Let’s sum up the facts:

1) Jason Rohrer creates a game about religion for a GDC contest. It’s a unique flash drive containing a modded Minecraft called Chain World.

2) He creates nine “commandments” and gives the drive off to a second “owner” at GDC.

3) The second owner sets up a charity auction to benefit Child’s Play for the next owner, whilst having Jane McGonigal and Will Wright calling dibs on owners #4 and #6 respectively.

4) People FLIP THEIR SHIT (no links, because… come on) over someone auctioning off the flash stick or reserving it for anyone.

5) Hilarity ensues with polarized camps. The “orthodox” camp sees this as a perversion while the “reformed” camp thinks it is a great idea to raise money for charity. The parallels to modern religion abound: Matthew 16:19, protestant power struggles, apocrypha, Scientology and so forth.

The difference between Chain World and religion that breaks down the metaphor is scarcity. Religion itself isn’t scarce; it is meant to be memetic. Religion artifacts, however, are scarce. How do we determine who receives the Chain World artifact next? Lo, commandment #7, etched into the stone iPad reads: “Pass the USB stick to someone else who expresses interest.” Unfortunately the method of that passing is never mentioned.

Darius Kazemi seems to be the spokesperson for the orthodoxy and he says: “My major issue with this is that it is limiting the people who can participate to people who have money or are famous enough to get on the list.” But how else to distribute the scarce resource? In a money-free transaction, how does Owner #N pass to Owner #N+1?

Well, he or she will likely pick from someone they know who will be interested enough to appreciate the idea and pass it on when he or she is done. Owners N to N+x will likely all come from the same social circle, limiting the artifact to an already connected group of people. Auctions are one method to cause the device to migrate throughout different social circles. Auctions are certainly not the only method.

Thus, the main difference between the bidding schema and the orthodox schema is that in the former the wealthiest have the best chance, while in the latter the most connected have the best chance. Is one more noble than the other? Is it perverted to use some objective measure like amount-of-money-willing-to-give-up-to-charity to use to measure enthusiasm for the idea? What happens if the connected person gives it to someone who doesn’t care enough to pass it on? Do you think that would happen with someone who paid $500 for the privilege?

This makes it seem like I’m coming out on the side of the reformation. I’m not. I think that since “Owner #3” will own it, that he or she can choose not to give it to Jane or keep the auctions going. But if “Owner #3” wants to put the drive in a museum and not follow the commandments, I think that too would be a positive statement. “Owner #3 can no more control what Owner #4 does with it than our forefathers could control which religious dogma we discarded (shellfish are an abomination, divorce is a punishable offense) and those which we held dear.

Talking about meta-procedural rhetoric.

One thought on “Fervor

  1. What gets me about this is that one of the commandments is to not tell anyone about what is actually inside Chain World.

    I do wonder how many people will eventually get to see it.

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