had), so ultimately I will be judged by future generations of players. I think most of the drama around Chain World comes from people tossing out judgement early since we’ve tried to be very transparent and communicative about the process.

RPS – Is this becoming, as intended, like a religion?

Jia Ji – It’s getting increasingly more religious, as many people have already written about, so Jason should consider it as success. However, some of us are trying to keep the holy wars on a low simmer, which is probably not what real religious leaders would do. However, we are trying to keep Chain World partially focused on doing good works in the real world, which is basis for many world religions.

RPS – Can you reconcile what you’ve done and what you intend with that concept?

Jia Ji – One thing I find amazing is how consistently people have been acting according to their own personal beliefs. Besides a handful of people trolling because they like internet drama, I think the vast majority are being entirely sincere. We’re not roleplaying a religious schism, we are having real disagreements about the future of an artifact some people ascribe much value to and the legacy of a set of beliefs and rituals. I’m pretty sure if you polled most of the people involved about what they think of their actions, they would have little or no regrets.

RPS – What do you see as being the likely future of Chain World?

Jia Ji – I’ve done my best to make sure it doesn’t drift into obscurity, escape just the indie game development community, and hopefully do some good work along the way. Other than that, I can’t say. After it leaves my hands, I have hardly any influence.

RPS – Obviously you cannot tell us anything about the current state of the in-game world (and I suspect doing so couldn’t live up to our imaginations anyway), but does it feel distinct from being simply a game of Minecraft that no-one else can see? Is there some degree of otherness to it?

Jia Ji – No comment, I’m still holding to the 8th commandment.

RPS – You offered RPS a copy of Chain World. Why?

Jia Ji – It’s not against any of the commandments and I really wanted you guys to make another joke about Quinn’s lack of iron…

RPS – Those jokes are, we can assure you, inevitable anyway. Thanks for your time.

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Alec Meer

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

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