A scene from Minecraft. (Won't show on Safari 13)

If kids knew as much about the real world as they know about Minecraft

Want to know how a Shulker Box works? Need to know at what light level a skeleton will spawn? My child knows. Want to know about the weird way water flows - or doesn’t flow - in Minecraft? About when things float above railways, or how you can place something on top of a chest if you are crouching at the time? My child knows. They talk about it constantly. When I describe something in real life, they will speculate how that might work in Minecraft.

If we obsessed over the remarkable engines, machines and systems operating in the natural world as much as we do in games like Minecraft maybe this beautiful planet wouldn’t be in crisis. So what’s stopping us from standing in the forest and understanding all the interactions of real things?

Firstly, it’s cold. Secondly, it happens slowly. Thirdly, a lot of it is hard to see, and is disappearing. But mostly, we aren’t required. Humans only mess things up. Ecosystems function perfectly well without us, and have been doing so for many times longer than our species has existed.

Photo of conservation volunteers cutting at scrub. (Won't show on Safari 13)
Quite a lot of conservation involves destroying organisms

Minecraft too consists of complex interactions between it’s weird creatures and plants but makes one crucial change: It centres the player. 'Who is the hero?' can be an interesting question in books, plays and films. Is the protagonist the hero? Do I like her? Are her actions just? In video games the answer is easy: You are the hero.

A busy Minecraft day can be a pleasant sensation of keeping plates spinning as you plant food, mine materials, make items, harvest food and breed animals. In Minecraft things happen because the player works to make them happen. Without you seeds won’t propagate, animals won’t breed; every action requires input of the player. It keeps the player busy and gives them a sense of importance - which is the fallacy that we are under as we mess up the real world.

Response to the climate and biodiversity crises is always: Do more, pledge more money, plant more trees. Whereas my take - that I am convinced about because it has recovered our planet from 5 extinction events before - is do less. Allow the plant kingdom, its herbivores, their predators, the fungi, bacteria and protists to do what they do, unimpeded.

That we should be busy, that we should do, that we should be seen to do, is of course well meaning, but a significant part of that is self-comforting. Plants are trying to capture carbon under our feet all the time. As Oliver Rackham wrote, The land is full of young trees which would grow into big trees if tidy-minded people did not cut them down.

We should leave player-centred management to video games, and allow nature to get on without us.

Related:
How players destroyed the ecosystem of Ultima Online
More dizzying complexity can be found in Dwarf Fortress.
Reference: The History of the Countryside Oliver Rackham, 1986