Greatness from Tall Beginnings
This was it. After a whole semester of travelling to the Canadian Center for Architecture, of our Wednesday weekly meetings to radio over what was uncovered from our rabbit-holes discoveries and caves of content, we finally had enough – and enough materials – to ‘Minecraft’ the Fun Palace.
Despite never being built, there exists a decent amount of Fun Palace reimaginations. Why Minecraft then? Perhaps, given that there has yet to be a Minecraft Fun Palace, this was the opportunity for it. Yet, this would mean that we were going for a simulation; we aren’t.
At its crux, the Allegorical Build is about playing to understand. The Allegory in its name is derived from an old critical form whereby one makes sense of a new content by imposing what was previously learnt onto it. Today, these are known as our ideologies, stereotypes, prejudices, tropes, lived experiences, ‘signs’, and the such. Where Minecraft comes in is its ability to allow players, first to experience what is being presented to them through the form the game’s blocks, to negotiate how these blocks could be re-presented through the form of the grid surrounding the blocks.
Am I looking at a set of weirdly positioned chiseled gray bricks, or the buttons to a control panel of an alien spaceship?
Thus, Minecraft is being played before the first block is placed because players must choose what it is that lies behind, and when ensembled into a larger build, what it all represents. Thus, this is not a game about blocks, but about the grids containing the pixels that we call blocks (Simon and Wershler 2018).
Coleman (1966) argues this point well:
A game – nearly any game, not merely those termed “simulation games” – constitutes a kind of caricature of social life. It is a magnification of some aspect of social interaction, excluding all else, tearing this aspect of social interaction from its social context and giving it a special context of its own.
Mods, or modifications, are therefore crucial to the Minecraft experience. Players are able to code, design, and present entirely new blocks, but more so, the rules that govern how those blocks are placed in relation to other blocks, the world itself, the game experience, and in turn, the player. It makes the old new by advancements and the new old by allegory. Our Minecraft Fun Palace is built with over 85 mods, curated into a single downloadable folder called a ‘mod pack’ of The Allegorical Build. This allows the entire cabal to be living on the same block – so to speak – despite travelling and using a myriad of them.
How does this link to the Fun Palace then? Firstly, it is not yet built. Not a single piece of material that represent the British steel, concrete, and glass of the original 1964 construction currently exists in our inventories. It has yet to jump from abstraction to simulation.
But honestly, we like that tension. Mark Wigley (2017) speaks of the Fun Palace as an embodiment of tensions. Precisely because of the novelty of what was to be constructed in post-war England, nobody had a clue about the project. All they had was the construction of the imagination, and to rely on their own allegories of what a Palace, a ‘Fun’ building, and a Cedric Price commissioning could look like altogether. Needless to say, the project was defined not “by what it is, but by what it is not”. Famously, Littlewood had remarked of Price’s idea to name it the Fun Palace — that it sounded so wrong; it was right.
Cut to now: the site is bereft of any Fun and certainly any resources to knight the gravel-cobble wasteland into a Palace. Yet, we can say that construction for the Fun Palace has not only already begun — it is building — at least allegorically, and at least in the areas around it.
Currently, the Fun Palace exists as a city-sized rectangle of red wool – a staple block of the original game that any players across all consoles and periods of playing Minecraft will know. It spans across a large field of gravel, stone and dirt, having its mid-point to its tail engulfed by a fog that covered the game’s embarrassment in not being able to render the red-crayoned-titanic in its entirety. To be fair, we can’t blame the game either; we are playing now more than we are playing allegorically. Certainly, Mark Wigley (2017) would sympathize with us. He notes that a simple discussion about the Fun Palace is already a behemoth task on its own, least of all “to construct something precisely unnatural”.
As such, this was also why it has been a slower start that we had imagined. As researchers of all disciplines, this mile marker was no longer on the map — it was a new sea of material, a new methodology of presenting the data, and for myself, the new experience of playing Minecraft and using it to build allegorically. Many members of the cabal who are veterans of the game had to wrestle with the new stage of an upper-level university course involving going to an archives, writing about something that’s never been done, and doing it — at the Bachelor’s level!! As for yours truly and my M.A. Sociology partner in crime, Derek Pasborg, we are wrestling with playing a game of multiple turns: graduate school, everyday life, and our lives on the Fun Palace.
Ultimately, they who engage with the Fun Palace as a historical or nostalgic “visitor can enjoy a sense of identity with the world about [them]” (Price and Littlewood 1968:131). Where the red-wool-lines are there as a signifier of space on the game map just as it is a partially
burnablepermeable membrane into a time of playing allegorically from just playing, Joan Littlewood and Cedric Price (1968) speak of their own dotted lines being able to “only suggest order and not direction” (129).
After all, it is only fitting that we are pursuing something like this on Minecraft; Mine symbolizing the allegories built into us, and the Craft signaling our duties to begin building allegorically. In the meantime, I suppose all I can do is trace the red lines up to the sky, taking with me my allegory and away, my fear of towering figures like those of the original 1964 committee. Oh, and literally for those darn Phantoms, whose existence as “monster[s] of the night sky” (Stone 2018) provide the allegory for the lore of the game; one which I must now play with an enchanted bow and magnanimity.