Imagine waking up one morning, reading the latests posts on the Internet, and seeing this as a major headline: “Microsoft buys Minecraft for two and a half billion dollars.” Assuming that you’re a Minecraft fan, you take to Facebook or Twitter to vent your anger at Markus Persson for committing the crime of selling out your childhood, and about how he’s stabbed all of his good fans in the heart with this move. Surely, you believe that your righteous anger, multiplied by thousands of other Minecraft fans, will help set things straight for what is obviously the right thing. Ride on your valiant steeds and deliver a warm dish of justice, you White Knights of the Internet, ride on!
By the way, I heard if you tip your fedora and stroke your neckbeard enough times, a genie will pop out and grant you a wish.
When you read this, Minecraft’s selling will already be old news passed long into the silence of night. So you may think to yourself, “Why is this smart-aleck nerd talking about something that nobody cares about?” I’ll say this straight off the bat: I’m not a Minecraft fan. I don’t hate or hold any sort of grudge against the game (which would be weird, and also pretty shallow). It’s simply not my cup of tea. I tried it a few times before shrugging my shoulders and moving on to something else.
So why do I care about this? Because it forces me to address a larger issue that taps into this “controversy.”
Personally, I get tired of people referring to certain pieces of entertainment as “part of their childhood” or “part of who they are.” It’s an absurd notion that only survives thanks to the crazy devotion behind different fandoms (looking at you, Doctor Who fans). And there’s a reason why people often say these types of things. There’s no lie in saying that the “best” parts of our childhoods are often romanticized and rose-tinted. You felt an emotional connection when you watched Indiana Jones kick some Nazi butt, so in your eyes of course Lucas and Spielberg had your fragile heart in mind when they made the terrible “Indiana Jones: Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.” In no way am I defending that bad movie, but the point I’m making isn’t that Lucas and Spielberg allegedly sold out their art for a fat paycheck, as well as to personally smite you. In fact, that’s how any kind of art works: By money, with money.
One should remember that many things in Western culture that we consider grand pieces of art were mere products when they were created. Everybody’s heard of Leonardo Da Vinci or Michelangelo, and their famous works of art. Now I’m no time traveler (my Delorean ran out of plutonium), but I can assure you that guys like Da Vinci or Michelangelo never painted nice things just ‘cause. They never went, “Hey, let’s draw up some pretty women or Adam and God touching fingers because it just sounds cool, man!” They wanted to have these nifty little things called “careers,” where idealistically you make money doing what you love. They were usually creating their masterpieces on paid commission. The same goes for all of the West’s most beloved pieces of classical music. Or what about, say, Cormac McCarthy and his tour de force that is “Blood Meridian?” He wrote that while living off of a MacArthur Fellows grant, one of the most prestigious prizes for people who write.
The point I’m making with all of this rambling is this: People have to let go of the idea that those in the entertainment industry are personally hurting them when good people like Persson sell what they created for more money. This ultimately stems from the naive idea that great art must be divorced from any thought of money and profit to be considered great art. Otherwise, fans will scream your name with “sellout” right next to it. And unless if you’re using the word in its most basic sense (for instance, calling out the Gordon Gekkos or Jordan Belforts of the world, who wouldn’t blink at the thought of screwing people over for more money), then you really shouldn’t be saying it so liberally. Could Microsoft make any future changes to Minecraft that might tamper with the experience of playing the game? Perhaps. But should you as an individual get all festered up and put the blame on Persson? The answer is a resounding no.
In fact, that’s one of the reasons why he sold Minecraft in the first place! As a fully dimensional human being with thoughts and emotions, he was tired of always being blamed at an incredibly personal level whenever something went wrong with the game, be it a bug in the system or a sloppy update or a slow server or whatever. He was tired of being held up by many as some sort of “people’s champion,” some sort of cool indie gamer who could go toe-to-toe with the big boys of the gaming industry while adhering to the ethical code of the underdog. When it comes down to it, creating and selling games will always be his passion. That’s how he makes his living. You can call Minecraft a piece of art all you want, but don’t belittle the man when he made what was probably a smart career move. He didn’t want to be the leader of a rabid, “our way or the highway” gaming fanbase. He didn’t sell his “masterpiece” to take a swipe at you personally, it’s because he wanted to be free of that monster, as well as for the nice paycheck.
That last sentence reminds me of a phrase I like to repeat to myself whenever I witness teary-eyed fans defending a “piece of art” that “speaks to them personally” whenever anybody dares to criticize it (looking at you guys again, Doctor Who fans). Paraphrasing the late, great Frank Zappa, I chuckle to myself and say, “they’re only in it for the money.” And that’s not a sin.