Kurt J. Mac, a man he calls himself, loaded Minecraft on March 28, 2011. Mac looked around at the landscape surrounding his character as it filled in. He began walking. His goal was simple: To reach the end of all things.
Mac, now thirty-one years old, still walks almost three years later. He has walked more than seven hundred virtual kilometers in just one hundred and eighty hours. Mac won't be able to reach the edge of the globe, which is currently at twelve thousand kilometres, for another twenty two years at his current pace.
Over forty million people have played Minecraft over the past four years, on smartphones, computers, and consoles. It is primarily a game of human expression. Minecraft is a huge Lego-style construction set that allows players to break down each object into its components and rebuild them in any shape they desire.
Minecraft's universe is procedurally generated. This means that every asset, such as every hill, mountain, cave and river, is placed in a unique arrangement each time a new game loads. This ensures that no two worlds are identical. Markus Persson, Minecraft's creator, designed these worlds to be infinitely vast. If a player continued walking in one direction, the game would create more worlds in front of him. It was like an engineer laying tracks for an advancing train.
A glitch in the underlying mathematics can cause the landscape to break down into unlogical shapes and patterns when it is far from the player's starting point. Persson explained to me that the game would eventually bug out at long distances very early on when it was implementing the "infinite" worlds. "But I did the math to determine how likely it was that people would ever reach it. I concluded it was far enough away that bugs didn't matter."
Persson wrote a blog entry in March 2011 about the problem with Minecraft's source code. He also described the mysterious location where Minecraft's world begins warping and disintegrating, which he called the Far Lands. Mac created a YouTube channel around that time to record his virtual adventures. Persson's post was the perfect angle to differentiate his videos from other YouTube Minecraft-casters. Mac found exactly what he was looking for. He changed the name of his YouTube channel from Far Lands to Bust! and set off to see them. Mac explained to me that he thought the journey would take about a year because of his ignorance. "Had it not been for the fact that the Far Lands were thousands of kilometres away, then I might have been more cautious."
Mac's preparations were minimal for the hike. He had to gather the materials to make a sword for protection and a pickax to dig shelters to hide from the nocturnal terrors of the game's lethal nocturnal creatures. He said, "Most importantly, I brought a compasse." "The compass always points towards the original spawn point. This way, I would know that I am heading in the right direction if I walk in the opposite direction to the needle's point.
Mac has filmed the entire journey and broken it down into four episodes on YouTube. He said that YouTube is a good format for the journey, as it allows the viewer to follow along the entire adventure. "Also if anyone has doubts about whether I am making this trek to Far Lands without cheating they can go back and view all of the footage." But Mac quickly realized that he would need to add commentary to each episode to engage his audience and avoid loneliness. He said that the series became a podcast where the topics I discuss might not have much to do with the actual journey. "Of course it is exciting when Minecraft re-grabs me attention with a perilous Cliff, a zombie attack or a memorable landscape. And I remember the journey."
Mac's quest is driven by the same spirit that propels any explorer to the far reaches unknown. Today's world is meticulously mapped by Google cars and satellites. Uncharted virtual lands are some of the last places that can satisfy a longing for the beyond. "My viewers and me are the only ones to ever see them exactly as they are," Mac said. "Once they are gone, we won't see them again."
Although the idea of walking in one direction for hundreds of hours through a videogame may seem banal, Minecraft has an extraordinary ability to create unscripted drama. Mac meets something interesting in almost all of Far Lands and Bust's three hundred episodes. Each episode lasts around thirty-five minute. He recalled that he had tamed a wild wolf in episode thirty-two on June 6, 2011. He quickly became a fan favorite, and was my only companion during the trip. "Unfortunately, Wolfie, as he was known, mysteriously vanished during a break on the final day." Mac assumed Wolfie had been glitched and this added a bittersweet note to the season finale. In an unexpected twist of fate, Mac was reunited to the Wolfie in the fourth season's first episode, and the pair continued their journey together.
Mac started his quest as a Web designer when he first started. But, as Mac's channel gained more viewers, he began to generate enough advertising revenue that he could quit his job and pursue virtual exploration as his sole profession. His viewers have become his patrons and fund his trips in exchange for interesting updates and reports. To hide his identity from anyone trying to locate his Chicago house in the suburbs, Kurt adopted the pseudonym Mac because of its success.
Persson is a passionate supporter of the Far Lands expedition. He said, "It was one those things that kinda slowly crept into mine awareness." "I heard about it in various places and finally got around to watching an episode." Mac met Persson at the annual conference of Minecraft in Paris in 2012. Mac stated that despite not being involved in Minecraft's creation, Notch is still amused by the many ways people choose to play his game. Persson watches Mac videos while he works. He said that he finds it strangely relaxing and Zen-like. It is a great background for programming. However, it's not something that I would attempt to do myself. I don't think that I possess this kind of personality."
Mac partnered with Child's Play in June 2011. This charity aims to improve the lives and well-being of children in hospitals by providing toys, games, and other aid to more than 70 hospitals around the world. He said, "The viewers have always motivated my with their generosity." It has allowed the series become more than just a video game that takes you to the Far Lands, but also a way to make a difference in the real-world.
Mac was also able to withhold the distance he had traveled for charity, to keep his journey a mystery. "I now only press F3 to display coordinates when certain fund raising goals have been met," Mac said. On November 14, 2011, Mac discovered that he had traveled more than two hundred and ninety thousand metres since the first fund-raising goal was met. He said, "After the second goal of twenty-nine million two hundred and twenty dollars was met, I pressed F3 to discover that I had travelled six hundred, ninety nine thousand four hundred ninety-two miles." Mac's charity journey has raised more that two hundred and fifty thousand dollars to date.
Much debate surrounds the date and time at which Mac arrived in Far Lands. It is agreed that it would take a player eight hundred twenty hours to reach the edge, in a Minecraft world completely flat. Mac is traveling in a world with mountains, oceans and other obstacles that slow down his progress. He often stops to take in the beauty of his surroundings. He said, "Some say it will be more than three thousand episodes for me to reach my destination at the current rate." "But I never really take time to think about it." My mantra has been "This is about the journey, not the destination."
Mac is beginning to see signs that he is on the right track, however. He said that he was beginning to feel some of the effects of traveling so far from his spawn. "Items, entities, and the terrain around them are disjointed, causing a jitter when I walk." Some people expect these problems will increase as Mac walks further from his starting point. Others think that the game won't be playable until he reaches Far Lands. Mac is more philosophical about the matter. He says, "We will see when it gets there."