Nominated for the Al Copeland Award: Markus Persson

(Guest Nomination by Jonathan Butcher)

I’ve never played Minecraft. My son and daughter play enough for the three of us, though, and I haven’t even bought the computer version of the game for them. I bought the iPad edition, which, I’m constantly reminded, is completely inferior to the computer version.

Despite most parents’ ignorance of how to play it, and in spite of graphics that look better suited to a first-generation Atari console, Markus Persson sold Minecraft and its parent company to Microsoft for $2.5 billion last month. And then he walked away.

Persson told the New York Times, “I don’t want to be a symbol, responsible for something huge that I don’t understand, that I don’t want to work on, that keeps coming back to me. I’m not an entrepreneur. I’m not a C.E.O. I’m a nerdy computer programmer who likes to have opinions on Twitter.”

Persson created a video game that doesn’t rely on eye-popping graphics or bloody combat scenarios. Yes, in survival mode you can fight zombies, and there are “mobs” to avoid (loosely defined as anything that can harm your character). However, the game revolves around the player’s imagination. In Minecraft, you create your own world, complete with buildings of any shape and size and then go on adventures, with or without players from other worlds.

What are most impressive are the add-ons that make the game interesting. Your creations can be as real or fictitious as you choose. In one YouTube how-to video, a player created a Home Depot, complete with supplies to build things. In another, a player created a replica of Disneyworld. You can change the weather, add minions from Despicable Me, drive a dirt bike, or swim in the ocean.

Schools are using the game to teach subjects like math, architecture and science. Minecraft is simple, versatile, fun (or so I’m told), and the creator shows no intention of making a sequel.

“Basically, Persson is tired,” says Wired magazine. Persson says that he wants to work on smaller web projects, and he says that if any of them become as popular as Minecraft, “I’ll probably abandon it immediately.”

Minecraft can be as unique and player-centric as a player can make it, and its creator is just fine to leave it at that and do something else. Yes, $2.5 billion is plenty to be content with, but the Copeland award doesn’t penalize for making a lot of money. Time will tell if Persson is true to his word about leaving well enough alone, but for now, he’s created something that allows others to use their imaginations the way they want to, made his money, and gone on his way.

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