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Minecraft is Unrealistic and Unethical
by Devin Wilson on 12/10/11 01:40:00 pm   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.


Now, I love Minecraft. I love its look, and I've had a ton of fun playing in Hardcore Survival mode since its official release. I also love simply exploring the beautiful, procedurally-generated worlds.

Most importantly, however, I love how well Minecraft illustrates some beliefs I hold about games:

1. All games are educational.

2. All games express values.

I think that if you look really closely, this is absolutely true. The trouble with most games is simply that they just don't teach anything valuable and they don't express much about the world that we inhabit after turning the game off. Minecraft does, however, have some lessons in it, but they are ones that are unrealistic and, in my opinion, unethical.

When I use the word "realistic" I don't mean as it's used in the typical context of games. Using that word to talk about games will usually be in the context of bleeding-edge, photorealistic graphics and physics engines. The realism I'm concerned with is verisimilitude, how much a game resembles truth and/or reality. Very few games have much to do with the world we live in, even by means of metaphor.

On the other hand, Minecraft, as a simulation, carries a lot of real-world meaning. In the real world, humans mine, craft, build, farm, etc. It is in the specifics that Minecraft becomes unethically unrealistic.

If you consult the Minecraft wiki, you'll see that steak is the most efficient food in the game, now that you can breed animals. You can use three units of wheat to make a loaf of bread which will restore 3 hunger points, or two units to put two cows in (apparently lesbian) love mode, giving you another cow. This cow will later, when you kill it, give you between 1-3 pieces of raw beef or steak, if you kill the cow with fire. Even if you don't set the cow on fire, you can get steak by cooking the raw beef. A steak restores 4 hunger points. The cost between raw beef and steak is negligible.

So, to simplify:

3 wheat -> bread -> 3 hunger points.

2 wheat -> cow -> 1-3 steaks -> 4-12 hunger points.

So based on this, meat in Minecraft is 2-6 times more efficient to produce than (what I believe is) the cheapest vegan food in the game.

In reality, one pound of meat has been shown to be 16 times less efficient than one pound of non-meat food [Edit: Feel free to criticize this figure/source in particular, but the general concept is not that controversial]. Because Minecraft animals don't need food or water to survive, the simulation is flawed and, as someone interested in the real-life abuses of animals, I find the representation disappointing, to say the very least.

I'm a vegan in real life and try to play Minecraft without killing passive mobs like cows, pigs, sheep, and chickens. Though I do think the animals in Minecraft are adorable, I'm not so crazy as to think they have some substantive subjectivity like real sentient beings do.

If nothing else, it's a self-imposed challenge. It's not unheard of for people to try to be vegetarians in NetHack, so there's some precedent for this in a pure gameplay sense.

There is also a role-playing component to it, though. Though I won't argue about the ethical weight of digital meat, I will say that it isn't meaningless to make the decision to not kill animals (passive mobs, specifically) in Minecraft.

I'm not saying Minecraft needs to change, though I'd clearly like it to. I'm just using it as an example of how games necessarily express values by their rules. Minecraft expresses that meat is a better food source than plants, and this isn't true in real life. I'm not going to scream that Notch is a bad person for his unrealistically oversimplified model of livestock, but who knows: maybe someday I'll make a Minecraft mod that discourages meat-eating in realistic ways.

I do, however, applaud Notch and Mojang for making it so sheep drop more wool when they're sheared than when they're killed.

(P.S. Thanks for reading my first blog on GamaSutra!)

Edit: Some people have been reacting negatively to me citing PETA, so here's another source illustrating the inefficiency of meat.

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Charles Geringer
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I think you go too far in saying it is unethical. Ethics is something important and severely lacking in today´s world. Calling something unethical shouldn´t be done lightly.

You could very well have made your point, and indeed your entire post simply by calling it unrealistic, or even unintentionally misleading.

I do think you should go ahead in your realistic food mod and not enough people are aware of how wasteful some kinds of farming can be to the planet's resources, including cow pastures and growing soy.

Devin Wilson
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I'll admit that "unethical" may be a slight exaggeration, at least given the connotation of the word.

I personally believe that Minecraft's ecology could easily be tuned to be more ethical/realistic than it is, so, relatively speaking, I don't think it's entirely inappropriate to call it unethical, just as a comparison to "ethical".

Charles Geringer
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I get the impression that it is costantly getting tuned, with layers of complexity being added, so it might very well happen.

I think it would be interesting to see a minecraft-derived educational tool about ecology and the like.

Maybe if you are irresponsible with your cnstruction you affect the ambient in a way that it stops producing resources(i.e.: Wheat stops growing)

Nathaniel Marlow
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As an Appalachian from a historically poor family of coal miners (I still live in Kentucky, actually), I'm more concerned about glorifying mining and ignoring the very real and horrific cost that the coal industry has on small communities in poverty stricken regions of the US.

Charles Geringer
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This is a fair point, do you think this problem is more serious than say, glorification of violence, since less people are aware of it(and therefore may be more influenced)?

Nathaniel Marlow
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I think it's a strange issue. It's only become a thing since the recent crop of indie mining games (and some other, older examples), while violence has been glorified in a lot of media for a long, long time.

As for which issue is more important, I don't think that's a productive line of thinking. It almost seems akin to saying "Why is NASA trying to put robots on Mars when they could be solving the debt problem?". That is to say, solving the debt and advancing scientific research are not mutually exclusive and both are important in different ways.

I should note, however, that I don't fault or realistically expect developers to consider the mining issue at the moment, mostly because I realize there is a lack of awareness surrounding it. I don't let it spoil my enjoyment of Dwarf Fortress or anything.

For what it's worth, I'm much more critical of games that push western exceptionalism, glorify violence or objectify women, because those subjects have been discussed at length by the community at large.

EDIT: I would class the meat vs. wheat thing on a pretty similar level as the coal thing: I don't expect them to care much, and I won't really fault them for lack of awareness.

Devin Wilson
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I don't think this is an entirely illegitimate thing to be concerned with. Look up 'Rust LTD'. It's a games collective with its roots in the school I go to, and they've been working on exploring this very theme, from what I understand.

My own opinion is that I don't think there's necessarily the same relationship between Minecraft mining and real mining as there is between Minecraft food production and real food production. I feel like there's a stronger distinction between the former than the latter.

I'd need to think about each some more to offer a specific analysis. :)

Nathaniel Marlow
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I agree it's pretty detached from the real thing, which is basically why I'm not too concerned with it. At least not until the coal industry decides to make a minecraft clone to sell people on the safety and fun of coal mining.

Nathaniel Marlow
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Also, I checked out Rust LTD. That's really cool what they're doing, it reminds me of the guy who would join America's Army servers and just stand there and list off the names and date of death of American servicemen and women killed in the war on terror.

Jacob Pederson
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I'd like to point out, that in Minecraft, mining is actually quite dangerous, with the real possibility of cave-in's, floods, getting lost, running out of light, being attacked by monsters, lava, all which can result in death and the loss of all your equipment. So, atleast the physical danger of mining is being metaphorically represented in the game.

As to the scatological/political implications of mining, they are probably outside the scope of the game.

[User Banned]
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This user violated Gamasutra’s Comment Guidelines and has been banned.

Arnaud Clermonté
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Thanks for sharing your "thoughts" with us.

Sean Hayden
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I think you need to analyze more critically before assessing the values a game upholds. When dealing with games, you have to look at it mechanically if you really want to understand the designer's intentions.

You'll notice the number of steps in your diagram is greater for meat -- if bread were more fulfilling, then harvesting meat would just be wasting time. Bread is the straightforward method, and meat is more complicated (in the case of breeding) or more dangerous (in the case of leaving your home and hunting). It's not a matter of ethics or realism here, but of game balance.

Devin Wilson
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I don't think the difference in time/effort is that significant between bread and meat, if you're breeding.

Also, I think the balance has everything to do with ethical realism. That's kind of my point.

I'm sure that most people won't think twice about the game's ecology, but I have, and that's not insignificant. Like I say in my blog, all games express values. Typically we can leave these values at the power/exit button, but the fact is that all media informs our values to some extent.

Minecraft isn't the same if bread is more efficient than meat. Is it hugely different? To most people, probably not, but I'd be impressed. More games should have realistic rules like that, but most of them can be distilled to "kill stuff, get points". This isn't an ethically realistic set of values to express.

Sean Hayden
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Well, for bread, you need to acquire wheat, then craft it.

For meat, you need to acquire 2/3 the amount of wheat, find two cows who are in fairly close proximity, feed and bring them together, wait for the baby cow to grow (takes 20 minutes according to the wiki), slay the cow, and cook the meat. That's an enormous difference.

I also don't think the situation is unrealistic. We are, after all, comparing a single loaf of bread to an entire cow. The cow will be more nourishing in any realistic circumstance. In fact, Minecraft seems to support your personal ethical stance because it only takes 2-4 baguette-style breads to restore the same amount as an entire cow. That sounds more like a bias toward wheat to me.

I agree that games express values, but I think this is a poor example.

Harry Fields
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Minecraft taught me I can fell a tree with my bare hands and not have the top of it come crashing down on me! Yes, it is a hardcore world simulation and should be treated as such. It I also think it's offensive in that 100% of Creepers in the game are depicted as suicidal terrorists.

Devin Wilson
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Being able to chop down a tree with your bare hands is arguably a necessary gameplay contrivance.

Steak being more efficient to produce than bread isn't, nor is it realistic.

Brad Borne
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@Devin: How is that any different? More work = more expensive food, it's just as much a product of gameplay as being able to punch trees into wood.

And yes, for the record, a serving of meat is way more hunger satisfying than a serving of bread. Should you have to feed a cow a ton of grain to make another cow? Maybe, but that's entirely a gameplay balance issue, not an ethical issue.

And, uh, sorry that a game doesn't further your own personal agendas? Is this the kind of weight you really want to throw on a dev's shoulders?

Should we discuss Tanooki suits while we're at it? Cooking Mama's slaughter fest? Super Meat Boy's existence?

Arnaud Clermonté
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Brad, animal welfare and world resources are not "personal agendas".

They're pretty much the opposite.

Carl Chavez
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Eat melons. Faster to grow in bulk than wheat or meat. Problem solved.

Devin Wilson
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is that true?

Guerric Hache
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It is indeed true - melons are a relatively new addition, but once you find even a single seed in a chest somewhere, it's relatively easy to quickly acquire a huge farm that produces silly amounts of melons to eat.

Brian Buchner
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This is a ridiculous stance. It's a game, not your own personal perspective. Besides... What makes you think plants can't feel pain? Vegans....

Charles Geringer
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I think it is mostly the fact that they don´t have nerves.

Carlos Sousa
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"I think it is mostly the fact that they don´t have nerves."


Evan Combs
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There have been scientific studies that show that planets may actually feel pain, although nothing has been confirmed to this point.

Brian Buchner
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So nerves are the only way in which pain can be felt? Sure about that?

Nathaniel Marlow
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If you guys are going to have an argument about this you should probably define pain first.

Charles Geringer
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@ Evan Combs:

Could you please link to those studies? I only found reference to them, but not the actual studies. It is a known fact that plants react to trauma, but I didn´t find any study that linked this response to pain, since they have much more in common with bodilly reactions present due to trauma present both with and without pain(i.:Blood Coagulation in a wound to stop bleeding in a patient who does not feel pain)

@Brian Buchner:

I may be wrong, but it is my understanding that the way the scientific community at large defines pain, it cannot be felt without the presence of a nervous system. although there CAN be responses to damage without the presence of pain

Brian Buchner
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@ Charles To use a fairly abstract definition, pain is the response to harm. In which case a nervous system is not a strict requirement of it. Just because plants don't have cutesy eyes we can look into does not mean they aren't responding to harm. That said, I don't think it's quite the same as organisms with a nervous system.

But, my main point, is that unless you're a microorganism, all life takes life to sustain life. You're not going to get away with not killing something to live. Replacing one form of killing with another does not make one morally superior.

Here's one German study I found :

Arnaud Clermonté
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Your summary "Replacing one form of killing with another" is wrong, Brian,

because you're not taking efficiency into account ( even though it is clearly mentionned several times in the article )

Also, you don't know (or pretend not to know) whether plants feel pain or not,

whereas it is absolutely certain that animals do.

Therefore, in order to avoid pain, it is a perfectly valid strategy to eat plants instead of animals .

August Junkala
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"You're not going to get away with not killing something to live. "

What if you only eat cool whip? ;)

Brian Buchner
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@Arnaud Clermonté Plants aren't alive? That's your argument? Are they soulless zombies?

Ian Richard
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More important than both game balance, realism, and the ethics of eating meat is video game standards. As I think back to my early childhood I remember that apples heal very little... followed by bread healing a small chunk... followed by meat which heals a big chunk.

No, it may not be realistic. But what logical reason would a developer have to challenge the standard rules... and force the players to relearn everything... especially when the game was never intended to teach healthy eating?

Ramon Carroll
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Phil Manning
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Just another zealot.

Vegans are the holy rollers of food.

Daniel Balmert
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This very subject has already been discussed to death in reference to art: the entire dada-ist movement is about self-imposed values attributed to nearly meaningless "art."

The truth is, you only recognized the "value" being expressed because it conflicted with your own values. You're bringing more to the art than it's bringing to you, and the blog is almost silly. 30 years of agism, sexism, and racism in games, and you're worried about the ethical treatment of non-human species?

Fernando Fernandes
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Oh my... Really? Sometimes I play minecraft and I do kill those stupid animals. In GTA, I kill he elderlies. In Skyrim, I kill children. I love doing 'unethical' stuff. 'Cause... IT IS A GAME. Gosh... What's next? Talk about logic in Mortal Kombat?

Michael Joseph
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In general I think Devin is right on in the sense that the entertainment that people consume influences (if even in some unconcious way) their world view. Little by little what we experience via our music, television, films, games, text books and other print media, etc, shapes us. If this is true (and I believe it is) then there's nothing wrong with any person advocating for media producers to be more socially responsible. Saying it's just a game is a cop out in my opinion. There's a bigger picture to be seen.

And unless media producers are consciously thinking in these terms, it's easy to introduce something into your product that sends or reinforces negative ideas/cponcepts/beliefs even when you are trying to create a wholesome game. Obviously there's some degree of subjectivity involved when determining what is or isn't negative, but to me that is really a secondary issue. First we need to accept that our media shapes individuals and collectively our culture. Second we (individually) need to choose whether we want to carry the burden of being socially responsible creators.

As for Minecraft in a particular, I somehow doubt it was the intent of anyone associated with Mojang to create a game that could be construed as unethical by anyone and I think concious intent is a requirement for acting unethically. That's why I think raising awareness is so important and why I appreciate Devin taking time to share his opinion.


If you re-read Devin's article you'll see he isn't concerned with the depictions of animal slaughter. Players have a choice there. He's only concerned with the valuation of meat in game because it gives an unrealistic "bonus" to consuming meat over wheat which doesn't fit reality. A better critique for you might be to question why Devin isn't advocating that the slaughter be more realistic as well so as not to trivialize and sanitize the act of killing an animal for food.

Devin Wilson
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Thank you, Michael. I think you really understand what I was trying to communicate. It's disappointing how many people can't get past the vegan aspect of the argument, as that really wasn't my focus.

I do think that volition is important in ethics, and I only meant to use the words "unrealistic" and "unethical" as they relate to "ethical" and "realistic". In the particular aspect of Minecraft I investigated, I found it to be neither ethical nor realistic (the two being fairly interdependent in this case). As such, un-ethical and un-realistic seem like appropriate terms to use. Perhaps the connotations of each have gotten the best of me, though.

I don't think Minecraft is evil, nor do I mean to advocate for Minecraft animal rights. As I said in my blog, this isn't about the ethical weight of digital meat.

It's about interpreting the meaning of a digital ecosystem. Ludic hermeneutics, if I may be so bold! :)

Brian Buchner
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@Michael Joseph I think you're conflating cause and effect. Germane question : Which came first : Society eating meat or games that society makes that reflect society's standards?

Besides. The purpose of games is not to attempt to adhere to some undefined "big picture" for the sake of "the good of all".

In fact... It's not a requirement that games make any sense at all or else surely someone would've called into question the reality and ethics of jumping on mushrooms and flying with a raccoon tail.

Prash Nelson-Smythe
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It makes sense because meat is very nourishing to humans and wheat is bad for health (though it will provide energy). Ideally the cow would be eating grass, not wheat, but we can let that one slide.

I believe it's a myth that it's necessarily more efficient to eat plants than meat, when all relevant factors are considered.

Arnaud Clermonté
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No, wheat is not bad for health.

No, the efficiency of plants over meat is not a myth, it's a fact.

Since meat is an intermediate in the food chain, and is made from plants in the first place, it can only reduce efficiency.

Cameron Frost
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I think this is a really good point, and should be considered in many games. However, I think it is also important to aknowledge that a cow may be more suited to gain energy from a piece of wheat. Making bread requires many stages (not shown in the game), but during these stages much of the possible energy can be lost, whereas a cow has developed to digest all of the wheat.
The flaw in this is that I am pretty sure that it takes more than 1 piece of wheat for a mother cow to be able to produce a child

Aleksander Adamkiewicz
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Mark Venturelli
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I wonder if I'd put you on fire, how many units of steak I'd get.

Jonathan Jou
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Thanks for an interesting read!

You're absolutely right--that the amount of energy (measured in wheat) required to make 1-3 steaks is actually lower than the amount required to make bread is somewhat surprising. It's possible that Notch wasn't or didn't take into account real-life ecosystems when making his world-crafting smash hit. In fact I'm pretty sure that's the case, but thanks to you it might take two wheat to make two bread soon, or you might have to feed a cow more than once.

On the other hand, we should really dig into what you're trying to say here. It's one thing to suggest that the game has a flawed ecosystem, and another to project animal rights values onto its mechanistic choices. Is that really the only, most glaring flaw Minecraft makes? From what I know gamers freely and unabashedly destroy entire ecosystems to build their own architecture, and since you cited an article about pollution and environmentalism I think there's a whole world of unethical behavior you've yet to dig into. You don't even consider the situations in which you're probably killing creatures that mysteriously don't drop any meat, even though they're edible, or why there aren't more fruits and vegetables that can compete with cows. Hunter-gatherers were eating fruits, berries, and roots long before we knew how to plant.

So, yes, if this was the message gamers were taking away from the fact that two lesbian cows can produce lesbian, tasty offspring, maybe you're right. I'm almost certain that this is a minor lack of realism in a game that consists entirely of unrealistic constructs though, so you make something of a flimsy case. There is a lot of other things that are wrong with Minecraft from an environmentalist or animal rights perspective, that are also true of far too many games in the world, for you to be able to justify singling out the production costs of steak to the forefront of unethical game mechanics.

Still, interesting! I hope you find a vegan alternative in Minecraft, or at least get into games in which there are no animals or environments to harm... like Tetris!

Bart Stewart
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Kudos for coming up with a first blog post that is guaranteed to elicit responses. :)

To the point: it's difficult to take seriously an assertion that Minecraft is immoral for its treatment of animals when simulated humans are murdered by the trainloads in computer games. For Minecraft's stance toward destruction to merit particular criticism, either all the games in which people can be killed are being ignored (which would be intellectually inconsistent), or the killing of simulated people is at best no worse ethically than killing animals (which is such a debatable position that it requires a defense in order to provide adequate support for the overall "Minecraft is unethical for how it treats simulated animals" claim).

I'm not opposed to the general idea that games express values. But I do think that assessing perceived values needs to be done with a sense of perspective about the hierarchy of values -- some things do matter more than others. I think that perspective is missing in this criticism of Minecraft. That doesn't invalidate it, but it does perhaps explain why some commenters just aren't going to take it seriously.

Nathaniel Marlow
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Careful not to fall into the fallacious "starving kids in Africa" argument.

It's possible to be concerned about more than one issue simultaneously and discussing an issue does not mean the author thinks other issues are trivial.

The merits of the issue raised in the post can and should be discussed, but trying to invalidate the post wholesale by saying there's more important problems accomplishes nothing.

Aleksander Adamkiewicz
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Nathaniel, the problem is that the whole post, if discussed properly, centers around an unproven assertion in the first place and a very subjective value-system of the poster.

While the moral/ethical value of for example killing humans is indisputable, the assertion of killing animals being unethical first must be supported in the first place.

For example, I have the firm opinion that ethical/moral veganism or vegeterianism is utter rubbish and that veganism for example is unsustainable economically and environmentally (at least for our 7 billion people).

So before we can discuss the assertion if "Minecraft is Unrealistic and Unethical" we first must assess the truth-value of the statement in real life which will only devolve into a back and fort of opinions, since nobody here is qualified to do this.

The whole post is completely moot.

Its like writing an entry about

"MassEffect is Unrealistic and Unethical"

because thats not how the higgs-boson works. Nobody here can assess how the higgs-boson works and what can or can not be done in physics.

The whole notion of the article is presenting the OPs opinion as fact.

Devin Wilson
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Bart, I never compared meat in Minecraft to murder in other games. Also notice that my blog honestly was not meant to be about killing virtual animals, at least not primarily. It was about a digital ecosystem.

Aleksander, as far as the sustainability of veganism goes, I think the facts are stacked against you. I would also like to have a long discussion with you about how ethical veganism couldn't be further from rubbish, but as that honestly wasn't the point of my blog, I don't want to have it here.

Minecraft is unrealistic, yes? Certainly, at the very least for its tree-punching mechanic. My opinion is that the values expressed by Minecraft's rules, specifically in its food ecology, are not ethically well-considered. They are, then, unethical.

It doesn't make Minecraft an evil game or a bad game. It doesn't make people who eat meat in Minecraft bad people. However, it makes Minecraft a less realistic and less ethical game than if it had an ecological model that better represented reality. Its rules express a point of view, intentionally or otherwise. This point of view is that meat food is better than non-meat food. Any qualified nutritionist or ecologist will tell you that, for humans, this isn't true at all.

That's the point of my blog. It's been very easy for people to miss it, because meat is an emotional topic, not just for vegetarians.

Aleksander Adamkiewicz
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"I would also like to have a long discussion with you about how ethical veganism couldn't be further from rubbish, but as that honestly wasn't the point of my blog, I don't want to have it here.[...] My opinion is that the values expressed by Minecraft's rules, specifically in its food ecology, are not ethically well-considered. They are, then, unethical."

Thats exactly the point I'm making, you first would need to convince me that your values are "true" before i can even assess your claim of minecraft being "unrealistic and unethical" in that regard.

You didn't do that, the whole article is not a discussion of Minecrafts mechanics, its about -you-, -your- values and how you apply it to the game-mechanics.

Brian Buchner
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@Aleksander Adamkiewicz Exactly. Subjective ethical values and egocentricity.

Arnaud Clermonté
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Aleksander, the efficiency of plants over meat does not derive from Devin's personal values,

but from facts in the real world.

Since meat is made from plants in the first place, it can only be less efficient.

Your belief that veganism is unsustainable for 7 billion people is exactly the opposite of reality. Veganism is inherently more efficient and sustainable.

Larissa McCutcheon
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You might be cherrypicking some aspects of the game to suit your particular viewpoint.

I am not disagreeing with you that meat is less efficient than wheat in real life, but look at how the game is played. I admittedly have not played it since it finaled, but in my beta experience, I could easily clear and fence off a large plot of land for wheat. In the time that it took for cows to randomly spawn and for me to kill them, I could grow a ton of wheat. It's not like you grow and harvest a single plant at a time. Nothing stopping you from making 100 or more wheat simultaneously. Efficiency in terms of production over time is only limited by your ability to plow and gather. One single wheat plant is less rewarding than one single cow, sure but 200 wheat is more simply gathered and kept than 200 cows.

I would guess it would be far easier for me to grow wheat enough to restore 100 HP than it would be to gather and husband a herd of cows to a level where I could use sustainable culling to produce 100 HP worth of beef.

You can also look at it from a nomadic perspective. I often played MC with a spawnpoint, but in exploration mode. I would have a home base where I would go and dump my belongings, but I rarely stayed there. In that sense, I was living more as a hunter gatherer sim than an agrarian sim. Meat may well be the more efficient meal there if you count the meat as wild caught versus factory farmed. Your input into wild game is zero, and certainly more filling and less work than growing crops to make bread.

How can life be more efficient than munching cow cooked by lava flows in forests? ;)

Dan Felder
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Is Minecraft ever predicated upon the idea that it represents OUR world? Simply because things don't seem to apply to our world don't mean they're teaching people bad lessons. I have played Mario many times without once getting the idea that it's smart to hit my head on real-world blocks in order to see if a coin pops out.

Devin Wilson
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You can easily differentiate between that aspect of Mario as it compares to real-life because it immediately strikes you as fantastical. Also don't dismiss the influence media has on our beliefs, because it's not true and that sentiment keeps games from being taken seriously.

Of course Minecraft represents our world. An abstraction of our world, yes, but it's got a lot of its roots in reality. Like I said in my blog, real-life humans farm, build, mine, etc. That grounds it in reality to some degree. If you plant a sapling in real life, you'll end up with a tree. With that simple model, Minecraft is no different.

However, steak being more efficient and a categorically better food than any non-meat food source is less pronouncedly contrived than, say, punching a tree. It's more subtle, and it's the result of an ecosystem that doesn't need to be tuned the way it is: unrealistically and unethically.

Dan Felder
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Last I checked, our real world didn't have zombies or similar monsters.

I never once assumed Minecraft was supposed to be a real world simulation. Perhaps you did but I did not. Neither did I view Age of Mythology as implying that praying to the Greek, Egyptian or Norse deities would be a productive yielding of magical power.

This is where I think your argument falls down. These are the rules of this world which not many people seem to think are necessarily applicable to our world.

Kenneth Blaney
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From a realistic point of view we would have to assume that the wild animals are able to consume enough calories to survive on their own. That is, the wheat is not the only source of calories available to the animals in the game. Instead the immediate abundance of food introduced by the player allows the animal the opportunity to reproduce. In nature, most animals do not reproduce given situations of low food supplies, and when they do, some species will artificially cull their broods to avoid the entire population's starvation. Larger food supplies in nature invariably result in larger populations of whatever animal consumes said food (and likewise, larger populations of the carnivores that consume those animals, if any).

So, it should be noted that the cows probably eat grass, leaves, seeds, small insects, etc. none of which the player can eat/interact with in any way. Thus, the animals serve the function, mechanically, of turning inedible food supplies into edible food supplies. Fairly analogous to the way plants turn solar energy into chemical energy, that is, they take energy from one form and convert it to another form where it can be used as needed.

Minecraft's ranching mechanics are then more analogous to areas in the real world where animal meat is a dietary necessity (a lot of Africa and Central Asia) and treated with the respect it should. It is not like the much more detestable factory ranches which produce mass quantities of meat generally for low quality meals at fast food restaurants. (And anything automated in Minecraft is prone to contaminates of feathers, wool, bone, spider webs, rotten flesh, arrows and gunpowder.) To a certain extent, then, I would suggest that Minecraft teaches a valuable lesson about where food comes from, sorely lacking information in the United States' current food culture (where people don't realize that french fries come from potatoes or cheese comes from milk).

Devin Wilson
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Interesting response. I don't agree with every point of it (and don't think this is the best venue to resolve our disagreements), but thanks for your constructive feedback!

Gerald Belman
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I would kill and torture a million real world cows to save the life or prevent the suffering of one innocent human child. What about you Devin? I'm just curious.

This is not a debate about games or "realism" the way you described it. This is a debate about values.

Devin Wilson
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First of all, your gambit is completely impossible. What could killing and torturing a million cows possibly do to alleviate the suffering of one human child?

I'll entertain your challenge, though.

In the abstract, no. Cows aren't a million times less feeling than humans.

Re-work the numbers and the specifics and I don't have such an easy time answering.

And, yes, I do think this is about games and realism. However, that doesn't preclude values. Integrating the three is the whole point of my blog. Ethical realism is sorely missing from games. "Kill stuff, get points, win" has been the prevailing model of computer game design for a very long time. That's not an ethically realistic set of rules, in my opinion.

Gerald Belman
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Many people would answer my hypothetical question with an emphatic "yes" though.

And that is exactly my point - for many people (myself included) we don't even agree on your basic premise of whether killing cows is immoral. - much less so on your other premise that having a virtual food system that promotes the consumption of virtual animal meat is immoral - many people (myself included) would answer with the tried and true response "it's just a game".

I would love to talk about realism as you described it - "versimilitude" - that is a great word by the way. - I actually just wrote a blog post on here a few weeks ago about exactly this subject.

But I am not going to do that through the lens of a PETA fanatic. - We need to resolve our other "value differences" first.

Cameron Frost
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While their are many people who would value a humans life above millions of other animals' lives, that is irrelevent to this debate!
In minecraft, you do not have to kill cows to save a baby.
This post is relating to whether it is right that steak should be valued over wheat!

Arnaud Clermonté
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I'm not sure what kind of "values" would encourage torturing 1000000 individials of another speices just to save the life of 1 being of the same species...

It's funny, considering all the Sci-fi games where evil aliens are trying to eradicate humans,

to realize that some humans in the real world are actually just as selfish as those fictive evil aliens.

Gerald Belman
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What about 1000000 ants or termites or better yet single celled organisms? Where do you draw the line? Is a cow really an individual?

It's funny because when it comes to convicing people to accept evolutionary theory, I strive to highlight the similarites between humans and other animals.

But when it comes to questions of the soul, and the spirit, and culture - I am deeply offended that anyone would value the life of a cat or a dog or a cow or a termite mound over the health and wellness of a human being.

Ernst Schnitter
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That's an obvious trick question, but let's analyze it:
The scenario ist explictly designed to provoke strong emotional responses to the point people may forget rational thought. No information is given about the causal relation, but that would be crucial for making any responsive ethical choise.
In fact, this scenario is contradictory in itself.
The provoked irrational response to the setting is meant to be turned against the speaker, concluding that s/he's a twisted mind, and to be culminated in an ad hominem argument against the represented values.

Think about it twice. How should it be that a child would suffer if you dont kill and torture a million other beings? Is s/he infected by a demonic mind eating parasite from outer space and therefore needs tainted emotional energies of other lifeforms to persist or what?

That's not the way humans are. That's not the world we are living in.
And the rights, the wrongs and the blurred lines that may exist in this other thought world do not exist in our real, given world.
Humans are empathetic, compassive lifeforms who thrive most in peaceful and protected habitats. Surrounded by harm and grief they will get sick. That's the reason why you are willing to do everything against the suffering of a child - and the reason why some people extend their protectiveness to non-human beings as well.
This principle applies to each real world situation. (i.e. meat industry wasting tons of edible food for growing animals and so on... just google humanist arguments for vegetarism, no need to repeat them here)

Furthermore, you imply that vegetarians would just not be able to do whatever is needed. However, the willingness to commit harmful acts in the name of a "greater good" does not make a good person. Particulary if the person in question is willing to commit them anyway.
I don't believe in any "necessary evil" and I don't believe that there's such thing as a critical mass of sanity which renders you helpless when you hit it.
So let's try it the other way around: Would you _try to stop_ the killing and torturing of millions of real world cows to prevent the suffering of one human child in the third world? Because that is one of the things vegetarians do.

Btw, I usually start a new map with growing wheed. Meanwhile I chop wood and collect apples. The first night I dont have wool for a bed, so I hide in a shelter and start digging for cobble and iron. Later on I may build a semi-automatic potato farm or a fully automatic melon farm. I've never been tempted to kill any passive mob.

That being said, I'd really appreciate some pro-vegan changes in minecraft. It would be nice if there was an alternative to leather (for books and item frames) or a crafting recipe for nametags (which could else be obtained by fishing).

Jared Hester
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The real issue with the system is in the amount of wheat that the cow needs to eat. The structure of energy transfer up the food chain doesn’t make much sense in Minecraft; I’m surprised that wasn’t your major point of contention. Meat’s greater efficiency relative to plants is a symptom of this root issue.

I understand your criticism of a lack of “realism” but I think you approach and frame the problem incorrectly. The rules and structures that define the toy universe we explore through Minecraft need to be understood relative to each other and in how they function together as a system. Granted I am too lazy to look through the wiki and see how consistent the energy transfer is from plant to animal to human, but I’ll assume there is no pervasive pattern that attributes greater worth to meat over vegetables. This would mean the values you are critiquing it for representing are not actually present in Minecraft. It would also mean this mechanical system is contrived and it damages the authenticity or “realism” of the system relative to itself, a failing much more important than how well the game aligns with our reality.

The real ethical failing is the implicit endorsement of lazy game design and contrivance that is etched into the game’s mechanics. But since most people would argue that these aren’t the primary mechanics of the game, it’s only a minor failing.

Rick Dupont
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Here is the core root problem with your argument: you argue that steak shouldn't be more efficient in hunger replenishment than "the best vegan alternative" (and by claiming it as such, you automatically claim a vegan bias despite your insistence that the vegan part isn't your point, if it truly wasn't you wouldn't have even mentioned it). However, you are overlooking the fact that, as many have stated, bread is by far much easier to acquire than steak. If both are on equal footing, than your argument MAY have a bit more weight (and that argument is, why do two items with equal abundance and ease of acquisition have different results when used for their intended use). However, this is not the case. Any claims of "ethics" or "realism" are thrown out the door when you look at the simple mechanics of the game.

Step 1) Acquire easy to gather materials.

Step 2) Use easy to gather materials to make more difficult to gather items easy to acquire.

Step 3) Repeat Step 1.

Now granted, they could have gone out of their way to make "bread, super bread, really super duper bread" or something, but that's just ridiculous.

Any claims of realism are thrown out the door when you examine any other built or developed item in the game. For example, take the steps needed to go from nothing to creating a bow.

Step 1) Punch tree for wood.

Step 2) Make wood planks from wood.

Step 3) Make sticks from wood.

Step 4) Make wood sword from wood and sticks.

Step 5) Kill spider for string.

Step 6) Tie string around sticks.

Oooh, savor the stunning realism of simply needing 3 sticks and 3 pieces of string to make a tool capable of launching arrows (which are just flint, sticks, and feathers after all)! Clearly the game is pushing some sort of anti-tree anti-spider agenda.

You can't have your cake and eat it too. You can't claim that your vegan beliefs aren't at the core of your argument, and then claim that bread and steak are "ethical inconsistencies" in a video game.

Arthur Tam
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By the way, mushrooms, which grow naturally in caves, are easily found and take almost no effort to collect compared to all of the above cases, and are admittedly a more substantial addition to a vegan diet, can be easily cooked into a hearty stew filling the same amount of hunger units and roughly the same amount as hunger saturation points as a steak.

this was a feature before steaks existed, and at that point in time, killing a cow earned nothing, and mushroom stew was the only means of healing, aside from eating them raw, overall projecting an even more skewed viewpoint in which animal meat was not an option to begin with

trophy please

Dan Jones
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I believe the spawn rate for mushrooms was severely nerfed for the release version, making mushroom stew much less viable as a renewable source of food than it once was. (Especially given the fact that hunger must now be regularly addressed even when taking no damage from enemies or the environment.)

Kenneth Blaney
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@Dan Initially, mushrooms didn't spawn at all. They were created as part of the world and could not be cultured in any way, shape or form. Then mushrooms were given the ability to spread in places of low light and they could literally take over whole caves or even the entire Nether. The mushroom nerf was only out of necessity and is a clear example of a developer not fully understanding the interplay of mechanics he implements. (Albeit, in Minecraft, this is very hard.)

Matt Robb
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The whole claim is predicated on the idea that the wheat supplied by the player is the only food the cows ever ate, rather than just acting as bait to get the cattle feeling randy.

Alexander Jhin
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"The system is the message." While I think this post is a bit of stretch in terms of real world applicability, at least it acknowledges the fact that systemic models in video games can have as much meaning as, say, novels or films or other art. For example, the film "Food, Inc." is a non-interactive film about the dangers of modern food production, while "Mc Donald's Videogame" ( is an interactive form of the same message.

However, this analysis is about the same as complaining that the new Sherlock Holme's film portrays Victorian England incorrectly. Frankly, fiction is false and that is its beauty.

The more interesting question is: Is there such thing as a non-fiction video game? Or for that matter, what is the true line between a documentary like "Food, Inc." and that same film, made fiction with re-enactment actors, but with all the exact same behavior?

Arnaud Clermonté
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Yes, Minecraft missed an opportunity to teach gamers a thing or two about food efficiency,

but let's face it: gameplay and realistic depictions of efficiency don't really fit together.

The 1st law of thermodynamics usually has to be broken for the sake of gameplay.

I don't think in-game ethics are really connected to gamers' real life ethics and behaviour anyway.

People don't do things because they saw it in a game,

people do what they see other people do IRL.

I don't think games are an efficient way to improve people's behaviour IRL.

There have been some attempts though, there was a "sweatshop" themed tower-defense-style game recently that did a decent job:

But would I include meat consumption in a game that I would design, if it improves gameplay?

Probably, because I think it would have little real world impact...

Unless I somehow find a way to make it educational. But I have no idea how to do that.

As you can see from the anti-vegan trolling in the comments here, it's a tough communication issue. Some people just don't want to think and question their old habits, and trying to make them do so just rubs them the wrong way.

Gregory Kinneman
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Much like the ending to Inception, a lot of people here are focused on the wrong thing. The author considers encouragement/discouragement of the eating of meat to be a moot point compared to the harm of misinforming players about the costs of each. This article emphasizes this though the "mechanics are the message" argument, as Alexander said. The argument boils down to this:

1.) Mechanics drive behavior and players will optimize those behaviors and perform the best ones more often (game theory).

2.) Regular reactions to stimuli can be programmed through rewards (Pavlov).

3.) If a game encourages a player to perform an action in a game in pursuit of a reward, then that will program the player's habits (within the game). Since these responses to stimuli are reactions, a player might not even notice the tendency to favor one action over the other.

4.) Gee states that skills learned in games will transfer to non-game actions if they are relevant. The more these game skills are like other skills, the more they will transfer. This explains why players who are good at Diablo II may not be particularly good at throwing spears, but why nutrition learned in a game might be relevant to shopping habits.

5.) One can look at real-world actions and assign ethical relevance to them. If one considers being wasteful by eating meat instead of grain to be unethical, there's a valid argument here, as the game is encouraging one behavior over another with a reasonable chance of it transferring out of the game.

6.) The McDonalds game also encourages unethical choices, but that is because the game is a satire. If minecraft is a satire (and the arguments can go either way on that one) then perhaps it's meant as the mockery, but personally, I don't think so.

Finally, I will point out an issue of severity, namely that this doesn't seem to have nearly the damage potential of say, having all the zombies in a game be black, or of always using the word bitch to refer to a female character. Perhaps a broader scope to the article would help minimize the targeting of the single example.