I wrote a story for a friend
In which I liberate the ending to Minecraft from Microsoft… and give it to you.
SHORT, DRY VERSION
I wrote the End Poem for Minecraft, the most popular video game of all time. I never signed a contract giving Mojang the rights to the End Poem, and so Microsoft (who bought Minecraft from Mojang) also don't own it. I do. Rather than sue the company or fight with my old friend, who founded the company and has since gone off in the deep end, I am dedicating the poem to the public domain. You'll find it at the bottom of this post, along with a Creative Commons Public Domain dedication.
Anyone can now play with it. Have fun.
MORE EMOTIONAL VERSION
I wrote a story for a friend. But in the end, he didn’t treat me like a friend. And I’m hurt.
That’s the core of what I want to say. But because the story I wrote was the ending to a game that has sold two hundred and thirty-eight million copies, and affected a lot of lives… I need to say a little more.
But that is the core:
I wrote a story for a friend. But in the end he didn’t treat me like a friend. And I’m hurt.
HEROES AND VILLAINS
That makes this sound like it’s going to be a nice, simple, good guy/bad guy drama; I’m the good guy, Markus is the bad guy. The classic. But that’s not it, at all. It’s sadder and more complicated than that. Nobody is the bad guy, which is why it took me so many years to work out what the problem even was; the problem I am finally, I hope, solving today.
Everybody did their best. We just didn’t understand each other, because we were playing different language games. And that has led to this very strange situation, where Microsoft has accidentally stumbled into committing perhaps the largest copyright offence of all time. (Hi Microsoft lawyers, if you are reading this! Don’t worry, keep reading, I’ll talk to you at the end, it’s going to be all right. And hi regular subscribers! Yes, this is a long, weird post, and addressed mostly to new readers, for reasons that will become clear; but I hope you will find it interesting too.)
Anyway, this is what happened.
ARE YOU A TALENTED WRITER?
Back in October of 2011, Markus was getting ready to launch the official, finished version of his computer game, Minecraft, in Las Vegas. His indie games company, Mojang, had sold 5000 tickets for the launch event, scheduled for November 18th in the Mandalay Bay Hotel. But he still didn’t have an ending, and there was only a month to go.
So he tweeted on Twitter, “Are YOU a talented writer (famous is a plus ;D) who wants to write a silly over-the-top out-of-nowhere text for when you win Minecraft?”
And someone who knew my work immediately recommended me to him. This was surprising, but not entirely unreasonable. Though I certainly wasn’t famous, I had (a couple of years before this) won what was then the biggest prize in the world for a single short story. I’d also written the first short story ever published by the Financial Times, and the lyrics to a top ten hit single, and so on: I liked writing short, weird, interesting narratives, to appear in unusual places, and I was good at it. And I’d met Markus two years before, at the Berlin Indie Games Jam, and liked him; he’d been kind to my daughter.
So that night, Markus emailed me, and asked if I would be interested in writing the ending to Minecraft.
Now I’m a pretty strange writer; I was worried he might not know how strange, so I sent him a deeply peculiar short story of mine called The iHole, as a sample of my work. He loved it, and said I was definitely the right guy for the job.
I was intensely aware that this was a very personal game for Markus, very much his vision, and so I asked him did he have anything in mind, any guidelines? He said he had no idea; he just felt that killing the Ender Dragon should trigger a narrative of some kind that would wrap up the game. But he wasn’t a word guy, and hadn’t a clue what that narrative should say. That was why he wanted me to get involved.
So I had total freedom! Fantastic.
I asked him a couple of technical questions: could he code it so that my story addressed the player by name? Could he make some of the words look encrypted, or obscured, in some way? He said yes, and yes; no problem.
And so I played the game, day after day, often alongside my daughter, trying to understand it; trying to understand Marcus's philosophy through it; trying to understand the essence of Minecraft. And when I felt I knew those things, I wrote the ending.
As I have recently said elsewhere, writing that ending was a particularly unusual writing experience. In some ways, it seemed to write itself; that is, in writing it, I had a strong feeling that the universe seemed to want to address people directly, and it was doing so through me. (If you are a reductionist materialist, and uncomfortable with the thought of the universe addressing people through a disorganised Irishman, no problem; you can interpret it as my unconscious writing the ending. If you are religious, you can imagine God – or indeed the other guy – inspiring me. Or, if you are an Ancient Greek, you can imagine Calliope, the Muse of Epic Poetry – or Polyhymnia, the Muse of Sacred Poetry – or, sigh, perhaps Thalia, the Muse of Comedy – working through me to write it. Whatever metaphor works for you.)
More concretely, I wrote it longhand, and, as I did so, sometimes my wrist sped up, and I would watch words simply appear on the page before me, without my conscious mind having any idea what the next word would be. It was a fascinating experience.
So, the universe (or my unconscious, or Thalia, or the ghost of Philip K. Dick) dictated the ending, and I polished it up a little and delivered it to Markus.
OK, I’LL TALK TO YOUR FRIEND CARL
And Markus got back to me immediately, and said he loved it. He told me that I had articulated his philosophy of life better than he could ever have articulated it himself. I asked him if I should cut it, because it was very long for something that was supposed to scroll up the screen at the end of a game. (It took about 9 minutes.) But he didn’t want to change a word. So all of that was wonderful. One of the most satisfying artistic experiences of my writing life.
But while we were engaged in this deeply satisfying artistic collaboration, something else was going on.
Because Markus said at some point, oh, you should talk to my friend Carl about getting paid. Because we hadn’t talked about money – I was just doing it; making art, the bit I enjoy. So I said, OK, I’ll talk to your friend Carl. And I talked to Carl, by email, absentmindedly, in parallel to working on the ending.
But this is where things went wrong, because I was so thoroughly in art mode, making art with Markus, that I didn’t change gear when talking to Carl. I felt we were all friends, making art, and that the point of the conversation with Carl was to, as friends, work out what was fair. Not negotiate ruthlessly; work out what was fair.
But those are totally different things.
So I had a weird back-and-forth email conversation with Carl, where I just misunderstood what was going on.
Carl was indeed Markus’s friend, but that didn’t automatically make him my friend. Carl was there to negotiate the best outcome for Mojang’s shareholders, who happened to be three people; Markus; his friend (and Mojang co-founder) Jakob Porsér; and Mojang’s CEO, who happened to be… Carl.
Looking back, I can see that I should, at this point, have handed the conversation over to my agent, Charlie, who negotiates my book deals with publishers, and who is a complete darling, and good at this sort of stuff. But I got stuck. I think I thought that bringing in my agent would potentially mess up this pure art relationship. Maybe he would be too ruthless, and it would all fall apart! Of course, now I can see that it would have had the opposite effect; Markus and I could have talked art, and Carl and Charlie could have talked money, and everyone would have been much happier.
CORPORATE FINANCE VERSUS ART: ROUND ONE
So there I was, talking to Carl, thinking I was talking to an art friend. As a result, I wasn’t negotiating like a proper grownup with an agent, I was rambling along, in email after email, trying to work out what was fair, trying to find some common ground which did not in fact exist, because we were doing completely different things. Because Carl wasn’t an artist, he was a guy who had studied Corporate Finance at California State Fullerton. He had a master’s degree in Business and Administration. And he had no idea why I was rambling on like this. And so, as my emails got longer and longer, his emails got shorter and shorter, as he got more and more annoyed with me…
And eventually Carl threatened to dump me, and get someone else in to write the ending, if I didn’t wrap up the negotiations that day and take his first offer. I was stunned, I didn’t understand what was happening, and so I said, OK, I’ll take whatever the first thing you offered was. The friendship is more important than the money.
Now, Carl didn’t do anything wrong here. Carl is not the baddie either. He was a CEO, and major shareholder, behaving the way a CEO and major shareholder is supposed to behave. The misunderstanding was all mine. But it led to a weird mess.
Because we hadn’t really agreed on anything. We’d simply had a failed attempt to find a fair price for using my work as part of Minecraft.
Bear in mind, here we were a couple of weeks before the official launch, and Minecraft was already a phenomenon: in its unfinished state, it had already sold five or six million copies, in beta, at $15 a copy. So it was, at that point, already a hundred-million-dollar game, but with no ending, that desperately needed an ending in time for the official launch. What's the fair price for that? And what form should payment take? Who the hell knows.
Peanuts and pizza?
A million dollars?
A thousand dollar success bonus for every million new sales?
Shares in the company?
Some cowrie shells?
Carl decided the answer was €20,000 (and a vague promise to help promote my other work), and in all the confusion someone sent me the money, even though we still didn’t have a contract worked out.
Which was great, because I was beyond broke, and I desperately needed that money. For the previous year or two, I had been working obsessively on a novel that I wasn’t being paid for, so I was earning nothing; I had burned through all my savings, and my credit card was maxed out. I had a jar of change in the flat, and I was using the coins from that change jar to buy me coffee while I wrote. (I would make one coffee last three or four hours, treating the cafe like a cheap office.)
So, €7000 paid off my maxed-out credit card, and a couple of thousand more went on other outstanding bills and debts, and I ended up with about €10,000, which was enough to keep me and my family alive for about six months in Berlin (our rent was low) while I continued to write my weird novel about computer games and teenagers and the universe and love.
SO-CALLED MORAL RIGHTS
But when Carl finally sent me the contract, it was late December: the game was already out over a month, with my ending, and I felt completely railroaded. How could I give meaningful consent to a contract I didn’t even get a chance to see before they’d used my story?
Plus, I was deeply unhappy with how the whole conversation with Carl had gone. I felt we’d failed to communicate, and probably needed to start again. So… I didn't sign the contract.
This is embarrassing to admit, but I didn’t even look at it at the time, let alone sign it; just the sight of it stirred up such negative emotions. (I know, I know, my attitude to paperwork is totally dysfunctional.)
THREE MILLION DOLLARS AND A CHOCOLATE SANTA CLAUS
So, I knew we really should probably sort out the bloody contract at some point. But I didn’t want that painful conversation. And life goes on, I was busy making weird art, getting obsessed with the nature of the universe… I let it slide. And they were so busy, with the launch and its aftermath – a small indie company now doing big-company numbers, overwhelmed by success – that they let it slide.
So, anyway, the ending had turned out great.
The launch had been a triumph.
Now sales REALLY took off.
Early next year, Markus earned a three-million-dollar dividend on his shares in Mojang. But, as the actual value of his company, which he mostly owned, had gone up by many tens of millions, he figured he didn’t really need another three million on top. So he divided it between the twenty-five staff at Mojang, as a late Christmas bonus. That’s $120,000 each. Five or six times what I got for writing the actual ending.
Which was a lovely thing to do, but as I wasn’t staff at Mojang, and therefore got nothing… well, I was a bit hurt that I didn’t get even a token acknowledgement from Markus that I was one of the five people who had helped create this strangest of games. (Markus, and later Jens “Jeb” Bergensten, coded the original launch version; Daniel Rosenfeld, known as C418, wrote the music; the Swiss artist Kristoffer Zetterstrand did the in-game paintings ; I wrote the narrative ending. That’s it. That’s the team.) I mean, he’d now sold how many million copies of the game? He could send me a gift hamper! A chocolate Santa Claus! Anything! But again, I didn’t do anything about it – partly conflict-avoidance, sure, but partly, I think, because Markus was such a great protector of my story.
Because he loved the story. That ending… well, it was controversial. A lot of people didn’t want to read nine minutes of narrative scrolling up the screen, no matter how good it was; they didn’t give a shit. They just wanted to go and play the game again. But when Markus was in charge of the company, he wouldn’t let people skip it. He even made it hard to speed up the scrolling. Because he thought that ending was meaningful.
And it WAS meaningful! The universe wrote it! Which also made it hard for me to chase him about it, because what was I going to say, “I think I deserve a chocolate Santa Claus for this thing the universe wrote?”
So I let them use the story, even though there was no contract, because I liked Markus, and I liked the fact that lots of people were reading the story. Sure, many millions just played in creative mode, and never reached the end; but many millions played survivor mode, and did; more and more as time went by. It was a tremendous privilege to be able to reach such a huge audience with my words. (Even if most players assumed Markus had written them.)
LEAPING FROM ROCK TO ROCK
But this all meant I was soon back to leaping from rock to rock, financially.
It didn’t help that Carl hadn’t delivered on the non-cash part of what he’d promised in the original email. He’d said they would give me and my other work what he called “massive exposure to the Minecraft community”; they didn’t. In fact, when I eventually asked Markus to mention something of mine, he said he didn’t want to. He hadn’t even heard of Carl’s promise, and I felt embarrassed that I’d asked. The whole contract-less non-deal was a total mess.
My first marriage collapsed around then. Most of the fault there is mine (I am a deeply flawed guy), but the financial pressure certainly didn’t help, so I think for a while I was angry about that, too.
But that anger was of course misplaced. If I had trouble paying for my kid’s clothes and shoes, that was on me: my life, at that point, after all those years, was the direct result of all the decisions I had made over its course, and those decisions involved prioritising art and deprioritising money, again and again. (As Robert Louis Stevenson dryly put it, “Everybody, soon or late, sits down to a banquet of consequences.")
Didn’t stop me occasionally getting mad at them, though.
Anyway, a few years go by.
CORPORATE FINANCE VERSUS ART: ROUND TWO-AND-A-HALF BILLION
And one evening in August, 2014, I got an email from Carl, with a smiley :) in the header. A smiley from Carl! Very unusual. And it says, Oh, we’re doing a bit of housekeeping, and we’ve realised you never signed that contract we sent you. Could you just sign it now, and send it back.
And he had a link to DocuSign, where you can quickly sign documents over the internet.
And I finally got round to reading the original contract, the one I didn’t sign.
And… Jesus Christ. It was worse than I’d even imagined. It was horrible.
The contract was for a comprehensive buyout, signing away all my rights forever, which was exactly the thing I’d told Carl that I never did with my work. It said grim, lawyer-language things like:
“I hereby assign to You with full title guarantee and including by way of present assignment of past, present and future copyright (if applicable), all copyright, design right, database right, trade mark rights and any other intellectual property rights in the Works described…”
“I also waive any so called moral rights and therefore grant to You, complete, total and unlimited rights to use, modify and adapt the Works for all purposes and in any manner or media you think fit.”
“I agree to never assert any rights in the Works nor challenge Your rights in them…”
It even included a non-disclosure agreement (which, if I’d signed it, would mean I couldn’t even tell you this story). I mean, ugh.
Here’s a screenshot, if you are interested.
Well, no, I certainly wasn’t going to sign that.
But… I wondered why Carl and Markus wanted me to sign it now. We were friends, right? Not great friends, not close friends, but friends; people who had made a classic of indie art together. We had all let the absence of a contract slide for so long, why not keep letting it slide?
And I then discover, not from Carl or Markus, but from a leaked story on the internet, that what was happening was, Microsoft were buying Minecraft. For two and a half billion dollars.
Two and a half thousand million dollars.
And most of that was going to Markus and Carl, because Mojang only had three shareholders. And they hadn’t told me; instead, in order to get that money, they were now trying to trick me into signing this bloody awful contract, with its buyout clauses and baked-in non-disclosure agreement. A contract they had only sent me after they’d used my work. A contract I had never agreed to.
I wrote a story for a friend. But in the end he didn’t treat me like a friend. And I’m hurt.
Again, I have to calm down and remind myself, and you, there are no bad guys in this story. Do not hassle Markus, or Carl (or even Microsoft) about this. I’m sure they didn’t even think of it as “tricking” me; that’s my perspective, not theirs. They were simply obeying the rules of capitalism, the rules so many of us have internalised as though they are natural law, and were trying to maximise their economic return – which is a perfectly valid game to play. But I had thought we were playing a different game; an art game; a friendship game. The mistake, again, was mine: but I was nonetheless hurt.
What I assume was happening, inside the game of capitalism, was that Microsoft’s lawyers were doing due diligence on Mojang, the company, and Minecraft, the game. Making sure Mojang owned what it said it owned, and making sure it didn’t have liabilities that it hadn’t revealed; making sure all the code in Minecraft was owned by the company, and that it wasn’t full of code written and owned by someone else, and so on. It’s a standard procedure.
And so Carl needed to prove to them that he and Markus owned everything in Minecraft, so he could sell it to Microsoft; but he couldn’t prove he and Markus owned the ending. Because they didn’t own the ending: I had never signed away any rights at all. Markus just had my informal permission to use it, on loan, in his indie game for PC and MAC. That was all I had ever agreed to, back in late 2011 when I wrote a story for a friend. And that was all I’d ever been paid for. Anything beyond that – if it’s not Markus, if it’s not indie, if it’s not for PC and Mac – we would have to talk again.
PEOPLE GETTING ANGRY
So, anyway, I was deeply upset they’d hidden the Microsoft deal from me, in order to try and get me to sign this horrible thing. Because they weren’t treating me like a friend.
And I sent them a reply basically saying, Can you just treat me fairly? Do what you think is fair under these circumstances. And we’ll work something out. Because the sort of friendly thing I will agree to, informally, with Markus, on an indie game, with no contract, is not what I’ll agree to with a global corporation like Microsoft.
And Carl got really angry with me. I think Carl, with his background as a Corporate Finance guy, seeing the world through that filter, must have believed that I was trying to blackmail them; trying to maximise my revenue, like the “rational agents” that populate economics textbooks; that I was refusing to sign it to hold up the deal, because I wanted to get paid off. And I totally get how he could see it that way, given where he was coming from; but that wasn’t really what the issue was. He was projecting his motivations onto me, in the same way I had been projecting my motivations onto him. Mutual misunderstanding.
And emails between us rapidly got frantic, because Carl told Markus I wouldn’t sign it, I was holding the deal up, and now Markus was angry at me.
And so I was incredibly upset, but I didn’t want to be upset; I was incredibly angry, but I didn’t want to be angry. I wanted to be this calm, Zen guy who could rise above money and accept everything and forgive everyone. And yeah, I know; nobody has a bigger ego than the guy who is obsessed with abolishing his ego. Because, of course, I was also this furious ape who felt insulted and betrayed, and who didn’t see why three other apes who already had a huge number of bananas should now get two and a half billion more bananas while I, who could barely afford clothes for my kid, got no bananas at all.
I was so conflicted that I ended up sending two completely different emails in quick succession. One was a compassionate and Buddhist email to Markus, saying that if he wanted me to, I would sign the contract now, even though I hated it, because friendship and love were more important than money. The other was a much colder email to Carl, full of repressed anger under its polite surface, basically saying fuck you and fuck Microsoft, I never signed your horrible contract, and if Microsoft can’t come up with an acceptable contract, I’m taking my story back.
Neither of which was fully honest, I think, looking back: I was trying to resolve and integrate two warring parts of myself – the part that wanted to accept everything, protect the friendship, and not ration my love, and the part that was absolutely furious and hurt – but in the end both parts just wrote their own emails.
I wasn't responding coherently, because I didn't have a coherent response. I was too sad and angry to think straight.
Now, to be clear: I have no idea which of our many emails Microsoft saw, or what discussions were going on, at this point, between Carl and Microsoft behind the scenes. But, obviously, both sides were highly motivated to close this deal.
Because when it became absolutely clear that I wouldn’t sign that contract for Microsoft, Carl got back to me, less than three hours later, on a different email thread, and – in a complete change of gear – claimed that the original vague email thread (where Carl threatened to use someone else if I didn’t immediately agree to whatever he’d first suggested), was, in fact, suddenly enough: Microsoft no longer needed the signed, legal contract that would have actually given them ownership of the ending. The contract that had been vitally important… until I said no.
Well, that was weird.
And the deal went through for 2.5 billion dollars.
That money was split between the three shareholders: Jakob Porsér (21%), Carl (8%), and Markus (71%).
And so, as far as I know, Porsér got $525 million.
Carl got $225 million.
And Markus got $1,775 million.
So, roughly one-point-eight billion dollars.
A LITTLE UNBALANCED
I think even Markus felt there was something a little unbalanced about how that all turned out.
And so, out of his share of the sale, Markus gave two million Swedish crowns to every single Mojang employee, which was great. (That’s about $300,000 to each of the, by that time, 47 employees.)
But, again, in some ways, that made me feel worse. I admired the fact that he was, again, giving money to back-office staff who had just arrived in the last year, and had zero creative input into the game; that was generous of him, that was great for them, that was terrific all round; but I couldn’t understand why I was again being treated worse than them. I had helped him create the actual game, I had given him the ending he wanted but could not write, and his reward for me was trying to trick me into signing a contract I had never agreed to. And now he was mad at ME. Ugh. I felt lousy.
Anyway, shortly after the sale went through, Markus left the most expensive apartment in Stockholm (which he had bought earlier that year), and outbid Beyoncé and Jay Z for the most expensive house in Beverly Hills.
Seventy million dollars.
Infinity pool; car lift; cinema; iPad-controlled fountains; a full-size replica of James Dean’s motorbike; candy room… The toilets (in all fifteen bathrooms) cost over five grand each. (Featuring Tornado Flushing! Just $5,600!)
And over the next couple of years, Markus went a bit… well, it’s hard to know what happened to him, but he was partying pretty hard (he would drop a couple of hundred grand on a night in Vegas, often flying in Martin Garrix or Skrillex or Deadmau5 to DJ for his private parties). On Twitter, where he spent a lot of time, he started to tweet some strange stuff to the couple of million people who followed him there, and got into several big fights. And then, in 2016, he abruptly unfollowed absolutely everybody he had previously followed (including me), and started again with new people. So we basically lost contact.
But… as a result of all this… I’ve had this weird knowledge, since 2014, that Microsoft don’t own the ending to Minecraft. I do.
Carl and Markus had paid me for my time, and my years of writing experience, not for permanent, transferrable, ownership of my story. They had repeatedly sent me a contract signing away ownership; and I had repeatedly refused to sign it. So Markus couldn't transfer ownership of the ending to Microsoft, because he didn't own it; he just had it on loan. Microsoft would've needed to work out a separate deal with me (or, realistically, with my lovely agent Charlie); and they didn't.
At any point, then, over the past 8 years, I could have got the lawyers involved, promised them a percentage of whatever they could get me, and set them loose on Microsoft.
But I didn’t, even at times when I was flat broke: and I couldn’t work out why.
GOOD LUCK, BAD LUCK, WHO KNOWS?
But there’s a great Buddhist saying, which I should probably quote around this point – “Good luck, bad luck, who knows?" – because as time went by, my life improved, a lot – not financially, because I still preferred pursuing my obsessions to making money, but in other, more important ways – and much of the improvement might not have happened if Markus had treated me like a friend when he sold Minecraft.
I learned a lot about myself in the fire that consumed my first marriage, and when I finally emerged from the ashes I was a much better guy. A guy more worth marrying. (Still flawed, of course, but not quite as fatally.)
And so, a couple of years later, I ended up in a second marriage, and had a second child, and I don’t think I would have this terrific marriage and child (or, indeed, such an excellent relationship with my marvellous first child), if Markus or Mojang or Minecraft or Microsoft had dumped a couple of million dollars on me back in 2014 to go away. I don’t think I would have grown up as much. I think a lot of the flaws in my character would simply have been covered up by money, rather than fixed. So I ended up strangely happy about how it had all turned out.
But, nonetheless, every few weeks, for years after the sale to Microsoft, I would wake up in the middle of the night angry and frustrated, remembering all those email conversations with Carl, wondering how I could've done things differently; or rather, how we could, because the Buddhist is sad about the lost friendship, and the ape is angry about the lost bananas.
AND THEN… SOMETHING HAPPENED
So, life goes on…
… 2015… 2016… 2017… 2018… 2019… 2020… 2021…
At some point in there, Minecraft overtakes Tetris and Grand Theft Auto V to become the biggest-selling computer game of all time. Cool.
And then, late last year, I went to this beautiful building in the Netherlands, the Nature Temple…
It's run by two of my favourite people on Earth, Maya and Mark.
I hadn’t taken psychedelics in decades, and I felt it was time for a midlife reset. So I went there to reconnect with the universe, as an older and maybe slightly wiser guy – and boy did I ever reconnect.
After a pretty heroic dose of raw psilocybin mushroom truffles (and to answer the two most common questions: 1.) Yes, they are perfectly legal in the Netherlands, and, 2.) Yes, they basically taste like a pretentious form of dirt), I had a highly directed, intentional, intense encounter with the universe… which I'll tell you all about some other time. (It was, in a number of ways, the most profound experience of my life, so I’m not going to do justice to it in a couple of lines here. Plus it’s, you know, a transcendent experience, so if you haven’t actually had one yourself, you’ll just – quite understandably – think it’s bullshit anyway.)
But two days later, and more relevant to this story, I had a second trip. I’d already gotten everything that I’d come there for, on the first trip; so this time, going in, I just told the universe, OK, forget about what I want; just give me whatever you think I need.
And it gave me, to my intense surprise, advice about Minecraft, and Microsoft… and you.
It was during that second trip that I finally got a clear view of why I was still so upset about the whole situation, and yet why I, nonetheless, didn't want to bring in the lawyers. Because up until that night under the Dutch stars, I had assumed my anger must be fundamentally about money. (Isn't that what we are supposed to get angry about?) But that left my reluctance to go after the fairly huge amount of money I was now owed by Microsoft as a weird mystery to me. Why not just reach out and take it?
LESSONS IN LOVE
Coming down off the mushrooms, though, the core of the whole complicated, multi-year problem was so clear to me, I could say it in a line: I wrote a story for a friend, but in the end, he didn't treat me like a friend, and I'm hurt.
Well, that simplified everything. I could see now that I was caught in a kind of psychological, or maybe moral, trap: I couldn’t go after the money, because that would turn all this back into an argument about money; which wasn’t what this was ultimately about.
But the universe made something else clear to me, too: if Microsoft didn’t own the End Poem, and yet I had allowed them to distribute it for years, then I had, essentially, given my story as a gift to a couple of hundred million people all around the world (whether they wanted it or not); but I had refused to allow any of them to give me anything in return. And that was a kind of arrogance, too. A blockage in the flow of love.
Indeed, I had actively hidden away from love. Because there were many, many people who tracked me down over the years (my name is in the credits of the game, and with a bit of googling you can find a contact for me): I frequently got Twitter DMs, and emails, and messages through my website, that told me how much the End Poem had meant to people. That it had gotten them through a divorce. Made them cry. Helped them climb out of their depression. Blown their minds in ways that changed their lives.… All kinds of beautiful, generous, vulnerable messages. But, often, too overwhelmed by emotion (both theirs, and my own conflicted, unresolved emotions about the whole mess), I wouldn't even reply.
And that night, with the stars blazing above, the universe told me that it wasn’t acceptable for me to give love, but then refuse to receive it. That was just fake humility; another form of arrogance, of ego. I had to allow people to say thank you; I had to accept whatever gifts people might wish to offer in return, because too much charge was building up along that blocked circuit.
I had to complete the circuit. Let it flow.
Well, this was highly ironic: the universe was, rather forcefully, trying to get me to take my own advice, the advice that I’d given to millions of strangers back in 2011.
It was urging me to finally accept, and act on, the most difficult line in the End Poem, the one I had struggled with the most when writing it: “The Universe loves you because you are love.”
When the universe dictated that line to me, a decade earlier, I didn’t even want to write it down; and, having reluctantly written it down, I immediately wanted to strike it out.
Because I felt it wasn’t true. There was too much suffering in the world; people (including me) were too flawed: but the universe didn’t give a shit about my objections. It informed me, firmly, that the line was to stay in, because it was true. Yes, it conceded, I couldn’t see that truth, from my limited human perspective, down in the dirt; but the universe could.
So, OK. Who am I to argue with the universe?
It stayed in.
And it became, in some ways, the most popular (and unpopular – OK, let us say, the most controversial) line: the line that cut deepest through the defences of the wounded. The line that hurt the most. The line that healed the most. The line that made people cry. The line people tattooed into their flesh.
And here I was a decade later, taking the same dictation, again, because I am a slow learner.
The universe loves you because you are love.
This landed, because hiding from love was something I had done my whole life. Because I was always afraid love would be conditional, would be snatched away. It was too risky. And so, again and again, I had refused the gift.
So many postcards never posted, to people who loved me. So many letters saying I love you never answered. (Yeah, postcards and letters, that’s how old I am.) So many calls not returned. So many conversations in the dark, where I couldn’t get my mouth to say I love you. Like love was a limited resource. Like I could accidentally use it all up.
And so the universe reminded me, again, that love is infinitely, endlessly, self-renewing.
And then the universe showed me a way to stop hiding; a way out of the trap. A way out, for me, and for the End Poem.
So, firstly, before I liberate myself, let me formally liberate the End Poem.
I hereby liberate it from the corporate economy, where it’s been illegally detained since 2014, and place it officially in the gift economy.
From today on, you can play with it, whether privately or in public, and nobody can stop you. Well, technically and legally I could, because I hold the copyright, but I renounce my right to do so. The universe wrote that ending, and the universe owns it. Which is to say both that nobody owns it, and we all own it. Which is to say, it lives outside of that way of looking at art.
And so: you are free to set it to music; dramatise it; animate it. Mash it up with whatever you think it would go well with. Whatever you’re inspired to do. (Ideally inspired by love, but that’s on you.)
I can't do this with my other published work, as in those cases I DID sign contracts, and that work IS enmeshed inside legal frameworks; the ghost world of law which haunts all of us.
But with Minecraft, I signed no contract. Gave away no rights, no ownership. Signed no non-disclosure agreement. I'm free to give it away, and to tell you I’ve given it away.
I think that's what the universe wants.
Let a thousand flowers bloom.
MAKING STUFF FOR THE LOVE OF IT
Oh, I need to make another point here: If any of you, in the past, approached Microsoft looking for permission to use the words of the End Poem, and they said no: well, they didn’t have any right to do that, and you can now go ahead. If they hassle you, tell them I said they should back off, they don’t own those words. More formally, you can ask them to show you a signed contract, where I have assigned them the copyright to those words. They can’t. (Obviously Microsoft still own the game Minecraft, and the name Minecraft; but the End Poem doesn’t even contain the word Minecraft, so there should be no copyright issues there at all.)
Basically, if you’re making stuff for the love of it, for yourself and your friends, or for fun and pocket money, just go for it. Yes, put it up on the internet, give it away, sell it, whatever, it’s all good.
If you are making serious money from it – if you’re selling thousands of t-shirts, or posters, or mugs, with my words on them; if you’ve released a song, using all my words as the lyrics, and it’s doing great; well, I’m not going to chase you for money. I’ve set the End Poem free. But maybe think differently about that money, because it’s a gift from the universe. Give some of it away, to some person or cause you love. Keep the gift in motion.
Oh, while we are on the subject, a quick word to Etsy and Redbubble and the other retail sites who already sell a lot of stuff with my words on it: I am explicitly saying to you, DO NOT take down items which use quotes from the End Poem. Let a thousand flowers bloom. Yes, I own the copyright, but I am not enforcing it. They have my permission to use the words. And if Microsoft ask you to take stuff down for quoting the End Poem, politely tell them it’s none of their business.
Ugh. Which reminds me, I should probably say something directly to Microsoft. OK, here goes…
DEAR SEVENTEEN HUNDRED PEOPLE IN LEGAL AFFAIRS
Look, I am not even upset with you. Microsoft could not have behaved differently because Microsoft is not a human being. Expecting friendship from Microsoft would be like expecting friendship from a great white shark. That’s just not what it’s designed to do.
But although Microsoft isn’t human, it is made up of human beings.
And so I’m not going to talk to “Microsoft” here: I’m going to talk directly to the 1,700 people who work in its legal affairs department, including 500 or so lawyers.
Hi there, 1,700 legal affairs people!
OK. In order to see the universe more clearly, I have spent my life trying to live outside the world of corporations and laws and money; but I am not entirely innocent of the way that world works. I am aware that telling the story I’ve just told risks triggering an automatic, unthinking, hostile response from a trillion-dollar company with global reach, unlimited resources, and incredible access to the media.
However, the fact that Microsoft doesn't own the ending to Minecraft, and therefore has broken the Digital Millennium Copyright Act – the law your chief copyright enforcer, Bruce Lehmann, essentially wrote and then lobbied into law – roughly two hundred million times… and I am not going to do anything about that… opens up an unusual possibility space.
I just want to suggest that you, the beautiful, conflicted bunch of human beings currently incarnated as Microsoft lawyers, have this rare and wonderful opportunity to not go into a defensive legal crouch, to not try to discredit me, to not reflexively launch some cynical lawsuit accusing me of blah blah blah in order to muddy the waters and tie me up in court for years. To not brief the thousands of people who work in Microsoft’s many PR and communication departments around the world to use their media contacts to “control the narrative”.
You are Microsoft lawyers: you are about as far inside the machine, inside the system, as a human being can get. And as Joseph Campbell said, “Is the system going to flatten you out and deny you your humanity, or are you going to be able to make use of the system to the attainment of human purposes?”
Ask yourself: How should a decent human being react, under these odd circumstances? Not a lawyer, not a PR person; a human being. What action could you take that you would be proud of, looking back, when you are old and near death, when you have made all your moves in the game of life? What action would your kids be proud of?
Because as far as I’m concerned, I have no problem with you. Indeed, if I am to accept everything, and not ration my love (which is how I’d like to live), then I must somehow learn to love you, too. As the Buddha would put it, if he were still around, “To love those who love you in return is easy: the true test is to love hundreds of Microsoft lawyers.”
Well, I’m going to give it a try.
Let me give you a gift.
My gift to you is the story you took: The End Poem.
Your gift to me is the continued worldwide distribution of that story.
Reciprocal gift exchange; we are quits.
Just keep sharing my story with the world.
WHAT DOES THE UNIVERSE WANT US TO DO NEXT?
OK, that’s the liberation of the End Poem wrapped up. Now it’s just you and me, the reader of the End Poem and the writer of the End Poem, awkwardly eyeing each other.
What’s this new relationship like? What does closing the circuit between you and me look like? What does the universe want us to do next?
Because a relationship like ours has never been possible before. I can talk to millions, maybe tens of millions of people through some writing in a game, and now you can talk back. Isn’t that wild?
Here’s how I think this relationship can work, for you, me, and the universe:
I will continue to try to understand, explore, and explain this astonishing universe. And I will put all my best thoughts down here, as posts on The Egg and the Rock. For free. As gifts.
And you can simply give me the gift of your attention, in return.
That’s it. Ongoing, reciprocal gifts.
Technology, in its gloriously banal-yet-also-magical way, lets us do that: If you subscribe for free here – just click the button, and type in your email address – I can email you my posts about the universe as I write them. And you can reply directly to those emails, or comment on the posts here. We have a relationship that is about something important, and that isn’t overwhelmed with noise as it would be on Facebook or Twitter or Instagram or TikTok, but is quiet, direct, and personal. Very simple, very clean.
You can do this for free, and read everything for free, because I want to continue to live in a gift economy, if possible. I like it; I prefer giving my art away to selling it; it serves the ideas better because they reach more people, and it makes me feel better. Happier; freer.
YOU SAY POTATO, I SAY PRICELESS GIFT
But this opens up an important question: certainly important to me, because my ability to feed my family depends upon it. If I turn my art into a gift… how do I live? Of course this is not my unique, personal problem. It’s not even a new problem. It’s the universal problem faced by all artists, throughout history.
Margaret Atwood puts the core question well:
“What is the nature of ‘art’? Is a work of art a commodity with a money value, to be bought and sold like a potato, or is it a gift on which no real price can be placed, to be freely exchanged?"
– Margaret Atwood (in her introduction to Lewis Hyde’s superb book, The Gift)
I would hugely prefer it to be a gift.
But as Atwood goes on to point out,
“…if works of art are gifts and nothing but, how are their creators to live in the physical world, in which food will sooner or later be needed by them?”
Yep. Sing it, Margaret.
Because I would also like to be able to eat, and pay rent, and look after my wife and kids; things I’m not always able to do right now. (I’ve spent so much time this year writing The Egg and the Rock, for nothing; for the love of it; that I was two weeks late paying the rent last month, a rent which has just increased considerably, along with my heating bills and everything else; right now, I’m not sure how I’ll pay next month’s rent, or bills. Yes, it’s the price I’ve chosen to pay for the freedom to create; but it’s unfair to my family, and I need to change it.) I would even like, one day (dream big, young man! Dream big!), to have a house of my own, that my family and I can't get kicked out of. I would like to make more art there, in that house that doesn't exist yet. Write more posts like this, and this, and this. Continue exploring the universe, from a safer base than my current, highly unstable, one.
Because I believe what I’m doing here, right now, with The Egg and the Rock, flows directly from the End Poem (which helped a lot of people), and has similarly broad potential value. It’s just not a value that corporate capitalism is set up to recognise. Or, indeed, the mainstream funding bodies. (Most science funders tell me it’s great, but it’s too arty for them, and most arts funders tell me it’s great, but it’s too science-y for them. The one noble exception is the Irish Arts Council, but that’s not enough to keep me alive next year.) I don’t blame them for this. I’m trying to do something new, so it’s understandable that there isn’t yet anything in place to help with that.
THIS IS WHERE YOU GET TO SAVE MY LIFE
And so if you want to step in, and help fund that thinking, that writing, and help me feed my kids – that would be HUGELY appreciated. I’ve, finally, included a Paid Subscription option here that makes it easy for you to do that.
Feel free to use it creatively. If you want to buy me coffee and a croissant, or socks for my kid, just subscribe for a month, then cancel (I’ll get five euro). If you want to gift me fifty, subscribe for a year. (Remember, you still get to read all my stuff, free, here, whether you pay or not. Gift economy!)
But you should only give if you feel compelled to make a gift. Not out of guilt, but because it would make you happier to do so than not (because my work has moved you, or because you think it is important); and only if you have the spare resources to do so. I will never think less of anyone for reading my work without paying. (Unless they are billionaires, in which case I might think a teeny-tiny bit less of them). A lot of us are broke, or need the money for something more urgent, and I totally get it. Your thoughtful attention is the gift I will always value most.
But if you don’t want an ongoing relationship, if you just want to say thanks for the End Poem, or my songs, or my books, with a single gift, and walk away, and not read my thoughts about the universe for the next year or three, that’s totally fine too.
This next banal-yet-magical sentence is a link to the Paypal-and-Credit-Card Donation page I’ve just created. Click on it, and magically, from thousands of miles away, you can place a warm mug of coffee in my hand. You can feed me an apple. Hell, you can buy me a house. (Hi Bill! Hi Elon! Hi Jeff! Er… hi Markus!) Feel free to close the circuit. I’ll accept your gift.
But it would be lovely if you would stick around. I believe that what I am trying to do here is by far the most important thing I have ever done, because I think it can help the most people. We desperately need a new way of thinking about the universe and our place in it, because the current reductionist materialist model, though it has many, many virtues, is simply not enough on its own. And acting as though its picture of a meaningless universe with arbitrary properties doing random things is the full picture, is the final word on the universe… well, that’s the cause of immense psychological suffering, alienation and loneliness.
Plus, it’s not just inadequate – it’s leading science astray. The picture of the universe I’m drawing here seems to be more accurate than the bare-bones reductionist one. I’ve made solid predictions, both broad-brush and in detail, about what the James Webb Space Telescope would see, and they have proved to be far, far more successful than the mainstream predictions.
So, stick around, and help me write The Egg and the Rock. Listen to my thoughts here, and give me your thoughts back.
Before I go, though, there is one last thing.
THE BIGGER PICTURE
Though this is an almost embarrassingly personal story about me and Markus, the full story requires me to look up from my own concerns for a moment here, and at least mention the bigger picture, and what you can do about it. (Because if we are not trying to change the world for the better, then what are we doing here?)
There are structural reasons why Markus was able to spend over four times as much on the toilets in his mansion as he did on the ending to Minecraft.
Copyright law was originally brought in to help artists make a living. But over the past century, corporations like Disney, Sony, Universal, and Microsoft, have lobbied hard to twist those laws out of shape. Now, the vast power imbalance between rich corporations and poor artists (particularly when negotiating) allows the corporations to stripmine the copyrights from artists, and keep the artists poor. To see how, just look again at the contract I refused to sign. It’s astonishing that such a mafia-shakedown, you-will-never-see-your-kid-again contract is legal; that it is considered a standard way to treat an artist, rather than greeted with gasps of horror, and treated as a crime. This is why none of your favourite comic book writers and artists own any of their creations. This is why Alan Moore, who created Watchmen, cannot use his own characters in his own work. This is why the original blues musicians, whose talent transformed global culture while creating a hugely profitable industry, died broke. This is why, even today, for every $1,000 of sales in the modern music industry, the average individual musician gets $23.40.
Twenty three bucks.
FIVE GLOBAL CORPORATIONS SHOULDN’T OWN ALL THE CHARACTERS IN OUR DREAMS
If you give a shit about this, about the legal destruction of ordinary middle-class artistic life – the destruction of the lives of artists you probably love – you should read Rebecca Giblin and Cory Doctorow’s new book, Chokepoint Capitalism, which gives the history of what’s happened, and lays out several shovel-ready changes we could immediately make to the law, to protect broke artists from being relentlessly ripped off by rich corporations. I don’t agree with everything Rebecca and Cory say, but it’s by far the best analysis of a complicated problem.
More on that book here.
Go read it, and change the world.
By the way, I am not against the capitalism game, it’s fun, and I sometimes play it myself; I just don’t think it should be allowed to use its money to change the laws to completely bulldoze the art game, the friendship game, the love game, the gift game, out of existence. Stories, along with songs and games, are important, are a vital common resource; stories are how we make sense of reality, and shape our lives. Five global corporations should not own all the characters in our dreams. Live Nation (which, sneakily, also owns Ticketmaster) shouldn’t control ALL the venues and ALL the ticket sales, and thus ALL the bands. Spotify shouldn’t control ALL the music, and pay musicians $0.004 per stream.
To get personal again, I’ve made art in several of these worlds. Music, books, computer games. And I’m a pretty successful artist, compared to most: I’ve brought out four albums, had a hit single, written the ending to the most successful computer game of all time, published ten books in over thirty languages, won prizes – and my net worth, as I post this – bank account set against credit card – is minus five grand. No house, no car, no pension. And that’s what success looks like! The corporate takeover of art has led to a large number of very broke artists. The median income for a full-time author, like me, is $20,000. So half earn less… Essentially, the artists now subsidise the corporations, by voluntarily working on their own time for poverty wages.
To fix that, simply make direct connections with the artists you love. Cut the bad corporations out of the circuit, because they are blocking the flow of love; but use the good ones. You have no idea how powerful you are: how profound a difference you can make, just by doing that. Use the new online platforms, set up by people who love artists, where the artists actually receive most of your money. Support an artist directly on Patreon, or through Onlyfans. (Yes, Onlyfans has all kinds of artists on it). Subscribe to a writer directly on Substack. (Substack was set up by writers, and I know from my own experience it’s a terrific supporter of writers). Buy music or a t-shirt directly from a band, on Bandcamp. Fund an artist’s project on Kickstarter. Get your indie games directly from the developers on Itch.io, or GameJolt. Buy crafts from a craftsperson on Etsy. Or buy straight from the artist’s studio, stall, website, or damp hole in the ground.
In all these cases, the artist will make far more money directly from you than they would from dozens of their fans giving their money to an artist-unfriendly corporate middle-man like Disney, or Universal, or Microsoft. You have multiplied your power to do good at least tenfold, and often by far more.
And you will be in a relationship with that artist. So close the circuit. Let your affection for that artist flow directly to them. It sounds incredibly cheesy, but it is nonetheless true: together, we can change the world.
OK, I realise this post was a bit of an epic, but I had a decade’s worth of bottled-up thoughts and feelings to express.
Thanks for reading this far; I wish you all the best of luck in love and life.
Feel free to throw your thoughts into the comments below. I will read everything. And feel free to pass this on to any friends you think might find it interesting.
Oh, here’s that Paypal donation link again, if you’re moved by the universe to make a gift before we part.
But I would prefer to stay in touch, so, please, do subscribe for free.
And I hope I see you here again soon.
CREATIVE COMMONS LICENCE: PUBLIC DOMAIN
OK, that’s the end of the personal post, above. But immediately after posting, I got lots of excellent feedback (thank you, everybody), including some useful legal advice from Cory Doctorow on how best to protect you lovely people, if you want to play with the End Poem. I’m taking his advice, and pasting in the raw text of the End Poem, below a Creative Commons license that places it firmly in the public domain, for all to enjoy.
OK, this is the licence I am now using for the End Poem:
CC0 1.0 Universal (CC0 1.0)
Public Domain Dedication
Here’s a human-readable summary of the Legal Code:
The person who associated a work with this deed has dedicated the work to the public domain by waiving all of his or her rights to the work worldwide under copyright law, including all related and neighboring rights, to the extent allowed by law.
You can copy, modify, distribute and perform the work, even for commercial purposes, all without asking permission. See Other Information below.
In no way are the patent or trademark rights of any person affected by CC0, nor are the rights that other persons may have in the work or in how the work is used, such as publicity or privacy rights.
Unless expressly stated otherwise, the person who associated a work with this deed makes no warranties about the work, and disclaims liability for all uses of the work, to the fullest extent permitted by applicable law.
When using or citing the work, you should not imply endorsement by the author or the affirmer.
AND NOW THE TEXT OF THE END POEM
I’m just putting this here for legal reasons, to formally show what the text of the End Poem is, to which the Creative Commons license applies. It’s just a legal thing, to protect people who use it. But if you have read this far, there is a grave danger you will actually, gulp, read it. So, a warning.
You have to remember, this text was, of course, originally written for that very specific moment when the player is finally emerging from the dream of the game. It works best in that moment, in that psychological state. Plus, it had some encrypted text that sizzled, and all that good stuff. So it was never intended to be read, dry, on a page, as part of your normal day. But if you do read it, I hope you get something out of it. (I’ve included my original personal note to Notch, for the fun of it; I just went back to my original email, and cut’n’pasted from the Word document.) In the original, the two voices were in red and blue, to tell them apart. Substack stripped out the formatting, so this time I’ve made one of the voices bold.
A STORY FOR THE END CREDITS OF MINECRAFT.
1.) I’ve given the two voices different colours, but you might
prefer to differentiate them in some other way. (Perhaps with
italics, or bold text, or different shades of the same colour…)
2.) The voices address the player directly, using the player’s
name, a couple of times. So I’m assuming you can insert their
player name where it says ((insert player name here)). If that’s a
problem, just tell me, and I can rewrite it.
3.) Sometimes the voices say things that the player can’t
read or understand. I’ve put in a few mysterious symbols at
those points (**??§§), but I’m happy for you to come up with a
more visually interesting way of indicating this.
4.) I use English spelling throughout, but if you want to
change it to US English (“color” instead of “colour”, etc) that’s
fine by me.
OK, that’s it! Hope you find interesting.
Minecraft credits narrative
I see the player you mean.
((insert player’s name here))?
Yes. Take care. It has reached a higher level now. It can read our thoughts.
That doesn’t matter. It thinks we are part of the game.
I like this player. It played well. It did not give up.
It is reading our thoughts as though they were words on a screen.
That is how it chooses to imagine many things, when it is deep in the dream of a game.
Words make a wonderful interface. Very flexible. And less terrifying than staring at the reality behind the screen.
They used to hear voices. Before players could read. Back in the days when those who did not play called the players witches, and warlocks. And players dreamed they flew through the air, on sticks powered by demons.
What did this player dream?
This player dreamed of sunlight and trees. Of fire and water. It dreamed it created. And it dreamed it destroyed. It dreamed it hunted, and was hunted. It dreamed of shelter.
Hah, the original interface. A million years old, and it still works.
But what true structure did this player create, in the reality behind the screen?
It worked, with a million others, to sculpt a true world in a fold of
the ***§§§???, and created a **??§§ for **??§§, in the **??§§.
It cannot read that thought.
No. It has not yet achieved the highest level. That, it must achieve in the long dream of life, not the short dream of a game.
Does it know that we love it? That the universe is kind?
Sometimes, through the noise of its thoughts, it hears the universe, yes.
But there are times it is sad, in the long dream. It creates worlds that have no summer, and it shivers under a black sun, and it takes its sad creation for reality.
To cure it of sorrow would destroy it. The sorrow is part of its own private task. We cannot interfere.
Sometimes when they are deep in dreams, I want to tell them, they are building true worlds in reality. Sometimes I want to tell them of their importance to the universe. Sometimes, when they have not made a true connection in a while, I want to help them to speak the word they fear.
It reads our thoughts.
Sometimes I do not care. Sometimes I wish to tell them, this world you take for truth is merely **??§§ and **??§§, I wish to tell them that they are **??§§ in the **??§§. They see so little of reality, in their long dream.
And yet they play the game.
But it would be so easy to tell them...
Too strong for this dream. To tell them how to live is to prevent
I will not tell the player how to live.
The player is growing restless.
I will tell the player a story.
But not the truth.
No. A story that contains the truth safely, in a cage of words. Not the naked truth that can burn over any distance.
Give it a body, again.
Use its name.
((insert player’s name here)). Player of games.
Take a breath, now. Take another. Feel air in your lungs. Let your limbs return. Yes, move your fingers. Have a body again, under gravity, in air. Respawn in the long dream. There you are. Your body touching the universe again at every point, as though you were separate things. As though we were separate things.
Who are we? Once we were called the spirit of the mountain. Father sun, mother moon. Ancestral spirits, animal spirits. Jinn. Ghosts. The green man. Then gods, demons. Angels. Poltergeists. Aliens, extraterrestrials. Leptons, quarks. The words change. We do not change.
We are the universe. We are everything you think isn’t you. You are looking at us now, through your skin and your eyes. And why does the universe touch your skin, and throw light on you? To see you, player. To know you. And to be known. I shall tell you a story.
Once upon a time, there was a player.
The player was you, ((insert player’s name here)).
Sometimes it thought itself human, on the thin crust of a spinning globe of molten rock. The ball of molten rock circled a ball of blazing gas that was three hundred and thirty thousand times more massive than it. They were so far apart that light took eight minutes to cross the gap. The light was information from a star, and it could burn your skin from a hundred and fifty million kilometres away.
Sometimes the player dreamed it was a miner, on the surface of a world that was flat, and infinite. The sun was a square of white. The days were short; there was much to do; and death was a temporary inconvenience.
Sometimes the player dreamed it was lost in a story.
Sometimes the player dreamed it was other things, in other places. Sometimes these dreams were disturbing. Sometimes very beautiful indeed. Sometimes the player woke from one dream into another, then woke from that into a third.
Sometimes the player dreamed it watched words on a screen.
Let’s go back.
The atoms of the player were scattered in the grass, in the rivers, in the air, in the ground. A woman gathered the atoms; she drank and ate and inhaled; and the woman assembled the player, in her body.
And the player awoke, from the warm, dark world of its mother’s body, into the long dream.
And the player was a new story, never told before, written in letters of DNA. And the player was a new program, never run before, generated by a sourcecode a billion years old. And the player was a new human, never alive before, made from nothing but milk and love.
You are the player. The story. The program. The human. Made from nothing but milk and love.
Let’s go further back.
The seven billion billion billion atoms of the player’s body were created, long before this game, in the heart of a star. So the player, too, is information from a star. And the player moves through a story, which is a forest of information planted by a man called Julian, on a flat, infinite world created by a man called Markus, that exists inside a small, private world created by the player, who inhabits a universe created by…
Shush. Sometimes the player created a small, private world that was soft and warm and simple. Sometimes hard, and cold, and complicated. Sometimes it built a model of the universe in its head; flecks of energy, moving through vast empty spaces. Sometimes it called those flecks “electrons” and “protons”.
Sometimes it called them “planets” and “stars”.
Sometimes it believed it was in a universe that was made of energy that was made of offs and ons; zeros and ones; lines of code. Sometimes it believed it was playing a game. Sometimes it believed it was reading words on a screen.
You are the player, reading words…
Shush… Sometimes the player read lines of code on a screen. Decoded them into words; decoded words into meaning; decoded meaning into feelings, emotions, theories, ideas, and the player started to breath faster and deeper and realised it was alive, it was alive, those thousand deaths had not been real, the player was alive
You. You. You are alive.
and sometimes the player believed the universe had spoken to it through the sunlight that came through the shuffling leaves of the summer trees
and sometimes the player believed the universe had spoken to it through the light that fell from the crisp night sky of winter, where a fleck of light in the corner of the player’s eye might be a star a million times as massive as the sun, boiling its planets to plasma in order to be visible for a moment to the player, walking home at the far side of the universe, suddenly smelling food, almost at the familiar door, about to dream again
and sometimes the player believed the universe had spoken to it through the zeros and ones, through the electricity of the world, through the scrolling words on a screen at the end of a dream
and the universe said I love you
and the universe said you have played the game well
and the universe said everything you need is within you
and the universe said you are stronger than you know
and the universe said you are the daylight
and the universe said you are the night
and the universe said the darkness you fight is within you
and the universe said the light you seek is within you
and the universe said you are not alone
and the universe said you are not separate from every other thing
and the universe said you are the universe tasting itself, talking to itself, reading its own code
and the universe said I love you because you are love.
And the game was over and the player woke up from the dream. And the player began a new dream. And the player dreamed again, dreamed better. And the player was the universe. And the player was love.
You are the player.
Thank you to everyone who has commented. I am completely overwhelmed by all your messages of love and support, and by all the intensely personal stories people have shared. I am trying to answer you all, but it may take a while, as there has been a huge reaction to this piece, both online and offline, and I am simultaneously trying to deal with all that too. (This post was number one on Hacker News yesterday, it was number one in Reddit's r/Minecraft subreddit and so on, and each of these things generates a bunch of stuff that I also have to deal with. Plus, journalists have been in touch, old friends have been ringing; there's been a huge reaction to navigate!)
But, bloody hell, your response to this piece here in the comments has been so deeply moving. Thank you. A giant pile of heartfelt thank yous.
To everybody who was already a supporter of The Egg and the Rock; thank you so much for your support so far, and I hope this slightly unusual, slightly off-topic post was of interest. Normal service will be resumed soon! I have a couple of longer posts on the universe nearing completion.
And to everybody new (which is most of you! I think my subscriber numbers tripled in the past 24 hours), welcome. I hope you enjoy the experience here. It's not always this busy in the comments, and I usually have time to engage with them all! Things will calm down soon.
Thank you Jonathan.