It Takes a Villager
This column is a reprint from Unwinnable Monthly #162. If you like what you see, grab the magazine for less than ten dollars, or subscribe and get all future magazines for half price.
A tongue-in-cheek but also painfully earnest look at pop culture and anything else that deserves to be ridiculed while at the same time regarded with the utmost respect. It is written by Matt Marrone and emailed to Stu Horvath and David Shimomura, who add any typos or factual errors that might appear within.
My 7-year-old has discovered Minecraft. In order to be a good dad and help him learn, I started playing too. To be a good dad in 2023, you must lovingly tuck your kid into bed, then go downstairs and sit on the couch until 2 a.m. building a luxury apartment building that straddles two streets, has a pair of lobbies and, in what is now my greatest architectural feat to date, a stairwell.
Another way to bond with your kid in 2023? Torturing Minecraft villagers.
I discovered this pursuit when my son asked me to help him to quickly dig a giant pit for an underground laboratory he wanted to construct. What he has done since with said lab I can’t reveal: It’s so disturbing, my wife forbid me to write about it. Suffice it to say, it’s awesome and horrifying and don’t worry, my kid will turn out just fine. I think.
In Dadland, population Me, I was reticent to add villagers. I find it annoying, as it is, to have the wandering trader spawn in the middle of something I’m constructing and get all up in my grill with his pack llamas. I’m in Creative mode, dude. I don’t need what you’re selling.
But eventually I moved on from the giant palace I built for myself and the golden pyramid with indoor waterfall I built for my elder kid, and I started on a town across the bay. The first thing I built, naturally, was a baseball stadium, and I needed villagers to run the concession stands. They seemed lonely just waiting there for me to stop by, so I made them some friends. Pretty soon I had a downtown area bustling with residents, and since then I’ve been learning a lot about these morons.
I should be clear: I don’t actually want to torture my villagers. But they’re begging for it. I have made them so many cool things – a boardwalk along the beach, a sports bar, even a boutique hotel with a rooftop pool. Yet all they seem to care about is beds. I could put a bed in the middle of a grassy field and they’d hop right into it, losing no sleep over letting that sports bar I mentioned fall into dusty ruin. The closer the bed the better, too. I recently built a cute cobblestone street lined with tiny one-room brick houses, and because the beds are at ground level, the place is swarming – day and night.
Still, I started to mess with my villagers in a completely accidental – and therefore all the more hilarious – way. I decided my next project would be to build an art museum. Three stories, built partly over water and partly of glass, to mirror the water underneath. But because there are very few things I could put inside the gallery that would constitute traditional art, I decided to make it a modern art museum. I took armor stands and made them into mannequins holding random materials, grabbed spider webs and weaved them into a sculpture suspended in mid-air above a quartz slab. Outside, I built a giant rainbow statue made out of cartoonish concrete bricks. But my master work? I lined one corner of the third floor with a thin stretch of blue carpet, symbolizing water, and took four actual boats and placed them in a row along the carpet. A postmodern take on … fishing? Are these really boats? And if so, is the carpet really water? And what about the real water you can see through the glass? Modern art at its finest.
It was when I was giving both of my sons a tour of the museum that it happened. My 7-year-old saw it first. “Dad! There are villagers in the boats!”
Sure enough, as I type this, three of the five boats have villagers standing in them, presumably waiting for something – anything – to happen. They seem content enough, but they’re not moving and they’ve been there for several in-game days. For most of that time, I’ve come by to check on them periodically because the sight absolutely cracks me up.
But the last time I looked I realized maybe the joke was on me. Are they stupid blocks of pixels waiting there like fools – or is the mind of the Minecraft villager more advanced than I know? Did they somehow turn my little art museum gag around on me?
Because as I look at them, laughing, I realize the museum creator has become a museum visitor, and the questions I had hoped to raise with my masterpiece are now being thrown back at me. My villagers, if unwittingly, have become part of the artwork itself, raising more existential questions about the meaning of reality versus representation.
I stop laughing and, for a moment, I marvel at their genius. Are the villagers idiots? Or am I the village idiot?
At any rate, I think next time I’ll just knock one of the villagers out of his boat with a netherite sword. And maybe start digging a giant pit.
Matt Marrone is a senior MLB editor at ESPN.com. He has been Unwinnable’s reigning Rookie of the Year since 2011. You can follow him on Twitter @thebigm.