Procedural Elaboration: How Players Decode Minecraft
AbstractMinecraft play practices reveal a type of analytic play in which significant work is invested in discovering esoteric details about the game, without necessarily providing practical prescriptions for optimizing play. This paper proposes the term “procedural elaboration” to describe such activities and the knowledge thereby produced. In contrast to the existing concept of theorycrafting, the products of procedural elaboration are primarily descriptive rather than prescriptive. However, this knowledge is far from trivial or banal. I argue that these knowledge-making activities can be explained through two functions of procedural elaboration. First, it provides players with a tool for dealing with the threatening inscrutability of some procedural game systems. Second, it acts as a ritual form of communication that helps to solidify a coherent Minecraft player community, while also establishing a social order within that community. Subsequently, I consider why players persist in using specifically experimental methods in procedural elaboration, even though the online availability of decompiled Minecraft source code means that the rules are not fully hidden as they are in most other games. I argue that the experimental method persists for these reasons: because it does not require specialized programming skills; because the gameplay already casts scientific experimentation as play; and because the iterative nature of Minecraft’s development has produced source code that is structured in a way that resists direct deciphering.