Minecraft: The Robinsonade of Creativity or Colonialism?

Group project summary, by leader Adayan Munsuarrieta

Minecraft (2009) is a sandbox survival game that was developed by Mojang and has evolved into a household staple across the United States. The initial premise of Minecraft is similar to that of the genesis of the robinsonade genre; the story of Robinson Crusoe in its survival and resource building mechanics. Robinsonade stories have existed for centuries which means their popularity and colonialist themes have stood the test of time. However, through its incorporation of multiplayer features and creative mode, Minecraft has had a split between being a robinsonade survival game and a creative outlet for people to construct their own worlds. Nearly eleven years since the release of Minecraft, how has it reproduced stereotypes within its genre and how has its new modes influenced the perception of the game?

Daniel Defoe’s novel, Robinson Crusoe, set the norm for many of its successors through its colonialist origins and themes such as survival, the exploitation of natural resources, and otherness. Throughout the novel, the protagonist is faced with numerous challenges from being taken hostage by Moroccan pirates to being shipwrecked on an island alone; his one goal remains the same: to survive and benefit himself. During his shipwreck, Crusoe made his own settlement and claimed ownership of the land and its resources like the diamond mine. He finds ways to not only survive on the island but also sees things through an industrial lens. Similarly, during his journey we see him make companions such as Xury and Friday and make enemies out of indigenous people he defines as cannibalistic monsters. Despite this distinction between ally and foe that Crusoe made, he devalues the lives of people of color as he makes Xury an indentured slave for ten years and reduces Friday to being his slave. Therefore, Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe creates a generic category that reproduces the colonialist experience.

Continue reading

The Forest: Spatial Narratives in a Subversive Robinsonade

Group presentation summary by Peter Forberg. This post will contain small spoilers for survival horror game The Forest.

The history of the Robinsonade is the history of shipwrecks: by boat, by plane, or by spacecraft, hapless travelers find themselves stranded on the shores, hidden beneath the canopies, or lost in the sands of some remote island or labyrinthian forest or sprawling desert. In this sense, The Forest (2013) begins much like any other transit disaster, sending the player crashing down into the trees of a mountain-lined peninsula with no other survivors—no other survivors except the player’s adolescent son, who is immediately pulled from the wreckage by a looming, naked mutant. And so, at the outset, The Forest announces that it is not merely a sandbox for enterprising colonizers, nor does it hide the fact that this brave new world is filled with dangerous mystery and lush with stories. Understanding that The Forest emerged during the survival-crafting game boom of the early 2010s, the developers needed a way to differentiate their game from the endless explore-mine-build games that followed Minecraft’s (2009) massive success. Thus, they took a different approach to the genre, with the director of the game Ben Falcone stating, “Our focus is much more on a survival horror experience, letting players experience being in the world of ‘The Hills Have Eyes’ or an 80’s Italian cannibal film” (Savage 2013). Seven years out of the initial alpha release, Falcone’s vision has been realized (with a sequel in the works), so what exactly does The Forest accomplish within this generic category; more specifically, how does it apply and subvert the tropes players will associate with popular survival games such as Minecraft or Terraria (2011)?

Continue reading