Sunday, January 15, 2017

Not Yet Dead

Sorry about the radio silence. No, strike that.  Why do people in the 2010's even say "radio silence" anymore? Isn't that term, well, quaint by now?  I should just say, "sorry about the silence" and leave it at that.

Anyway, sorry for the recent silence, and for those of you keeping score at home, I'm not dead yet and haven't had any recent setbacks leading me closer to that outcome, other than impermanence and the unrelenting march of time and all that.  I've just been on break from this site, first live blogging the entire 2016 college football bowl season on Tumblr, mostly for the amusement of my family, and then after that to regroup, gather my thoughts, and try to find the voice and message appropriate for the strange new times in which we find ourselves here in the Age of Trump.

I've been severely disappointed and outright appalled by the sorry state of our nation's politics, and to a large degree, I've been unplugged, off-line, and reinvigorating my meditation practice.  Part of my response to the appalling results of last year's election was to not entirely eliminate, but certainly drastically reduce, my time and involvement on social media like Facebook, Instagram, and Blogger (except for the aforementioned live football blog over on Tumblr).  I'm staying informed, perhaps more informed than ever, with paid subscriptions to real journalism at The Guardian and the NY Times, but I've been trying to escape the on-line echo chamber of partisan chatter and fake news proliferating on the interwebs.  When this reality's turned to shit, why not just create your own, and I've been escaping into the fantasy world of video games and what better game is there for designing and habituating your own reality than Minecraft?

Minecraft's been around for a long while now, but for those of you new and unfamiliar with the game (hi, Mom!), it's a first-person perspective survival game that has no real rules or mission or imposed narrative - you don't have to complete certain achievements to move on to a next level.  Instead, Minecraft simply drops you into a random, computer-generated world and lets you do whatever you want.  To survive in this fantasy environment, you use trees and rocks and other assorted materials to craft your own tools, build your own home, hunt and grow your food, and try to not only just survive, but actually thrive.  And oh yeah, at night, zombies and monsters come out and try to kill you, so you have to plan for that.  But at least there's nothing really scary like a President Trump.

The video above is a tour through my current Minecraft world, the alternate reality I've been inhabiting since the New Year.  There was supposed to be my voice-over narration, but my computer mic is stuck on a very low volume right now for some reason (I'll get that fixed eventually), so instead I'll just have to describe it to you.  As you can see, I "live" in a grassy valley over a wide, gentle stream,  with beechwood and oak forests, and populated, in addition to myself, by horses and sheep and other farm animals (and at night, those zombies and monsters).  But the video opens in the early morning (note the low sun) and everything's safe, and I attempt my best Hollywood-style, 360-degree pan to show you around.

That barn-like structure over on the edge of the valley is my house, and after crossing paths with a couple of non-plussed sheep, I show you around inside.  It's rather small, but contains my bed, a foot locker, a crafting table, an oven for baking and cooking food, a bookcase, and a treasure chest.   As you can see, inside the foot locker are various things I've collected over time, like some left-over building materials, my stocks of wood ("woodstocks"), and some things I've gathered from the Netherworld (more on that later).  Inside the treasure chest are some diamonds and diamond accessories, including a diamond pickaxe (because how can you say you're thriving if you don't have a diamond pickaxe?), emeralds, gold, redstone, lapis lazuli and obsidian.  As you can tell, the mining has been pretty profitable for me.

Outside of the house, I've built a separate, low, stone-walled blacksmith shop between two oak trees where I forge the tools and weapons used for mining and defense.  The blacksmith shop has two furnaces for smelting ores, a chest with lots and lots of coal, iron ore, and other minerals, and a black anvil over in the corner.  That growling sound you hear in the shop is from some zombies trapped in a cave beneath the shop, but that's a story for another time and another day.

After the blacksmith shop, we take a short little jog (like most video games, your character seems to always run wherever it goes - gamers apparently have no patience for a leisurely walk) over the ridge to the vegetable garden on some fertile soil I found near a little pond.  It's hard to survive the game on a vegetarian diet, but I try my best, supplementing my crops with some fish from the river (sharp-eyed readers may have spotted the fishing rod in the foot locker back at the house).  I'll slaughter a pig or a goat when I have to in order to survive, but like in real life, I try to keep my meat consumption to a minimum.  Anyway, while at the garden, just to show you how it's done, I harvest some beets, potatoes, carrots, and wheat - there's lots of wheat because in addition to being able to bake bread with it, I can use wheat to feed and breed the horses and sheep.

But anyway, on with the tour.  After the garden, we go on to the Sun Temple that I built on top of the hill. On the way over, we appear to pick up a new chicken friend who's probably more interested in the seeds that we just harvested than in us, but those kind of little events are part of the charm of the game.  So we go up the hill to the granite-and-sandstone Sun Temple and remember to close the door before the chicken follows us in (no chickens allowed in Temple).  The Temple has a skylight that lets a beam of light come straight down at high noon, and the windows are oriented to catch the sunrise and sunset. Inside the Temple, you can see the Enchanting Table and sacred book, which takes its knowledge, literally, from the texts on the adjacent bookshelves. The Enchanting Table is used to craft spells on the tools and weapons manufactured in the blacksmith shop, and to create more arcane things than mere tools and weapons.

Speaking of the arcane, for the final stop, we leave the Sun Temple and head back down the hill, remembering to first put away the seeds so the chicken doesn't continue to follow us, because we definitely don't want a chicken crossing over to where we're going next.  Very sharp-eyed viewers may have noticed a shimmering purple light behind the house - that's an interdimensional portal I built there that allows entry to the Netherworld. The Netherworld is basically Hell, as you'll see as we step through the Portal, the game takes a moment to adjust itself, and we're delivered to the dark and mysterious Netherworld, full of strange sounds, fire, vertiginous heights, lava flows, and zombie pigmen.  It's very dangerous and not at all pleasant and we don't want to stay there for long (as I said, it's basically Hell), so we go back through the Portal again to the infinitely more pleasant Overworld and back to where the tour started.

Looking at the sun, we can see that it's now mid-afternoon (days pass very quickly in the Minecraft world) and time to wrap up the tour, but that world has been where I've been abiding/retreating, spending my days and nights exploring, crafting, mining, farming, fishing, and generally adventuring. I'll snap back to consensus reality soon, I'm sure, but in the meantime, fighting zombie pigmen with enchanted weapons is a lot more rewarding than on-line reading about the awful, disappointing state of current events.

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