Markus Persson who sold the videogame Minecraft to Microsoft for 2.5 billion dollars tweeted how unhappy he is now.
Saw the tweets from last week and felt it was important to reach out from the geek-o-sphere-at-large. In the past I’ve always read “Billionaire not happy” stories with a combination of bitterness and schadenfreude, but reading Twitter last week made me nothing but bummed. I’ve met enough successful people in the tech space to know how challenging it is to go from nothing to everything at a fairly young age. But to know this is happening to you, someone who’s brought so much awesome to the world, is a massive crap sandwich.
This sucks. I’m sorry.
I hope I’m not the first one to let you know it looks like you’re dealing with not just Sudden Wealth Syndrome (which is real) but also some tangible form of depression. I know this has been an issue in your family. I’m hopeful with the knowledge you have the intelligence to identify it and the resources to treat it. Have you seen the Big Black Dog parable? It’s helped a lot of people in similar circumstances.
The depression is a real thing real thing and would be there money or no. Wealth is just a complicating factor, not the root cause. I was at the funeral of a friend who succumbed to his illness years ago, his fiance came up to me and said, “Depression is the worst disease because it convinces you you don’t have it.” She was right. At least fucking cancer has the decency to make you sick.
Reach out, get help, get on a program and stick to it. Because we need you.
We really do. And not just hanging around enjoying life, taking up some kind of extreme oddball rich-dude sport like turbozeppelin polo or whatever. We both know nothing is more obnoxious than the 1% pursuing some extreme bullshit for no good reason. And you’re right in saying the long-bomb ‘Musk’, (solving some real-world huge problem) will just expose you to those assholes again. I get it.
So let’s go back to basics: A few years ago you started something that opened a door for millions of people, a door that hadn’t been there before. It allowed them to create, play and most importantly communicate on a level playing field, many for the first time. Adults, kids, girls, boys, trans, cis, aspergers, geeks, introverts, and a good swath of levels of income (so long as they had regular computer access) flocked to this place. Since it’s been used by artists, scientists, educators, doctors, social workers and my son. Mostly by my son, it seems.
A quick few things my ten-year-old learned on Minecraft:
- He knows the basic concepts of quantum physics because of the qcraft mod. Soon, when we need technologists who can think in qbits rather than traditional bits, MC will have gotten him there a decade ahead of everyone else.
- He’s read books on creating circuits and machines so he can build similar things in MC.
- He learned to write Java making his own mod through a weeklong program at MIT this summer. He would NEVER have had the patience and attention span to do that without MC. He loved it. “I’ve never been able to pay attention to anything for so long,” he said after a long day coding.
- A couple of years ago on a private server he once griefed someone’s castle and was rightly banned by the moderator. He was very guilty and upset so I had him write a contrite letter to the admin. He was allowed back on under the condition he return any items taken, that the castle was rebuilt and he was to apologize in-person to the owner. He did so and was greatly relived. This was a life lesson in the digital space and I can’t imagine it happening on another platform.
Minecraft tore a big hole in the wall between digital and “real” life. But it’s only going to get ripped apart further. Minecraft was just the first big salvo. So you now have a responsibility to the real humans who’ll be caught up in this transition.
What the fuck am I talking about? Let me explain:
- To what extent were the Wright Brothers as responsible for the Enola Gay as for Apollo 11?
- GPS gets the fire department to my house as well as bombs onto someone else’s. Is it a bad thing?
- TNT was invented by Alfred Nobel, a guy who spent the bulk of his life trying to make sure he advocated for good in the world as well as making it easier to blow up parts of it.
Do inventors bear responsibility for their creations? How much? And what do you, a game designer, have to do with all this? The answer is “some” and “everything.” No one can predict how a new platform will be used, Wilbur and Orville Wright assumed once militaries had the ability to detect each other’s movements from the air, war would become obsolete. Orville lived to see the use of the airplane in the Second World War and was horrified.
As for your innovation: what will become of humanity as the barrier between digital and organic life becomes increasingly thin? Is it a utopia or a nightmare? Will it be a way to empower workers or exploit them? Will we find new ways to communicate and understand each other or new ways to attack?
History says at first we will struggle, but on balance good will win out. But it takes brave individuals to make that happen. People with credibility.
You have that credibility. And, having read your history, I know you are brave.
What you support, whom you befriend, how you proceed from here is meaningful to literally millions of people. How many wind up in digital ghettos or acropolises, how many kids are encouraged to create and engage opposed to being taught how to just fill out tests more efficiently, who gets to play and who pays the bills, all that will be decided in the next decade. Mistakes are going to get made. How big those mistakes are, how long we allow them to continue depends on what we do from here.
People will listen to you.
We need your voice. We’re with you.
I’ll leave you with a quote from Oliver Sacks, the noted neurologist who died last week at 82:
To live on a day-to-day basis is insufficient for human beings; we need to transcend, transport, escape; we need meaning, understanding, and explanation; we need to see overall patterns in our lives. We need hope, the sense of a future. And we need freedom (or, at least, the illusion of freedom) to get beyond ourselves, whether with telescopes and microscopes and our ever-burgeoning technology, or in states of mind that allow us to travel to other worlds, to rise above our immediate surroundings.
We may seek, too, a relaxing of inhibitions that makes it easier to bond with each other, or transports that make our consciousness of time and mortality easier to bear. We seek a holiday from our inner and outer restrictions, a more intense sense of the here and now, the beauty and value of the world we live in