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What were ‘minecart boosters’? Minecraft, digital distribution and preservative labour

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In recent years, online digital distribution has drawn attention to the myriad ways in which games exist as a dynamic and transitory object. Previously, genres such as the massively multiplayer online game had carved out a unique space in game studies in which version numbers, expansions and changes in player behaviour over time had to be methodologically accounted for. However, today even the relative stability of the single-player game has begun to dissolve as a logic of constant becoming overtakes staid notions of games as singular, fixed historical texts. This article examines this increasing temporal instability of games by turning to bug-exploiting tactics within the player community of the massively popular building game Minecraft (Mojang, official release 2011). In a focused case study, I will analyse the fate of ‘minecart boosters’, an emergent bit of folk exploit-engineering that allowed players to create perpetual motion machines in the game, with help from widely circulated knowledge about a specific bug in the game’s simulated physics during its alpha and beta stages. Given that the effectiveness of Minecart boosters was abruptly put to rest when the game’s beta version 1.6 finally patched this physics bug, it presents an excellent opportunity to discuss how fans of digitally distributed and updated games navigate the volatility of the objects they are devoted to, especially when this volatility can lead to the sudden and unexpected endings of cherished practices and modes of engagement. Here, bolstered by a close examination of fan discourses on message boards, the official Minecraft Wiki, and YouTube comment sections of tutorial and ‘let’s play’ videos, I argue that Minecraft encourages a fan logic of ‘upkeep’ as communities struggle to maintain stability of practices even when attached to a fluid, transitory object.
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Keywords: Minecraft; digital distribution; early access; fan endings; fluidity; gaming

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: University of Chicago

Publication date: 01 March 2018

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  • The multi – disciplinary nature of fan studies makes the development of a community of scholars sometimes difficult to achieve. The Journal of Fandom Studies seeks to offer scholars a dedicated publication that promotes current scholarship into the fields of fan and audience studies across a variety of media. It focuses on the critical exploration, within a wide range of disciplines and fan cultures, of issues surrounding production and consumption of popular media (including film, music, television, sports and gaming), The journal aims to address key issues in fans studies itself, while also fostering new areas of enquiry that take us beyond the bounds of current scholarship.
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