The Game Developer’s Conference Game Design Challenge this year was “Bigger Than Jesus,” and had game designers create a game in one week that could be a religion. Jason Rohrer won that challenge with his creation Chain World, a modified version of Minecraft that exists only on a flash drive.
The drive is handed off player to player, preventing direct interaction between players. Instead, they work to build their legacies through in-game creation until their character dies. Upon their death, Chain World copies the game and wipes it from the user’s computer. Then, it’s time to find the next player.
Interestingly, Rohrer’s rules for Chain World dictate not so much what players do in the game, but what they do with the game. He’s established the following nine commandments, which doubles as user instructions:
1. Run Chain World via one of the included “run_ChainWorld” launchers.
2. Start a single-player game and pick “Chain World”.
3. Play until you die exactly once.
3a. Erecting wooden signs with text is forbidden
3b. Suicide is permissible.
4. Immediately after dying and respawning, quit to the menu.
5. Allow the world to save.
6. Exit the game and wait for your launcher to automatically copy Chain World back to the USB stick.
7. Pass the USB stick to someone else who expresses interest.
8. Never discuss what you saw or did in Chain World with anyone.
9. Never play again.
Of course a religion is not really a religion unless people take it seriously. And this is were a little showmanship on Rohrer’s part comes in, making for a moment that’s as awe-inspiring and just a touch creepy. From IGN:
At the end of his presentation, Rohrer held up the drive and pondered who in the audience would be the second player of Chain World. Hands shot up eagerly and some even shouted “Please!” as chatter erupted from the crowd. Rohrer looked around the room and clarified that he wanted someone that was truly interested in the experience. At this urging, a nameless attendee got up from his chair and rushed to the podium, holding up his hand towards Rohrer silently. Rohrer looked down from the stage and smiled, passing the drive on to the second player on Earth that would experience Chain World.
In that moment, Rohrer found a true believer, and Chain World was passed on. But as soon as it was out of Rohrer’s hands, there was trouble in paradise.
Second player Jia Ji took posesion of the game, and created a website that established a system to assign the first six players of Chain World. Ji has assigned slots four and six to game luminaries Jane McGonigal and Will Wright, respectively. Slots three and five are being given away in charity auctions. The top bid to become the third player has topped $500, meaning that for at least a while, regular folks will probably not be able to leave their mark on the world.
Ji’s actions have drawn very vocal criticism from commenters. Interestingly, much of the arguments are dogmatic in their approach, claiming that Ji is violating the rules of Chain World. One commenter accused Ji of being seduced by the celebrity power of the big names on the list. Rohrer himself, as if a voice from the heavens, issued an edict via Twitter encouraging the Player Three winner to break out of Ji’s new rules, cut out McGonigal and Wright, and let the game evolve freely.
It’s highly simplistic, but these are similar to the tribulations that mar the history of early religions. Rohrer’s focus on the rules of his religion being outside the game itself will probably mean that Chain World is likely to be successfully emulate religion. The Chain World game is the gospel, the holy doctrine around which the actual religion will move.
I can’t wait until the next schism.