It was near-dark on a rainy fall evening and I was stumbling along a trail in the mountainous woods of North Carolina. I rounded a bend on the trail and there he was: The Bear. He was over six feet tall, 300lbs and standing less than 10 yards away, staring right at me.
The Bear and I took stock of each other. Calmly, carefully, attempting to control my breathing and steady my pulse, I removed my hat and held both arms out to my side, attempting to look larger than I am. What most wilderness and survival experts agree upon is that if an encounter with a bear is unavoidable, that is, if you are unable to avoid him or tactfully remove yourself from the situation, then attempting to intimidate the animal is your best course of action. What you are supposed to do is convince the bear that you are large and powerful, even if that's a lie. The Bear, however, did not heed the experts. He didn't run, or even walk away. He took a step closer.
In that moment, I faced the fear of knowing my own end. I knew that, should all else fail, my only chance at survival might be to fall to the ground, curl into a ball and hope the bear tired of mauling at me before he wounded something vital. But I still had one more card to play: I yelled. It was a yell pulled from the depths of my DNA. It was, as they say, a barbaric yawp. Teeth bared, face contorted into a furious canvas of rage and adrenaline and fear. It was my war cry. It was my challenge to The Bear that he may be bigger and stronger, but I would not go down without a fight.
The Bear, to my surprise, stopped in his tracks, turned on one plate-sized paw and fled into the underbrush. I could hear the crackling of branches and grunting puffs of breath as he sped away from the strange, short, yelling creature in the woods. What fear he knew, I cannot say, but it could not have equaled my own.
From that day forward, every minor accomplishment has felt like a great, hard-won victory. Every day I've lived after having not been eaten by The Bear is a paean to that one potentially life-ending encounter and my victorious emergence. I would not have enjoyed the following day alone in the calm, daylit, and bear-less wood had I not known the fear of the evening before. Just as, in Minecraft, I cannot truly absorb the joy of spending a day constructing a stone obelisk in the front yard of my dream castle were it were not for the nightly harrowing of the deadly zombies.
Playing Minecraft, one may wonder why one can't simply keep building at night. Why, if it's a sandbox game, a world created for your own amusement, you can't simply will away the terrors of the night. What purpose, zombies? For my answer, I look to The Bear.
In its spare, pixilated sterility, devoid of overt rationalization, Minecraft represents no more or no less than a model of our world in miniature, with many of the real world's barriers between us and our dreams demolished. Yet in a world where you can literally create anything your mind can imagine, the single thing you cannot reshape is yourself. You are and will forever be a part of your own world. Learning to live in it is your only mission.
Russ Pitts is the Editor-in-Chief of The Escapist.