Cementing Modernity

Cementing Modernity

Skyfall. Mobs everywhere. Aaaaand it’s Tuesday Night.

Prelude: 7 days ago in the Mill Meads Clock Mill.

Dr. Bart Simon discovers the block of modernity. By carefully studying the Create Mod, and through insistent trial and error, we are introduced to Cement. It is grayish and runny, as if it was cupped from a Minecraft-version of the well with a trapped walker in it from that Walking Dead episode. Despite its initial ugliness, concrete is arguably the most important material of the entire Minecraft Fun Palace not because it recapitulates the materials planned for the 1964 construction, but that it is an embodiment of modernity. Layered together, the blocks become the drawing pad of progress. Civilization, towns, statues, and palaces transcend from soft sketches and dirt outlines to firm infallible foundations. Concrete, once solidified, is strong and distinct. It is the odor block of modernity — lingering, palpable and in-your-face. When a cement build sponges the palette of Minecraft‘s green-and-brown, it is inevitable to ignore it. The power of gray looms when you’re near, the presence of change reeks when it is rendered. Second only to Axe body sprays, no one walks without a whiff of the mildew-marbled deodorant block.

Ultimately, there are two things from that aside:

  1. I should stick to academic writing.
  2. Cement is very cool.

Thus, to Allegorically Build the Fun Palace, we relied on the cement to ground our builds, but also, to ground how we were building allegorically. So, we got started.

Cut to today: a great number of us were available tonight, and it was time to really play allegorically (one of its tripartite tenets being the social collaboration.) As the quick-eaters amongst us logged onto to prepare for the cement session, very soon we encountered a grave problem.

Problem at the site

A Hard Process

We were not making enough cement.

Like modernity, progress was at hand. For us, this modernity block was literally in our hands, and the way in which it is realized is to progress through a certain set of steps. Firstly, one retrieves the cement from the pumping machine. It is mandatory to use the Vanilla standard-issued iron bucket. With a single click, the machine tops up the container with what appears to be rotten milk. Now, the produce is itemized as a “Bucket of Cement”. Crucially, it is not the cement that is held, but the possibility of it being cement that is cemented here. The player then moves to an open space, right clicking the ground, and a discharge of gray water blocks emerge. One patiently watches for the gray water block to solidify, amassing around 12 seconds. Here comes the tricky part.

Create cement is foremost registered as a fluid block. It spreads across a considerable grid area, solidifying every pixel of gray after a dozen seconds. Yet, like water, the gradient of these blocks (although running and watery) are different in height. This is the issue. Whilst the epicenter of the fluid placement is guaranteed to solidify to the height of a single block, the surrounding perimeter blocks aren’t. They may go as high as a slab, or worse, not appear at all. If we relied on such delivery, the pizza wouldn’t just come later than 30 minutes — the dough would have never even folded.

And so, I got to work.

Heading to work with a bucket-o-concrete in hand

Calculated Uncertainty

Utilizing the panic of the situation, I dug a set of trenches. It was night, mobs were array, and rainpour played its part to allegorically remind us that this was 1960s London. On second thought, I looked at the width and height and eureka — I had dug the perfect set up. Progress was cementing into my play; I wasn’t in the process of making concrete, nor have I made one block to justify change, I simply felt the possibility of making concrete EFFICIENTLY.

We got to work. 6 trenches were dug out: it spanned in width at 3×3 and depth at 2 blocks deep. A middle pizza saver, 2 dirt blocks high, was pegged to maximize concrete fluid flow. Here comes the magic — after 6 seconds of placing the fluid, I equipped my bucket, grabbed the concrete flow, and immediately placed it on the same block. This ensured that the bottom fluid blocks were constantly sourced (so it still counted its 12 seconds to solidification), whilst the source block on the pizza saver restarted its timer. After the bottom well concretized, the source block atop would fill in a new layer of concrete flow, and once more, I grabbed-and-dabbed the source block to ensure that it would live to see the hardening of its young (again, reason #24 that I should stick to academic writing…) This was calculated.

Pouring Concrete in the Trenches
The Pizza Saver

Nonetheless, the process was not easy. There was no timer, except the rumbling rainfall and the combat cacophony between defense team Andrew and Derek vs. the never-ending mobs. Were they curious or defensive about the arrival of modernity? Either way, like pizza delivery policies, every second mattered — what I did counted. In between fending off the mobs, Andrew and Derek equipped their enchanted pickaxes and got off to mining the 3×3, 2 deep hole. Meanwhile, Dr. Darren Wershler, my new apprentice, and I were busy role-playing as Takoyaki street vendors filling up our 6 round trenches in precise succession. Dr. Bart Simon, further from this conundrum, relayed back-and-forth to retrieve our newly minted marbles. For reasons unknown, he insisted on flooring the entire Fun Palace ALONE, in the DARK, and with an army of MOBS COMING AT HIM — IN A THUNDERSTORM. Some people just enjoy their allegory. But ask any of us now, and we would say that this was one of the most fun we’ve had. Certainly, the most fun I’ve had of a multiplayer Minecraft game ever. My guess is because this was uncertain.

True to the nature of the Allegorical Build, we allegorize our buildings (e.g., this is the Minecraft Fun Palace) just as much as we build with allegories. Lo and behold, a key principle behind Price and Littlewood’s philosophy of the Fun Palace was itself — Calculated Uncertainty.

Cementing Legacies

So, what was all this about? Three things, based on the triage of the Allegorical Build.

1. First, we were (almost) finally modern.

Bruno Latour, in his staple We Have Never Been Modern (1991), argued that much of scientific progress and the social reception of these discoveries (news, norms) are more or less interchangeable. They are like the fluid cement flow, mixed and hardened from the same source. Yet, our inability to acknowledge this makes the cement process an either-or. Whence it is a block, it is cement. Whence it isn’t, it is not. If we were preoccupied with this distinction — in the name of ‘defining’ an exact material, time, space, and form (being very positivist here, btw) — we would never have made cement because we would always be fixated on what makes/the making of cement; this is not-cement, this is kinda-cement, this is yes-cement.

It all heads down the route of what is not and what is not-yet; or Purification. That’s not progress because nothing is allowed to change. Change is invented by us to allow it to appear changed. The fact is, all things combined, the cement was already made the moment the pumping machines were installed, or perhaps, the moment the iron bucket was crafted (even if the player had no knowledge or intention to pursue cement-making, and arguably, the moment the Minecraft world has loaded: sand blocks, water, and clay blocks are often piled together. The only thing keeping these mixtures from merging into cement are the grids of the game, and our allegories.

A mish-mash all allegories in action

With the Allegorical Build, we allow for the cement making to have begun BEFORE the actual indicated process. By believing, by playing collaboratively, by mastering the create mod, the cement has been built because we were cement-makers and cement-believers. As such, our playing was modern because we did not define the game and build with progress (an allegory in itself), but let progress come to identify us because WE too, are the building BLOCKS of a game about BLOCKS. As Latour remarks, “neither Nature nor the Others will become modern. It is up to us to change our ways of changing” (145).

2. We weren’t just building the allegory, we were building allegorically.

That night, none of us were just playing Minecraft, we were playing to understand the Fun Palace AND Minecraft. Part of the Allegorical Build is the (con)textualization of allegories. In this setting, the defense duo and concrete takoyaki vendors weren’t just collaborating a mastery of the game’s mechanics, they were also negotiating the allegory behind it all — at one point, Andrew fell into the concrete pit just as it was solidifying, and so Derek had to take on a one man show. As for Andrew, I allegorized him as a Canadian Terracotta Warrior. The lore settled for a minute, before Bart showed up and we went back to production.

Andrew, the Allegorical Terracotta Warrior

3. I actually understood a thing or two from Modernity.

Modernity – its one of those words that junior scholars and students know, but don’t really know. For established scholars, it is more about who and what retelling of modernity do I not want to know. Either way, its still being negotiated and written on. For students like me then, we are forced to wrestle with mountains of essays — most of which we get by in undergraduate studies by remembering its key features and a few writers. Obviously, it is not enough. Modded Minecraft comes in: the conditions of having to build and build with concrete has placed me into a revelation.

One, that it was an arduous task, reflecting the labour which much of 1960s post-war Londoners felt.

Two, that with just the knowledge that making concrete was possible, I gravitated towards concrete production and mastery at the cost of everything else. Resources, time to spend “playing” just Minecraft, and every other mob under the moon were to be exploited, efficient, and executed. Different from reading about a civilization undergoing modernity, I was able to reflect on my human condition that was modernizing through play — it is calculative, directed, and justified. Now that last part is key.

Third and lastly, I leaned towards my allegories of progress into the menial task of pouring and placing blocks. It was done precisely and violently in the name of mastery and progress for the group. At the end of the day, it was not entirely a solipsistic task, even in retrospect; I genuinely felt an obligation of doing something I believed was good for the group. And if asked again, I would cite progress again. Certainly, having experienced this malaise of modernity myself, I am sure to be more cognizant when reading said materials in class for my own justified desires and hypocrisy.

Concrete Connections, Modern Times

Whether I was playing the game or the game was playing me, it was all done with allegory. The solution? Playing with the allegorical build... and with three concrete buckets. Seriously. That’s a trade secret right there.


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