The public has not heard much lately from Markus “Notch” Persson, the famed creator of Minecraft. He did some interviews after the sale of Mojang and the purchase of his $70 million Beverly Hills mega-mansion, but since then he has been mostly quiet… except on Twitter.
On Twitter he has been the epicenter of multiple controversies, resulting not only in the ire of the loud cadre of people who disagree with him, but multiple editorials in the gaming press attacking him for his opinions. For every opinion he tweets it seems a new editorial is born; outrage neatly packaged into ammunition for the great internet culture wars.
But in all of those editorials you rarely see any clarification or even an attempt at talking to the man himself. That is why I knew I had to interview him. If virtual page upon page is to be written every time he posts a 140-character bombshell, then I wanted a chance to talk to the real Markus Persson behind the controversial tweets, if only for context.
Convincing him to give me an interview was not easy. He is, as one would expect of someone whose opinions generate a legion of editorials, suspicious and cautious around journalists. Once we began talking, however, I found him to be friendly, candid, even charming. He was quick to laugh and listened earnestly. We spoke on Skype for nearly 90 minutes, and by the time it was over it felt less like an interview with an opinionated billionaire, and more like a fun, captivating conversation between geeks.
This interview reminded me of the value of good conversation, which social media, for all its uses, can never replicate.
The Escapist: Do you miss Minecraft?
Markus Persson: Surprisingly not at all, no. I stopped working on it quite a while before I sold the company, or maybe half a year until I decided to sell it, so it wasn’t like I was working on the game. I already felt like I had passed on the torch to Jens [Bergensten]. And then when I sold it I was afraid of how I was going to move on to the next stage of my life, whatever that is. But once I signed the papers I felt immediate relief. I never set out to be an entrepreneur. I don’t want to build an empire, I just want to write code. I don’t feel resentful about it. Sometimes, very rarely, but I’ll start the game up and go, “wow, did we build this?” (laughs)
TE: So you still play it?
MP: Very rarely, very rarely. Every once in a while it pops up on some kind of list of games somewhere and I click it just to see what it’s like now.
TE: Since the sale you’ve spoken candidly about the experiences of becoming suddenly wealthy. Ten years ago you were probably middle class and now you are famously rich.
MP: After my parents divorced it was two kids with a single mom working as a nurse. A few months there sometimes, or I remember at least one month, she was kind of uncertain if we could afford food for the entire month. She let me know after the fact, but she would kind of just hide it and like cook crappy Finnish food and it became a family thing instead of it being like, “oh we’re so poor.”
“I tend to kind of deconstruct and overanalyze a lot of things. But I try not to deconstruct it too much because if I feel like I’m having a good experience then I probably am.”
TE: You’ve talked on Twitter about feeling isolated and you mentioned that it is difficult to tell who is your friend and who is there for the money. You’ve talked about how you like Vegas because you know everyone is there for your money.
MP: This was like a year ago or something?
MP: Since then I’ve basically come completely out of it. Because I also realized that I’m really an introvert. So I think I kind of had this problem before, always, for my entire life. I didn’t necessarily want to have a lot of friends. And then once you sell your company and have a lot of money there’s not much else to do than continue learning or meet friends and exploring the real world, which is really fun, but it has been kind of a jarring change. I got to play it off, all of it, as just being a weird, eccentric Swedish guy, so it was easier to stop being social.
TE: It seems that it created an image online where people think you are this lonely, depressed rich guy with nothing to do.
MP: Well yeah, that’s the cultural idea of who I am, that I’ve become that.
TE: Is it accurate?
MP: I mean, I spend a lot of time alone, but it’s not as if I’m lonely, because that’s how I feel the most productive and happy. Generally if I’ve been alone programming for a couple of months then yeah I’m going to want to go out and see friends. So I kind of go back and forth, spend some time just programming and learning, you know, playing around with WebGL. And then I spend like a month doing a lot of social stuff like partying. I love partying. And a lot of dinners. I’m trying to learn how to appreciate red wine, which is impossible. I like red wine but I never remember any of it, like names of the old French chateaus.
TE: Can you tell the difference between an expensive red wine and a cheaper one?
MP: I will pretend to! The way you seem like you know what you’re doing is if you just do things confidently you can do absolutely anything. You can drop ice cubes in your coffee if you want, as long as you do it like a hundred times. So I don’t know how many people that drink wine are actually just doing that or if they can actually appreciate nuances.
TE: Yeah I recently read about a time where experts weren’t able to tell that a white wine had been dyed with red food coloring. [Note: Snopes says that’s a myth.]
MP: (Laughs). I tend to kind of deconstruct and overanalyze a lot of things. But I try not to deconstruct it too much because if I feel like I’m having a good experience then I probably am having a good experience. So I’m starting to get into rye whiskeys because I never had any whiskey I’ve liked. I say all kinds of things like, “oh it’s a raspy aftertaste” or whatever, but I’m not so sure I’m maybe actually sensing that or if I’m saying it because I want to enjoy it.
TE: Let’s talk about Sweden. It’s got to be a little jarring living in Beverly Hills where wealth is celebrated and flaunted, and then going to Sweden where modesty is very highly valued.
MP: Yeah that’s Jantelagen [Note: in English it’s Jante Law]. I feel like Jantelagen has been getting a little bit better and it’s something we’re weirdly proud of having in Sweden, so we talk it up more than it’s there. But it’s definitely part of society. If I were to have a chef come to my apartment [in Sweden] and cook food for me that would be really weird for me. I wouldn’t want to do it. Whereas in Beverly Hills if you don’t have a chef then it’s kind of weird in the other direction. It’s like the comment about me doing programming and then social stuff.
When I’m in Sweden I just want to do my programming. I wouldn’t want anyone to come here and cook the food while I try to do my programming, because I need, like, my coding cave. When I’m in the States then I’m on a tourist visa so I’m not allowed to work on anything anyway. So it’s kind of good for me because I have to go there and actually take vacations and do social stuff. I mean because the house is obviously some kind of weird trophy house, and LA is kind of a city that people go to in order to meet other people who want to go to LA for the same purpose. It’s kind of like this convergence spot of seekers, or people who want to see the seekers.
It’s also easier to do things in LA. In Sweden most people have 9 to 5 regular jobs all the week and then maybe on the weekends we can do stuff. So if I’m in a social mood and I try to spend that in Sweden it can be very frustrating since I don’t really have anything I have to do every day. But in LA people I know like in the music industry, they have basically the opposite schedule and they’re busy on the weekends.
TE: Do you think of yourself as if you are normal when you are in Sweden and different when you’re in Beverly Hills?
MP: Yeah, early on I did. And that’s probably around the time that I was writing that on Twitter about how weird the jarring change was and how weird it was to know where you belong and who’s on the same page. That’s probably when I started to begin to transition out of it. So now I feel normal in both places, but it’s like different aspects of me. I’ve been fortunate that I’ve had this cycle throughout most of my life where I’ve had this introvert phase and extrovert phase, so it just plugged in there, after some adjustment.
TE: As an American it feels really weird to see Jante Law say, “you are not to think you are anyone special,” because every American feels like we’re special. So when you come to America do you feel conflicted?
MP: A little bit. But there’s definitely some truth to it. Like I’m the type of person that if I know if there’s a cleaner coming over I will do some pre-cleaning. If I’m having a chef come over and I know there’s a high chance I might get a last minute lunch with someone, I’ll pre-warn them so I don’t let them down when I go to my lunch outside the house. But it’s not because I feel like I don’t belong or anything, it’s more like part of the fun of having a Swedish heritage. It’s kind of a fun minor cultural thing.
TE: Do you think any of your Twitter controversies are a result of the cultural differences?
“So that felt like I have, not a responsibility, but maybe an opportunity to help show that it’s actually possible to have opinions on Twitter without making sacrifice.”
MP: Most of the Twitter controversies have been because I genuinely don’t understand if people have even thought what they’re doing. Because I feel like most people want to reach the same goal, it’s just some people choose ways that are obviously not very productive. And if you try to have a nuanced conversation on Twitter it’s pretty much impossible. So I think I intentionally started getting more blunt. I saw this documentary “This is Phil Fish” which really helped me internalize the difference between me as a person and what the public idea of me as a person is, and when I got to the point where I realized I’m not going to start any more corporations and sell any more games – I mean I might sell a game at some point in the future but it’s not my primary driving motive – then I kind of figured I really don’t care what people think I am. Because I know what I am and no matter what people say online my friends know who I am, so I could just use [Twitter] as a really powerful soapbox.
TE: Now that you are fabulously wealthy and you’ve sold Minecraft do you feel a certain freedom? I can’t say whatever I want on Twitter because I have to worry about what a publisher might think, but you seem to have this freedom that other people don’t have.
MP: Yeah, to some degree. I think it’s more about when I started saying things people contacted me in private, Like people who have careers, they would say “thank you for speaking out, we can’t [publicly] support you.” I had a few people also contact me in private and say, “hey I’m still your friend but you’re kind of like an idiot.” But the vast majority of people contacting me in private are agreeing with me. So that felt like I have, not a responsibility, but maybe an opportunity to help show that it’s actually possible to have opinions on Twitter without making sacrifice.
TE: Some have criticized you on Twitter for a disproportionate response. They say you have a responsibility that, if someone with a few hundred followers calls you a dick, and then you retweet calling that person a cunt…
MP: Which by the way I had no idea was such a harsh word! I have an Australian friend I watch on Twitch a lot and he says cunt all the time. I mean I still stand by what I said, but I’d use the word “cunt” less. It’s like one cunt is eight f-bombs or something.
TE: In America it’s like the worst word you can say.
MP: The word itself is not the magical spell, it’s because communication is about knowing or trusting that the listener is going to listen to you with the right intent. If you say the word “cunt” and you know it’s offensive then you meant to be offensive when you say it. So you get this feedback loop of words that become more and more polarized. I don’t curse a lot on Twitter. I used to curse a lot in real life, at least. I don’t mind cursing, but it’s so much more effective if you use it rarely. So I like the fact that there’s a strong word like “cunt”. So anyway, the disproportionate…
TE: Yeah, does your follower count – you have 3.8 million followers on Twitter – does it give you a responsibility that other people don’t have?
MP: No, obviously not. My response to that is don’t go slapping the bigger guy. This is part of a strategy to find ways to neuter me – not me specifically. I think this has been a trend going on the last couple of years, accusing people of like, “oh you sent your followers on me. You can’t do that; I have 200 followers and you have 7 million.” So that is just a one way conversation then, or what? I try not to call people out if they just sent a direct message to me unless I’m like really getting worked up or if I get basically trolled. If someone does a public dot-reply to me or something then they’ve started to bring it out to the public and then I have no problem doing the same thing back. Sometimes I feel like they’re baiting me to do that so they can complain how I’m sending my big pile of followers on them.
TE: Let’s get to your specific Twitter controversies. I’d like to start with the “mansplaining” controversy. You called it a sexist word and I believe there were two big articles written because of that.
TE: Do you agree that mansplaining is a thing? Do you agree that men will over-explain things or explain things with too much authority?
MP: Oh yeah I’ve definitely seen it happen. My point is that you can’t have the cake and eat it too. We have to be equal and we have to treat everyone as individuals. You can’t just go, “men are over-represented when it comes to murders” and assume that every single man is a murderer. Instead of calling it murder we don’t call it man-killing. It’s still murder. We have perfectly good words already for this, like condescending. And then you have this term mansplaining, which is inherently sexist, but it’s apparently OK to be sexist against men because we hold the power or something?
TE: Then you came up with the phrase, “ovary-acting”.
MP: I think someone else came up with that. I came up with “cunt-fusing.”
TE: Oh was that yours?
MP: Yeah that was before I realized how bad the c-word was. And it’s not that good of a pun. Ovary-explaining is way better. I should have come up with that instead.
TE: Because of that you had what can only be called a hit piece written about you in Destructoid, claiming that you “feel oppressed by women.”
MP: I don’t feel oppressed by women.
TE: Did they try to contact you at all?
MP: I didn’t see anyone try to contact me. I probably wouldn’t have talked to them anyway so it’s a moot point, but I don’t remember anyone trying to contact me. Then again I don’t really go looking for people trying to contact me for interviews.
TE: Did you read the article?
MP: I kind of started reading the top of it and skimmed through it. I usually don’t read anything about me, even if it’s good, because it makes me want to second guess myself all the time. I think I had to kind of just hold my nose and read part of it so I could see the weird angle they were taking so I could reply to it. It was kind of liberating in a sense because when that happened I realized nothing actually changed.
TE: Nothing changed from when to when?
MP: From like my actual day to day life. I could still turn off the internet. I could play board games with my friends and then we’re just playing board games. Before that happened I was like, “oh god I hope there’s not a hit piece” or whatever. And when it happened I was like “oh, this is fine.” And most of the people who follow me on Twitter seem to be on my side anyway.
TE: Now let’s talk about the censorship controversy. You talked about self-censorship. People were wanting Nintendo to make Link a woman and you talked about that on Reddit. How is it censorship for people to demand Link be a woman?
MP: Well you phrased it correctly yourself. You said “demand” to be a woman. Then you are making demands for people to be making sacrifices to their own artistic expression. I think it’s very fine to teach people about issues that are going on in society. Even if they’re not real, if you think they’re real then they’re important. Like a long time ago I stopped saying “he” about an unknown person. I’ll say “they”. And that just makes so much sense to me because I understand the reason why you would do that. But for me, also, Zelda is not a game about genders, anyway, so just flipping the gender doesn’t really matter at all to me as a gamer. I understand why you would want to do that as a symbol or gesture, but demanding that other people do it on your behalf is kind of weird. For me it would be way more interesting to flip the roles of Zelda and Link. You could have the female protagonist and the male guy trapped in Gannon’s castle or whatever, and that would be very interesting because then you flip the roles and you have something new happening in a Zelda game.
TE: So it’s OK with you if people request more female protagonists in general?
MP: Yeah, like in a general opinion piece about it or if you have a good converation about it. The problem is the entire discussion has become kind of infected, like the Tracer thing in Overwatch. The original post wasn’t like a demand or anything like that. It wasn’t about demanding change, it was just a weirdly overly sexual pose for this playful girl character. And they agreed that it didn’t fit her persona. Then of course that exploded everywhere because people don’t want them to have to change the game just because Tracer has a sexy pose. So the actual original complaint wasn’t that bad at all. It’s just become so infected and it’s hard to even have any good conversation about it. I think when they changed her pose to an actual pin-up pose I thought it was very, very good, because they sent a clear message that this is not about not making her be sexy. But it’s also a clear message that this was more in line with her playfulness. So they agreed it was just like a generic, standard pose they had and they changed it to a pin up, kind of playful. They came up with a perfect solution to that situation, which is impressive.
TE: You’ve talked about intersectional feminism on Twitter. You called it, “a framework for bigotry.” Could you explain that?
MP: Well the idea of some people being more privileged than other people because of their physical traits, then you assume that everyone who has those traits is more privileged than everyone else who doesn’t have those traits, which is straight up bigotry. Not every white male is going to earn more money than every black female. As a group, on average, sure. But it’s so easy to slip away from the concepts and the trends in society and to actually go, “stop mansplaining.” I agree that mansplaining is a thing that happens, but you’re using that as a tool to shut me down, just because I’m having an opinion, not even in a condescending way. Then you’re taking this framework that’s been built up for something completely different and it’s so easy to misuse it to start attacking individuals instead of the groups.
TE: You’ve also received criticism from the other side when Anita Sarkeesian, who is an intersectional feminist, took a picture while at your house at a party. So some people were saying, “don’t give in to the feminists!” Have you watched her Tropes vs. Women in Video Games series?
MP: I watched part of one episode. For me the cultural implications of games and media, I’m not really interested in that. I prefer physics. I understand that it’s good to talk about, and as I said, discussion about these things is why I stopped saying “he” for an unknown character. So I think the discussion is good but it’s not really my type of thing. I made myself watch some of one episode. But I didn’t directly invite her. She was a plus one of a friend. She showed up and we had a conversation of maybe 30 seconds. She was very polite. I was very polite. We never even discussed the fact that we have differing political views (probably, since I haven’t watched her videos). And to me it was just like meeting a normal human being. You don’t discuss politics with your parents, either. People are people. She was very nice. People go like, “oh no she snuck in she wasn’t invited!” Well, none of the plus ones were really invited.
TE: Let’s talk about SJW’s.
TE: I’m sorry, I’m not trying to get you in trouble here!
MP: No, that’s fine.
TE: Some people think just using the term, “SJW” means you’re a certain kind of person. They say SJW is a pejorative and they’re just good people who want social justice. What to you is a social justice warrior?
“The idea, especially online, of your physical attributes having to limit how you express yourself I just find completely ridiculous.”
MP: I think it’s a bit of a strawman, of course. And it’s also a broader movement than like every single individual can be an SJW or not. It depends on the time of the day or your mood or who you’re hanging out with or what you’re discussing. Everyone can turn into someone like that. For me I use the term because it pisses people off. For me it’s more about outrage and being upset on behalf of other people. Like building this culture, we have to be afraid of everything we say potentially offending someone. To a very, very absurd level sometimes. I read on Reddit somewhere, and I think I tweeted this as well, that an SJW is someone who would rather remove the stairs than install a ramp next to it, because it would be offensive to have that ramp next to the stairs. To me that’s not very practical. I agree that everyone should be treated equally or at least have the same opportunities. If you end up being a dick then you should be treated like one. Everyone should have the same opportunities and we should try to be inclusive but not at just the lowest common denominator. We can’t just go having super-factual converasation with each other where we don’t share any opinions. We have a bunch of comedians that won’t do shows at colleges because of this exact climate that’s going on. So to me I don’t really like this kind of like cultural movement of self-censorship.
TE: There are a lot of people who outright attack you on Twitter. They’re pretty damn mean.
TE: These people, are they typically the SJW’s that we’re talking about?
MP: No, no. It’s completely random. I think the reason there’s this “SJW vs. the Gamergaters” is because it’s become this very polarizing issue. If you’ve seen the video “This Video Will Make You Angry” by CGP Grey it kind of digs into that polarizing opinion of just having an opinion and making a stance. That’s happened a lot with SJW’s and Gamergate, so every single issue can somehow be made to be related to that, weirdly. I can tweet something about how I like a certain genre of music in a funny, joking comment like about Norway not existing or Jazz not being a real music form and sometimes it will just affect someone and they will attack you. A lot of times it’s jokingly, but sometimes it’s not. I tend to just assume the best about people and I know that I’ve been like, when I was younger especially and fairly anonymous, I would just write something mean. It’s not because you want to actually hurt another person. It’s more that you just want to, I don’t know, it’s like punching a pillow.
TE: Some of the people on Twitter, and I have to admit I’m not sure how they’ve decided this, but they say you are transphobic.
MP: Yeah I don’t think they actually think I am, but it’s just an easy-to-use term just to throw at someone.
TE: Yeah like I said I have to admit I’ve looked through your Twitter and your interviews and I’m not sure where that claim comes from, but that claim is out there. If you do a search there are people saying you are garbage, anti-trans.
MP: (Laughs) Yeah I don’t know how that happened. Maybe it’s because I refused to choose sides in something at some point or maybe it’s because I reacted to it so then it’s become easy to use that, but I don’t know. I really do not care what people do at all. This is not me being transphobic. I just want people to be able to express themselves. Part of that is you have to also not care what people do. I’m not going to go around encouraging people to change their gender. If someone says they’re going to change their gender, then good for you! If you want to talk about it I’m here for you. But otherwise I don’t care.
TE: If a man transitions into a woman, is that person now a woman? What pronouns do you use?
MP: Whatever they want to be called. The idea, especially online, of your physical attributes having to limit how you express yourself I just find completely ridiculous. I mean we shouldn’t ignore the fact that reality exists and people are born in a certain way from a biology standpoint, but the gender labels, especially online, are so much more about expression. So even if someone is not even transgender but would like to be called he or she, then why not? Why would anyone care? You can have a blue avatar for all I care.
TE: OK, let’s move on to game journalism. You’ve made it crystal clear you are no fan whatsoever of game journalism. You called Kotaku, “an echo chamber of SJW filth trying to hang on to the sinking ship of pretense, virtue, and power tripping.”
TE: What is wrong with video game journalism? What don’t you like about it?
MP: I like it. I read it. But it’s pop culture, it’s not journalism. And they kind of go like, “yeah but I’m a reporter!” like they have some outstanding privilege in life because of it. But they’re not reporters. It’s not journalism that’s going on. And people go, “but shouldn’t we be able to condemn a game for not having a female Link?” And I go, “no”, because that’s literally the opposite of journalistic core fundamental tenets. Trying to be as objective as possible is like one of the main distinguishing features if you consider yourself a journalist. And people don’t want to read games journalism about just cold, factual reporting of reality, so it’s more like some kind of… I mean all of it is opinion pieces and editorial. So I think people referring to themselves as journalists when they talk about how boob physics are weird or how they spend 20 minutes trying to reload in a game in virtual reality talking about some anecdote about from when they were a child and guns being bad? I mean I’m Swedish and I don’t like guns, but that’s not what I want to see in a video about virtual reality.
TE: You’ve talked about journalism in general and objectivity, and there are some journalists and game journalists who say that objectivity is impossible, that it’s better to be open about your biases. What are your thoughts on that?
MP: I feel there’s definitely room for that kind of entertainment. The game journalism that doesn’t even try to be objective, there’s definitely some room for that. It’s fun to read. It’s kind of nice to read someone who agrees with you. It can be fun to read someone who disagrees with you. But I feel like the claim that objectivity is impossible, what about science? We’ve managed to – “we” (Laughs) I’ve never scienced in my entire life – but scientists have managed to get out of the whole opinions and trying to make sure everything is measurable. Of course it’s way more easy to do with a hard science than something like psychology, which is more nebulous. But just acknowledging that you’re going to be biased, yes, that’s great. But then try to develop tools for not being biased instead of just embracing it. Because otherwise you’re going to situations like “This Video Will Make You Angry”, opinions just being shouted at each other for the sake of shouting opinions.
TE: You brought up Gamergate. What’s your opinion on it?
MP: When it went on I kind of just shook my head and kind of felt embarrassed for everyone involved. I think that a lot of people did a lot of things wrong, but not even remotely to the degree of the shitstorm that it’s become. The talk about like the IGF judges being biased and stuff, it’s kind of like a small competition thing that hasn’t been around for a long time. The people who are judging are part of the community. Of course they’re going to have their own personal preferences. That’s not even a little bit of a surprise. It’s kind of like the Oscars. If someone makes a movie about a horse and gets an Oscar because they deserved it, then you can kind of tell there’s probably something going on behind the scenes because maybe it’s his time now. It’s not just about the actual best performance. I’ve never actually seen The Revenant so I don’t know, but you can kind of tell, it’s time. But that’s because it’s about the celebration of it and not declaring that it was the best movie ever. Or that this is the best game ever. So I mean yeah you’ll probably be biased towards your friends partially because you like them and partially because you really understand the work they put into creating it, especially when it’s that fairly niche small thing.
TE: Several game journalists have taken to outright attacking you on Twitter. The guy from Rock Paper Shotgun called you “an arsehole.”
MP: (Laughs) Well he’s not wrong!
TE: Are they treating you differently now from three years ago?
MP: Uh… yeah? But I also think the climate has changed a bit from three years ago.
MP: I think they actually made money back then, partially. And now because of all the Gamergate stuff it’s become so much more important to choose a side in it. Otherwise people are going to ask you, “what side are you on?!” or whatever. Very few people managed to pull it off. The Escapist was pretty good. So you kind of have to pick a side, and of course you’re going to pick whatever your other friends in “games journalism” – very big quotation marks there – are doing as well, because that’s your culture. That’s what you grew up in. Not because of some nefarious conspiracy.
TE: So you think game journalism has taken a side in the culture war?
MP: No, not all of them. Of course not. But Rock Paper Shotgun, I used to love them. Now it’s just kind of… meh. And Polygon, they don’t even like games anymore I think?
TE: I saw you talked a little about that video of Polygon playing DOOM.
MP: (Laughs) That video, and the fact that instead of just going, “yeah that was hilarious, sorry I had a bad day.” Instead of doing something like that and just embracing the gamer thing they use these weird excuses. “No we don’t have to be experts on games just because we write about games!” I mean, no, a sports commentator doesn’t have to be the best sports player in the world. But if you’re reviewing football, then yeah you have to know how to play football. If you’re reviewing games then yeah you sure as hell need to know how to play games.
TE: You’ve talked a lot about how people in the industry have supported you privately but they can’t support you publicly. Why can’t they?
“It’s not like people are actually starving to death. It’s just people having political opinions online.”
MP: Because they don’t want to get involved. They don’t want to draw eyes to themselves. They maybe don’t think it’s as important as I do. They don’t want to tarnish their reputation. They don’t want VICE hit pieces written about them. And I think that’s also why the hit pieces happen, because they want to make sure they show this kind of behavior is being punished. Fortunately, I don’t care.
TE: That’s that freedom we were talking about.
MP: It’s also the fact that I kind of realized I wasn’t this entrepreneur thing. This is just something that happened to me. I just wanted to stay home and learn how physics work.
TE: Does it hurt you at all that these people aren’t stepping up more to support you?
MP: No, not at all. I understand completely why and it doesn’t really matter. It’s not like people are actually starving to death. It’s just people having political opinions online.
TE: Has being controversial on Twitter cost you anything, in terms of personal relationships?
MP: I’ve had people I feel have been a little bit like they claim to be supportive and they’re not, and then they still want me to support them, which feels weird. I think the only other time I’ve talked to someone about this was Dan Baranowsky, who makes very good video game music for Crypt of the Necrodancer. He doesn’t agree with me, which is fine, I love him very much. We met in San Francisco at the GDC this year, and he was like, “hey man congratulations!” because I got some award, the Ambassador award or something – oh god I should probably know what awards I’ve gotten (laughs) [Note: It was the Pioneer Award]. But anyway, he knows we don’t agree on a lot of stuff but he congratulated me anyway. It felt nice to have him say that because I knew he doesn’t agree with me and I respect him.
TE: Is that generally how people are? Your contacts in the video game industry, can they deal with you being controversial on Twitter?
MP: I think so.
TE: Are any of them telling you in a DM that maybe you shouldn’t say something?
MP: Not that much these days. Early on I was saying some things and people contacted me. I don’t even remember what I said, but they contacted me because they had been close to people that had like weird things happen to them or whatever and they told me “no this is actually a bigger problem than you think.” Then I basically just appreciated that, just learning, because I feel like I get a lot of shit. People send me threatening emails and whatever, but it seems to be way worse for females out there.
TE: That’s it for the Twitter controversies. In your farewell letter after selling Minecraft, you said, “If I ever accidentally make something that seems to gain traction I will probably abandon it immediately.” Is that still the case?
MP: No I don’t necessarily think so anymore. I am terrified of getting new responsibility for a game again. It’s so tempting to keep doing it once you’re there, because you have fans you don’t want to let down and the instant feedback is a little addictive. And it feels fun for the moment. But then it inevitably makes me feel almost like I’m in a relationship that I didn’t intentionally want to get into and I let everyone down and it gets so high pressure.
TE: Yeah you talked about that as a factor in selling Minecraft. Is the opinion of fans and their demands, does that weigh you down?
MP: No, not really at all. But I still want to make the best game I can make. Was it [Henry] Ford who said if I ask people what they wanted they would have said faster horses?
TE: Yep. [Note: it appears that quote has been historically misattributed to Ford].
MP: I think that’s kind of common in a lot of game developers, but not in an upset kind of way. You have to listen to what people actually say they want, but you’re the one making the games. Maybe you played so many games and you understand games and you have this idea on how to be innovative. So you have more understanding of how to progress the medium. So it’s not like I feel there are demands from players on what to do with my games. It’s more that I feel I have a responsibility to distill what they’re actually asking for, or what were the areas that bothered them. And then I want to make the best game I can, because it’s fun to make a great game.
TE: I saw you had a conversation on Twitter with a guy talking about you being the first to release a game in alpha and that has started a trend of people releasing unfinished, buggy, sometimes bad games. The guy said you were responsible for that, because Minecraft was like the first successful one. Do you feel any responsibility for that?
MP: No, the reason I to do it was because I saw Cortex Command doing it and they got it from someone else as well. And I was thinking about why so many indie game developers just go broke. And I also started thinking about my own behavior and how I make games, because I would never actually charge for a game and ask for money. I have this pride that I want to have a finished product to sell. But I saw in Cortex Command how they got the community involved and I thought if I start charging early maybe that would work. It turns out it did. I don’t think I would have finished Minecraft if I hadn’t started charging early. So I think it’s cool we have this option now and that people still, despite several failed launches, will still buy into it if it’s something they care about. For me the best possible example is FTL, Faster Than Light.
TE: I see you talking about that quite a bit.
MP: It’s the most adorable little board-gamey…
TE: That game frustrates the hell out of me!
MP: Oh yeah and then you see people doing no-pause hard runs on Twitch. The game is so dripping in mood and atmosphere and amazing music, and it’s something that would have been hard to pitch to a publisher.
TE: Have you unlocked all the ships in FTL?
MP: Oh no. I started playing it on PC then I started playing it on iPad, which was wonderful. But then I lost my iPad so I started over on another iPad and I think I unlocked like 4 ships. Now I have this new iPad so I have to start over. I haven’t played it as much recently.
“I feel a little bit like Truman at the end of The Truman Show when he walks through the set. Everything is completely different now.”
TE: OK, the big question: are you working on anything now?
MP: I am working on something but I try not to show anyone anything.
TE: A new game?
TE: That will be interesting.
MP: Yeah there’s something about the ridiculousness of taking the longest possible path. It’s fun!
TE: We spoke earlier about you figuring out the next part of life after the sale. Have you figured it out? Are you working on figuring it out?
MP: No, but I think I’ve gotten used to not having it figured out. I think humans tend to really enjoy having some kind of habitual role that you play, and when you’re able to do whatever you want you lose that part of it. But I think it’s also because you’re used to knowing what you’re supposed to do. As long as you’re willing to accept it, then it’s kind of fine. This is such a 1 percent-er whining thing. You have to develop different techniques for motivating yourself so you don’t just sit in your underwear and do programming for a week and then everything is horrible. So you have to develop these new techniques. You can’t rely on the alarm going off and you go in to work in the morning. It’s more about getting used to not necessarily knowing what I’m supposed to do.
TE: A lot of people seem very concerned about whether you are working on stuff or whether you have goals in your life. I saw in a Forbes article they called you “washed up” because you didn’t have goals, you didn’t have a project. Do you feel like you should be looking for one? Or have you just accepted it?
MP: I feel a little bit like Truman at the end of The Truman Show when he walks through the set. Everything is completely different now. I’m kind of nihilistic. I don’t necessarily believe any of this is real. I kind of feel like “real” is a made-up word, because that just means we have a subjective reality we’re part of. I mean yeah, obviously, everything does. But that doesn’t mean we’re any more real than any other mathematical possibility. So I’d probably say I’m atheistic plus? I don’t feel like there’s any purpose to anything that’s going on. I try to stick to the life model of “do whatever makes a better story,” because when I’m gone all that’s left will be what happened and what transpired. If I try to make that an interesting story then I’ve done the best I can, I think. So I don’t feel like there’s anything I’m supposed to do. And when you don’t have the framework of day to day life to know what you’re supposed to do then it’s very easy to just binge all of Breaking Bad and not exactly doing whatever makes the better story. So I don’t know if I’m washed up. I’ve definitely managed to let go of running a corporation and having employees, because I realized I never actually wanted that. It was something I had to do because Minecraft became so big. But programming? Yeah I do that all the time.
TE: OK now we’ll move on to our lightning round!
MP: Oh shit.
TE: Have you ever eaten surströmming?
MP: Yes, once as a kid and I don’t remember if I hated it or if I just pretended to hate it because it’s supposed to be disgusting. Jakob [Porser] who was part of Mojang when we sold the company wants to get me to eat surströmming again. I think I’ll have a fairly boring reaction to it because I’ve started eating basically anything.
TE: How awful is Norway?
MP: (Laughs) So a couple years ago we had the hundred year anniversary of when we separated into two countries. In that document it said something like we’d do a trial separation for a hundred years and then we’d renegotiate. And we just went “pssh, why should we bring that up, of course you’re your own state”, and nobody even thought about it. Then I kind of thought, “well they have a lot of oil.” Actually I’m really fond of Norway.
TE: It’s a really great rivalry.
MP: I think it ties into the Jantelagan thing a bit. It’s ok for Swedish people to complain about Norway and for Norwegian people to complain about Sweden. If someone else goes and talks about my Norway then I’d be upset.
TE: As a rich guy who knows what it’s like to be poor, when you look at the prices of things now are you still in the poor mindset? Do you still think “whoa that steak is $200!”?
MP: Oh yeah, oh yeah. Not because I feel like I can’t afford it, but I feel like I’m getting bamboozled. “OK, come on, how good can a steak possibly be?” Then if there’s a really good salesman who tries to sell me on the steak, then I’ll probably try it. If it’s not that overwhelming then I probably won’t try it again. But I kind of keep way more track of the actual prices of things than I thought I would. Because I thought of “am I aware of the cost of a loaf of bread?” as one of my reality checks. And it turns out I kind of am keeping track a little bit.
TE: Can you cook?
MP: No. Mostly because I find it boring, because it takes longer than to actually eat it. I don’t have any real imagination with cooking. For me it’s like interior decorating. Like, “what kind of chair do you want?” and I go, “I don’t know, what kind of chairs are there? I don’t know.” Same with cooking. They go, “what kind of food are you making?” and I go, “I don’t know.” I make a pretty good spaghetti carbonara.
TE: What about Swedish meatballs?
MP: I can buy them frozen and put them in a pan until they’re no longer frozen. Surprisingly tasty.
TE: You’re well known for your love of electronica. What kind of music can you not stand? Any music genre you don’t like?
TE: Country music?
“I kind of just prefer sitting on a computer talking on my headset, kind of just in a room.”
MP: That’s probably one of the most distant to me. Jazz, that I joke about, as well. But it’s not that there’s anything I think is wrong with the genre. I’ve just never grown any appreciation of it. If I’m drunk then I’ll probably enjoy any music. One of the best effects of alcohol is that it makes music amazing. I remember I was in Cleveland for St. Patrick’s day in a bar with people playing the fiddle, live, and like the harmonica. And it was amazing because of the vibe and people getting drunk to really ridiculous, weird music.
TE: You’ve met a lot of celebrities. Have any made you particularly star-struck?
MP: John Carmack’s probably been the most intense.
TE: That’s such a geek thing to say!
MP: (Laughs) Yeah but I would dream for years as a kid (that was a long dream!) about making the DOOM engine. Not that I invented it, but just being able to recreate it and understand it. That’s been kind of my go-to thing. And I think now I’ve written that engine twice from scratch without looking at the source code, just looking at the file format. So yeah, meeting John was intense.
TE: Time to get you in trouble. PC or console?
MP: For me, probably PC. I feel if you have a few friends over, popcorn and beer, then you probably want to do the console. I remember getting drunk and playing Mount Your Friends. It was extremely fun but hard to do on the PC. But for me I kind of just prefer sitting on a computer talking on my headset, kind of just in a room.
TE: Do you ever join multiplayer games, like Rocket League?
MP: I tried to play Rocket League…
TE: Now everyone is playing Overwatch, of course.
MP: Yeah I used to play Team Fortress 2, and now I’m playing Team Fortress 3 [what he calls Overwatch].
TE: What was your class in Team Fortress 2?
MP: Mainly soldier. Valve made me a hat, a custom hat for all the characters which is based on a cube, like cardboard. So people recognize me, and I get 2 or 3 pocket spies and 2 or 3 pocket medics. So I played like a different game than most people. But I don’t spy check at all. I’m way too trusting, and I like shooting rockets, so I’ll be shooting rockets and do really well and get stabbed in the back.
TE: Did you have rocket jumping down?
MP: Oh yeah, definitely. Which is why in Overwatch (Team Fortress 3) I like the design of Pharah because she’s like this noble flying, harasser, kind of similar to the soldier. I try to keep the height advantage in stuff. It’s fun. But her ultimate skill is she freezes in place and shoots very inaccurate rockets. For me it would be so much more fun if her ultimate skill was something a little bit more mobile. So I suggested having like a ground slam. You fly down and from the higher up you are the more damage and knockback you do when you land. So you sacrifice your altitude for knockback and damage and then you get stuck down on the floor for a while. That would make it more like, ‘OK I need to get down now” so you use the ultimate, or you can go like, “oh I’m about to knock them all off” and use that if you’re higher up, and that would feel so much more in tune with the character than the actual freezing in place and shooting.
TE: Do you have a favorite game right now that you’re playing?
MP: Overwatch has been getting a little bit stale for me so I started playing GTA V again. They did this thing with peyote so you can become Bigfoot and then there’s people on Reddit talking about the Mt. Chiliad mystery and they’re trying to decode these conspiracy theories. So I’m like “oh shit this game is pretty deep actually.”
TE: Are you into cars at all?
MP: I got my driver’s license like a year and a half ago, because I assumed that since I have money I should get a fancy car. Then after I got a driver’s license I drove maybe a couple hours, maybe 8 at top. Then I realized I really don’t like driving.
TE: You can just do your driving in GTA V.
MP: Yeah in GTA V you don’t have to be stuck in traffic or do only right-hand turns and everything in Stockholm is one-way streets. In GTA V you can just get up on the center divider and just go for it because it’s funny and ridiculous.
TE: Do you have a crew in GTA V? Have you done the heists?
MP: No. The heists weren’t a thing when I first played it and we had a mostly smallish crew, mostly Mojang people. But when we got to the second or third heist you need more people and [when we picked up a public player] every single game we got paired with some other person who apparently worked for Polygon.
TE: Virtual Reality, is it a fad or the future?
MP: It is inevitably going to be the future. Now for the first time in my life it’s good enough to actually use.
TE: Have you used all of the devices, the Vive and Oculus?
MP: I used the DK2 of the Oculus. I know they said they were going to send out the real versions to every kickstarter but I won’t mind if they don’t (laughs). Because Facebook scares the fucking shit out of me and I don’t want virtual reality to be…
TE: Mining your data?
MP: Yeah, I don’t want it monitoring my entire computer and sending it to Facebook. That to me is kind of creepy. And then when HTC did their thing, which is so much better. It’s a little bit heavier, so it’s a little clunkier on the head, but I would say the controllers are almost as big of a step as the headset. People just go and pick up the controllers and not even think about them being polygons because it’s so intuitive. So it’s pretty cool.
TE: Do you ever think about developing for VR?
MP: Yeah I did some experiments in Unity on the first version of Oculus, sort of like why do people get nauseau and those kinds of problems. Then I kind of wanted to wait for a better version to come out. The step from DK1 to DK2 was amazing. Then I kind of tried to stick to this one project I had but I started to play with WebVR, mostly because it’s a little ridiculous. But it kind of just works. The API is so simple.
“I’m not sentimental all. I don’t take a lot of pictures either. I’d rather just be in the moment.”
TE: What about your PC? Do you build your own?
MP: No I stopped doing that maybe 10 or 15 years ago. I used to be real into it and I knew all the CPU’s coming out and stuff every few years. Then after that I felt like I was more interested in the software than the hardware. I don’t know exactly what’s in my PC now because a friend of mine recommended me this PC building place and they do this personalizing to fit your requirements. So I was talking to them and I was just like, “yeah make it super blinged out so I can impress people with it” and they basically made me scale it back because you’re just burning money for the sake of burning money now. It made me happy, so I have a personal, real nice computer.
TE: Are you a collector of anything?
MP: Not really. I do have some old pc games with the boxes just laying around because it feels cool to have them but I wouldn’t say I’m a collector. I’m not sentimental all. I don’t take a lot of pictures either. I’d rather just be in the moment. I never go and look at the pictures anyways. Apparently, though, I’ve read that people who take pictures of food think it tastes better.
MP: Yeah it’s like when you have a good sommelier describing the wine. It’s better because you build the expectation and the context and hype.
TE: Do you have any pets?
MP: No. I’m allergic to cats and dogs you have to walk around so much.
TE: Was there anything I didn’t cover that you wanted to say? Anything that you want the world to know?
MP: Not really that I think I can affect at this angle. It’d be nice if people got more aware that famous people are actually individuals. They choose what they show and they’re not actually that persona. I think it’s perfectly fine to interact with someone as their persona, or your preconceived notions, that’s perfectly fine. But when you start attacking people for stuff that’s not even true, like calling me transphobic. Come on, I never said anything like that. You’re just trying to make a statement online. So that would be nice if people were able to learn but I don’t think that’s really going to change.
TE: OK, thank you for your time, I hope you enjoyed it!
MP: Thank you very much! It was very fun, actually.