Space, Horror, Minecraft

Daniel Feng

MAAD 14920 1 (Autumn 2022) Comparative Media Poetics: Horror

Professor Jones

October 19, 2022


Otto Fredrick Bollnow’s excerpts from “Human Space,” describes the two different spaces that most games occupy: day, twilight, and night space. Day spaces are full of color, brightness, and vision where the character is able to see the full extent of their surroundings. Night spaces lack light which forces the individual to carefully interact with their surroundings, mainly relying on other senses like hearing or touching. Subsequently, twilight space is the intermediate between the two where light is slowly decreasing. Minecraft, the popular open world first person game, reflects Bollnow’s depiction of day and night spaces as it incorporates many of Bollnow’s conceptual definitions of space in their game. Although, Minecraft also transcends all spaces through a single inclusion of abandoned structures. 

Day space is more specifically explained by Bollnow as the space of seeing. He writes earlier that “the essential feature of day space lies in the fact that we can ‘oversee’ it in its entire extent. Not only do I have individual objects, but I have always incorporated them in the totality of space.” (Bollnow, 203). Since everything can be seen, players are more likely to explore their surroundings to understand more of their world through interaction. Bollnow introduces this idea through philosopher Lassen’s definition of “orderliness of the visible,” which argues that an individual’s eyes create a visual space of understanding while the rest of their senses create an entirely different space on their own (Bollnow, 204).

On the other hand, vision is restricted in night space, which requires more reliance on other senses to construct the world around. Light is often so limited that people are unlikely to see even a few feet in front of them. As a result, every step forward presents a new set of visual information that needs to be processed. The lack of sensory information encourages people to pick up on usually unnecessary information like breathing patterns or heartbeat. As described by another philosopher Minkowski, “darkness seeps through your body: “It is ‘more material’ than brightness. The space of darkness does not ‘spread out before me’, like the clearly recognizable space of daytime, ‘but touches me directly, envelops me … even penetrates me, completely passes through me, so that one could almost say that while the ego is permeable by darkness it is not permeable by light’” (Bollnow, 213).

When Minecraft starts, players are greeted by beautiful meadows, bright sun, and lively wildlife. The atmosphere is filled with bird chirps, melodic music, and player movement. Day spaces encourage exploration, the player has beautiful music to listen to, and they can see almost anything in all directions. Because there are no present dangers and players are new to the world, they are willing to interact with their surroundings: break blocks, build structures, and craft items. Also, they will likely search for villages to trade with villagers or explore different biomes for a potential place to build a house. This new world is exciting and beaming with possibilities.

However, night spaces in Minecraft discourages exploration. The world is dominated by organized hostile creatures and cave systems that diverge, collaborate, and confuse the player. In fact, the world itself seems to antagonize the player. For instance, players are no longer exploring new biomes, they are anxiously attempting to escape mobs while dodging caves. Players become hyperaware of their surroundings, which was not an issue during the day time. The goal, then, becomes crafting a bed and sleeping to escape night space. Additionally, night spaces have minimal light and sound. Torches are scarce and nowhere as effective as sunlight. Moreover, the nice melodies heard in the beginning are gone. Night space is often silent with sounds of hostile mobs and player footsteps filling the emptiness. Although caves have large echoes and it is riddled with eerie unnatural noise. The cave’s sounds are omnidirectional, and the sounds themselves are completely unrecognizable to any of the characters in the game. 

As a game that has a lot of elements that Bollnow describes, Minecraft also transcends the extremes of day and night space through abandoned structures: desert tombs and mossy jungle temples are riddled with live traps that would kill players in an instant and abandoned mine shafts and hidden dungeons are riddled around the cave tunnels. All of these structures exist regardless of what space is present. Yet, there are no explanations for any of them. None of the villagers (the most autonomous mob in the game) are ever seen breaking or building blocks and their villages are basic in design compared to any of the abandoned structures in the game. As the sole player in the game that can break, place, and craft items, the game’s mystery has no resolution for the existence of previous players in this world. Thus, players feel a creeping sensation of being observed – a feeling that transcends both day and night spaces. 

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