Recently, TAG’s (Concordia University’s game research center) Gina Hara asked me if I wanted to cover her brand new Minecraft documentary web-series, “Your Place or Minecraft?“. I said yes, absolutely. My coverage of the series will be divided into three parts: the first two being a very interesting and lengthy interview with her, and the third will be about my own thoughts about the series.
This is part 2, and you can read part 1 here. In the first part, we talked about how she first thought to make a series about Minecraft, how players have a tendency to mirror their real life in their virtual communities, and about the technical difficulties she encountered while making the show. In the second part, we talk about how she picked who she wanted to interview and how she interviewed them, why Minecraft is so interesting to study, and of her future plans now that the series is out. Enjoy!
Chosen for a reason.
Pierre-Olivier: How did you choose who you wanted to interview?
Gina: At the beginning, it was the people who played the most on the server and who I spent the most time playing with. It was just very obvious; I knew a lot about what they were going through and why they were doing things, and I wanted it recorded, I wanted to document it. But after a while I had more conscious decisions to make, based on the research people who were at TAG at the time. I knew that Allison (Allison Cole, episode 7) would speak about the gender aspect of Minecraft, and I really wanted that on the show. I knew about Isaac’s (Isaac Lenhart, episode 8) ideas and thoughts about Minecraft, and the way he plays it is very interesting. He’s definitely the most powerful player amongst all of us. I mean you’ve seen his house, it’s ridiculous. I knew that he has these fascinating notions about time and space in Minecraft, of how time passes or doesn’t pass, which he tried to reenact in the show. And so there were some conscious choices at the end, but at the beginning it was really about grasping this mini society that was happening amongst my co-workers and friends.
PO: I quickly realized while watching the series that its focus is on the players, and not on Minecraft itself. You can get a solid feel for each player’s personality throughout their episodes. Is that something that you were aiming for?
Gina: Absolutely yeah. As you said, and I’m happy you got that out of it, it’s really about the people. I feel Minecraft is kind of a context for this story, or for all the stories you hear on the show. It’s really about how we humans interact with each other, and how we hurt each other, help each other, share things and destroy things, together.
Plans are made to be broken.
PO: So when you were interviewing them, did you have a plan? You knew what they were into, and thus you angled your questions towards their interests?
Gina: Yeah, I knew everybody’s research more or less, and everyone’s personality more or less, so I’ve always went in with a list of questions, kind of like what you have. There were a lot of general questions in there, like “What kind of research do you do, how does it connect to Minecraft? When you play, do you think about how you play? Are you self-reflexive about your playing? Is this different than another server?” and the usual questions like “Show me your house. Why did you build it like this? What do you usually do?”, etc. And then I would often riff off of those questions. When someone was speaking about something interesting, I would follow up on it. There were also some more personal questions in there too, like Joachim’s (Joachim Despland, episode 2) episode I feel is a lot about that story about the server being stolen. And I knew going in that that was something I wanted to talk about.
PO: Right, or Gersande’s (Gersande La Flèche, episode 3) chickens.
Gina: Or Gersande’s chickens yes, and Darren’s (Darren Wershler, episode 5) response to that. And again, Allison and gender, Isaac and time.
The LEGO of our generation.
PO: Why Minecraft though? What makes Minecraft so interesting to study?
Gina: Wow, that’s a big question! I think Minecraft is kind of our generation’s LEGO. Endless possibilities of creation and destruction. And the fact that we can play on a server together with friends, or with strangers, it’s just this perfect incubator of our society. It gives way to so many possibilities that we can grow into as players, as humans. The way we treat each other, what we build, how we build it. It’s such a beautiful model to study people and how people play, and what people do when they’re playing. It’s a really good model for that.
PO: How did the teachers first become interested in the Minecraft server?
Gina: Actually, I’m not sure! By the time I started working at TAG both servers were already up. That was like three years ago, and already Minecraft was a big part of Darren’s syllabus, and maybe Bart (Bart Simon. Concordia faculty, Dept of Sociology and Anthropology) too. It’s an interesting question, I could ask them. I’ll even ask for my own benefit, I’m curious now! *laughs*
PO: The series was very emotional, or at least I found it to be so. Was that intentional, or was it just me?
Gina: It’s interesting that you say that. I never realized how emotional it is, but I feel that because most of these people are good friends of mine, that maybe there was a directness, or a closeness that was obvious in the interviews. We played together before the interviews for like six months to a year, and we had been friends for at least a year as well. I think that kind of intimacy shows on an emotional level.
Reach for the stars.
PO: So what are you hoping will happen after the official release?
Gina: I’m hoping it will go viral! *laughs* Let those youtube comments rain! Well, um, okay, this is a process that I’ve never done as a filmmaker. As a traditional filmmaker, we tend to race to make a film, then send it to festivals. A few people see it at those festivals, then you just sit on the film for another year and then maybe put it online, and then maybe more people watch it, or not. So this is something I’ve never experienced, and now really thousands of people will watch it. And it’s very exciting, I mean I’ve never been so excited about a premiere. It’s also so close, we’ve just finished mixing like, today. It’s Thursday, and it’s coming out on Monday. And people are already telling me things, like you’re already giving me feedback. Usually you finish a movie in December and you have a premiere in July, meanwhile you start working on other films. So you kind of become emotionally distant. So this is new and exciting for me, so for sure I want it to go viral. I’ll probably be throwing a few viewing parties in Montreal.
And oh yeah, the website will be really cool. It’ll have pictures of the players so you can see what they look like. It’ll have their bio, and an archive of older screenshots from when they were playing the game. Some of us have dozens of screenshots, others have like, two. It’ll show another side of the server, and you will see a lot of buildings who were not in the show. Like my buildings were not in, interestingly. I’m also playing on the server! *laughs*
PO: I was surprised that there was no episode about you.
Gina: Yeah, I don’t know, I’ve never thought of making an episode about me. *laughs* I’m in the framing, I’m in the questions I asked, so I’m in there in indirect ways.
So, yes, the website will definitely be something to check out. It’ll have a list of works that were made by the interviewees, because they have published papers about Minecraft. They have art projects about Minecraft. So that’s going to be on the website. We’ll keep it updated with new things, maybe a glitch video, the map will be released.
PO: And bloopers?
Gina: Bloopers yeah! *laughs*
What’s next for Your Place or Minecraft?
PO: Is there a sequel on the horizon?
Gina: Oh yeah! So I’ve decided in the last few months that there probably will be a season 2, because Joachim is coming out with a new mod pack on August 1st, fingers crossed. People are welcome to download it and start playing on their own. And we will start a new server, for ourselves, and maybe in a year I’ll shoot a season 2 with the people who will be playing in the next year. New TAG members, new friends, some of the old people who did not get interviewed and are not happy about it. *laughs* There were people who were left out.
PO: Like you. I was thinking about Bart maybe as well, I was surprised there was no episode about him.
Gina: Bart was left out. Nic Watson (Concordia student, PhD Communication) was left out, who’s a major player on the server. He’s someone who researches Minecraft almost exclusively. And then Kalervo Sinervo (Concordia student, PhD Humanities program), he is the cutest, he was upset for not being interviewed as someone who doesn’t play Minecraft, but just watched it all happen. The Minecraft apocalypse happening in TAG, he just observed it. He was like “I have a lot of things to say!” *laughs*
It’s all about love.
PO: You don’t sound scared at all about the release. So you’re just excited?
Gina: Oh I’m very excited. I think we did a really good job, I’m really proud of the team I worked with. My editor was wonderful, the sound people I found absolutely amazing. The motion designer did a wonderful job, the web developers, the website they made I think is phenomenal. It’s funny when you’re really busy with another film, you really have to start relying on your team and you realize how talented your team is, and it really fills you with confidence. You’re like “These are amazing people, I’m sure what they did is good!” *laughs* I mean I was there to direct everyone, but still.
PO: Do you have a marketing angle for the series? What are you going to tell people about it before they watch it?
Gina: So, as far as marketing goes, we’ll say it’s the first Machinima documentary web-series, because it is the first! If I’m wrong someone tell me, as we didn’t find anything else like it. I usually say it’s about people playing an online game, people who know each other in real life. And the show is about how their real and online life correlates. So for me, it’s the human aspect that is interesting about it.
And, of course, I freaking love Minecraft.
There you go! I hope you enjoyed my interview with Gina Hara, make sure to check out the website at yourplaceorminecraft.com. Part 3 will be about my impressions on the series!
Your Place or Minecraft? is written and directed by Gina Hara, an award winning filmmaker and artist with a background in art & technology. She is interested in the experimental aspects and transmedial forms of visual culture. Gina is currently the creative director of the Technoculture, Art and Games Research Centre at Concordia University, while finishing her first feature film about women geeks. Gina had worked in different media with regard to film, video, new media, gaming and design.