Gina Hara, has been working in film for a long time, but her latest movie, Your Place or Minecraft, is her first time filming in-game. “I died several times shooting,” she tells me, laughing. “I refused to cut any corners. I didn’t film the flying scenes until my character developed the ability to fly.”
Your Place or Minecraft is the first Minecraft documentary web series ever made and details one of the world’s most modded Minecraft servers. Each of the eight episodes follows a different player from the server as they discuss their experiences as both players and game scholars. The documentary explores the politics and relationships of the game’s infinite, randomly generated space, as they take place both in and out of game.
However, beyond the flying and the dying, Hara uses a pretty typical documentary style. “It is the same as any documentary,” Hara tells me, “I wanted to get people to relax by asking them to show me what they built.” Many of the shots show the camera pointed at an in-game avatar as the player’s voice is heard overtop. Their avatar becomes the manifestation of their identity.
Like the people she interviews, Hara is both a player and a scholar. Her presence in the community and on the server is apparent throughout the film. Her player’s arm is visible in many of the shots, continuously reminding the viewer of her role as both participant and voyeur.
Despite her current expertise of the game, Hara had no idea how to play when she started. “Somehow I got some seeds and found some chickens. I kept trying to feed them, but I just kept punching them in the face [by right-clicking, instead of left-clicking.] I just kept punching them and crying.” When her teammates found her, she was hiding in the corner of the room with a crowbar.
As she tells me the story, I cannot help but laugh. One thing about Hara is that she is an amazing storyteller. In her 2011 film, Waning, Hara tells a narrative of violence by breaking a single shot into multiple timelines. In Your Place or Minecraft, she breaks a world of blocks into a world of stories. The film introduces us to the server through the varying perspectives of the players who have inhabited and created that space.
The server world is complex and vast, and its socio-cultural aspects even more so. Throughout the film, each player tells a slightly different story of the space and its community. On one side of the map, there is the capitalistic chicken factory BFC (Big Friendly Chicken) and, on the other, Witch Mountain, where players are cursed for their in and out of game wrongdoings.
Your Place or Minecraft brings up critical conversations about gender, politics, ethics, and space, but it never provides just one truth. It is up to the viewer to break apart the different perspectives and construct their own narrative—to become an active player in the story.
Similarly, filming Your Place or Minecraft provided Hara with a freedom she had never before experienced in filmmaking. “Shooting was a dream,” she tells me, “the budget was super low and I had creative freedom.” Now that the film is being released, she is prepared for some criticism due to her gender. But that isn’t stopping her. Her next film, Geek Girls, is scheduled to be release in Spring 2017, and will be the first documentary from the perspective of a woman about geek culture.
What Your Place or Minecraft leaves us with is something to structure our understanding of games around. It shows us the ways we can interact with games both critically and playfully. Whether building or burning down a chicken coop, or covering the entire map with jack-o-lanterns, there is value to our play.
All episodes of Your Place or Minecraft are available today on YouTube, August 1st, for your binge-watching pleasure.