Now what in the hell does this have to do with Minecraft? Well, I was playing Minecraft for the first time as a friend gifted it to me, saving me from the hell Terraria visited upon TotalBiscuit vis a vis Jesse Cox, and I was not a happy camper. In Minecraft, monsters start spawning around you at nighttime, at which point you must be in a shelter. Fighting them is a largely futile enterprise as they spawned quite densely. The best course of action is just to make a mad dash to your shelter. It's more of an inconvenience for the most part; you can run back to your corpse and if you make it in time recover all of your items. The frequency of it to me galled me, though. The rows of identical tiles supplied me with few landmarks and I'd find myself too far from home, even when I wasn't far at all. I was stuck in a conundrum where I couldn't venture too far afield but couldn't do much besides dig aimlessly where I was. What should have been my finest hour, however, turned into my darkest moment. I found the mother of all caves: a vast network full of iron and coal and 3 new resources I had never seen- gold, lapis lazuli and redstone. I mined greedily, but just as I was about to leave, my inventory brimming, a skeleton took advantage of my lapse in attention to my hunger bar and killed me. I raced back to my corpse, only to discover that the zone with my outpost was raining (the undead monsters don't burst into flame in the rain even during the day) and teeming with monsters. Without a sword, there was no way I could make my way back through the cave to recover my items.
Fuck this. I switch the game mode to Peaceful, in which no monsters spawn, and promptly die to lava. I start a new world and wander around a bit only to realize...this is boring. In the previous world, I had made two outposts, each with a crafting table, a furnace, and chests. I worked on my first shelter for several days, complete with a moat and a roof. It was an ugly piece of shit. I had to have a supply of food, so I made a pen and bred ~50 chickens even though I only needed 2-3 per day. To solve my navigation problems, I erected pillars that I could see from a long distance. In the new world, since no monsters came out, I had no reason to build a shelter and stick around one area. I simply carried my crafting table around with me, digging aimlessly. I was essentially a wandering, mining hobo. The needs placed upon me by the environment guided my actions and made them purposeful. Without them, at best I was an Egyptian pharaoh building pyramids to stave off ennui.
Putting on my Mr. Rogers vest, I thought, there's a life lesson here. Doesn't suffering fulfill the same role in life as in Minecraft? Need is the catalyst for most of our great works, or, more tritely, necessity is the mother of invention. Necessity is the patron of man's technological prowess, that much is obvious, but what other effects does it have? We would likely not group together as much and form looser social and political bonds. Family ties would disappear if children could fend for themselves as soon as they spawned. Josef Pieper wrote that how a culture used it's leisure time defined it, but it's difficult to appreciate leisure when you have no real work. Art and philosophy would certainly be extinct.
One of my favorite quotations (da Vinci, I think) is that art dies from freedom. Any great work is the result of working within constraints, be it meter for Ovid or physics to Imhotep. Such is it in life where we only weave the grandest tapestries through the greatest trials.