Inigo Brodie writes about slaying the Ender Dragon in Minecraft, the story behind the End Poem, and how sometimes poetry isn’t an option, it’s the only option
It was about nine years ago. I came home from school, ready to get my hands on my dad’s computer. Only one goal in mind: slay the Ender Dragon in Minecraft. After weeks of preparation – getting the best armour, weapons, potions and even the rare Golden Apples, I was finally ready. An epic battle ensued. A man against a dragon, fighting on the dragon’s terms. Somehow, I was victorious. I jumped into the portal expecting to return home but, much to my surprise, I was faced with a poem, bright green and turquoise text scrolling on the screen. I felt … uneasy.
It was a surreal experience to say the least. I didn’t really understand what was happening, but couldn’t stop reading. A conversation between two people about how I was “reading their thoughts as if they were text on a screen” and “had reached a higher level”. The 4th wall was nowhere in sight, and the for the first time in my gaming history, I felt seen.
4th wall breaks have been proven to disturb us psychologically. The 4th wall exists – in part – to protect us from the actions and consequences that happen inside the media. We can do things that we would never dream of doing in real life – we can scam and kill, or laugh at people’s misfortune, not conform to social norms – because we know that our actions have no real-world consequences. We are anonymous. But when that protection is lowered, it can put us in a vulnerable state. Suddenly, that anonymity is gone.
This poem isn’t just a gimmicky 4th wall break, though. That may be the source of my personal unease, but It’s so much more. It’s nine minutes of obscure, beautiful poetry that “wrote itself” about accomplishments, dreams, and the universe, using the 4th wall (or lack thereof) to make it feel personal, and touching. And there’s a rather interesting story behind it.
It’s nine minutes of obscure, beautiful poetry that “wrote itself” about accomplishments, dreams, and the universe, using the 4th wall (or lack thereof) to make it feel personal, and touching
The End Poem (as it’s come to be known) was written by Julian Gough in 2011. He was asked to write the poem by Markus Persson (the creator of Minecraft) “as a friend” rather than as a business partner. When Markus told him that he should speak with his friend Carl about money he approached the conversation with the same mentality. He thought that they were all just art friends doing art things, and expected his conversation with Carl would be a friendly conversation rather than a full-on negotiation.
Carl was actually Mojang’s CEO, and Carl gave Julian a terrible contract to sign. Doing so would mean signing away all the rights, intellectual ownership and copyright – as well as entering into a non-disclosure agreement – all for a measly $20,000. (Even though the game was still in beta when he was asked to write the poem, Mojang was already a hundred million dollar company.) But that’s just the thing – he was wired the money before he signed the contract, heck, before he was even sent the contract. So he didn’t sign it.
Skip ahead to August 2014 – and one generous money handout to all the employees that didn’t extend to Julian Gough later – he received a message from Carl asking him once again to sign away his rights (to make it more convenient for Microsoft to buy Mojang). He decided to do the exact opposite, opening the poem to the public domain and relinquishing copyright.
But why did they need his work? They just need some text for the end, and if it’s such an inconvenience, why couldn’t they just write it themselves? Why have a poem at all?
Sometimes poetry is the only thing that’s applicable to a situation
Well, sometimes poetry is the only thing that’s applicable to a situation. A bit like how, for musicals, a general rule of thumb is you talk until the emotion becomes too strong for normal words, then you break out into song until the emotion becomes too strong for just song, then you break into dance. This can be applied somewhat in the real world; poetry being both song and dance in this weird cinematic musical analogy. Sometimes normal words just can’t convey enough emotion, enough sentiment … enough meaning, which is when the heightened language of poetry shines most. The end of one of the greatest, biggest, most impactful video games in history is one of those times. Yes, normal speech would have been fine, but it wouldn’t have made an impact that I, and many other people, remember nine years later.
Whether it be the death of a loved one, the romance of two young adults, or the end of an impactful media – sometimes poetry isn’t an option, it’s the only option.
(And as per why they couldn’t write it themselves, well it was a spiritual writing experience for Julian Gough – he describes that he didn’t really write the second half, the universe did. He placed the pen on the paper and let Jesus (or your preferred deity) take the proverbial wheel. Something that Markus completely understood; Markus knew he couldn’t just write it himself. Plus, he isn’t a poet.)
What do other Minecraft players say about the End Poem?
Reddit user this_one_in_boots says, “When I beat the game for the first time, I had actually never heard about the poem. I was shocked when it started and I thought it was a wonderful experience, since I was already riding the high from beating the ender dragon. It was such an unexpected place to find something beautiful, at the end of a children’s game.”
Reddit user William27528 says, “The poem moved me in a way I couldn’t describe when I first read it. It’s strange, a little unsettling but overwhelmingly meaningful–and there’s nothing better than stories like that.”
Reddit user Barethyu says, “That poem made me cry as a kid and I still tear up as an adult when reading it.”
Reddit user wichitaesspresso says, “It is a wonderful piece, full of mystery and compassion, where a voice coming from a cube game felt somehow greater than everything and anything.”
Ender Dragon Image: Mojang/Microsoft