Electron Dance
23Mar/2011

The Lost World

It happened without warning, as it often does. My wife’s hard drive died.

This was 2016. Everything of value had been on a separate data drive which was, of course, backed up. But this was the Windows drive which we never bothered to back up. It rarely seemed worth it and, personally, I like the opportunity to start afresh on a new drive.

But then I remembered Minecraft... and the blood drained from my face.

A year earlier, my wife had been inexorably drawn towards Minecraft like a moth to a time-destroying flame. She started out merely watching but in time she became my virtual resource-gathering soul mate. She’d scurry off into a new cave for an hour and emerge with an inventory stuffed to the hilt. The Minecraft drug was so strong that when I was too busy to play once, she generated her own world instead of waiting for her no-good husband to turn up.

While I loved my silly little Minecraft train set and its fictional stations for one person + soul mate, my constructions were essentially workmanlike. Whenever I tried to do something a little bold, moving away from simple structures, it was like Baby’s First Lego Building. Every damn time. My wife, however, was a child of two architects.

In an article called “A #Minecraft Family Update” in 2015 I wrote:

My wife’s approach to house-building is entirely different to mine. I think about the building itself, form and function. She thinks about the view the building captures, its location. She started out with a mountainside residence, progressed to a beach house by the ocean, and her latest is bolted onto an existing cave. (I was planning a “cave house” myself at some point.) Her structures come out looking really different to mine.

Instead of resculpting the landscape, her instinct was always to work with she found. After initially spawning on a mountain, she constructed an open balcony that followed the lateral curve of the mountainside. Seeing what she had made, I was envious I hadn’t come up with something as cool as that. My idea box only contained one thing. A box. I was into boundaries and walls, safety and control, man conquer world. Her first Minecraft home was not over-designed. It felt spacious and comfortable. A luxurious des res.

She scouted out the environment and built a rail in the direction she wanted to go, ransacking the occasional hapless cave on the way. Her next project was a beach house perched on a sand dune beside the sea, kitted out with a small farm for crops to keep her going through the next stage of the journey. Who knew where that rail might take her?

And it carried on like this: a small bedroom inside a sandstone mountain with a view of her rail travelling to the horizon; a grotto repurposed as a useful waypoint; a treehouse lounging over a dense forest through which the rail travelled without disturbing the trees; four viewpoints around a jungle lake. She also spent time repairing a glitched village, whose ground was torn open by a procedurally-generated cave beneath its foundations. The poor villagers were often falling to their doom while just out and about for a morning stroll.

That same year, we travelled to Lanzarote and my wife found the work of the late Lanzarote architect César Manrique inspiring. Manrique was her kind of architect, one who worked with what nature had already conjured up instead of bulldozing over it. From the César Manrique website:

His creations, integrated in the natural landscape are notorious for their simplicity. His works are recognized unanimously by the intellectuals as well as the esthetes. As an interior architect he accomplished a harmony of space and volume, an example being the Mirador del Rio.

His desire to live with the volcanic lava led him to build his own house in the Taro de Tahiche. A unique beauty and example of a house integrated amidst nature, building an oasis in the center of a river of petrified bluish-black lava. It would later turn into the La Fundación César Manrique.

Here are my children sitting at a window in Manrique’s house, which is now open to the public.

Here are the stairs in Manrique’s house, built into the rock itself.

My wife came back home with many ideas for her private Minecraft world.

And then one day her hard drive died.

Minecraft stores world data under the Windows roaming profile folder. When my wife’s Windows hard drive stopped spinning, the world - and all her creations within it - were lost.

I was mortified, feeling it was my fault for not realising her world had been in peril. There wasn’t a single backup of that world. All of that work, that unique, hard work, had gone. Manrique had been her inspiration. She had been mine.

Her reaction? Oh well. It happens. I’ll just build another world. And she did. She created another world and then Minecraft 1.9 hit which caused such an upset in combat that I quit Minecraft. She carried on alone, long enough to master the new mechanics, but she spent less and less time there until the game was effectively graveyarded. It wouldn’t be until 2019 that she would get her Minecraft groove back when my daughter contracted the Minecraft bug for the second time.

Now, on her birthday last year, there were the usual gifts. Clothes. An aromatic candle. But she unwrapped her final present to find a beaten-up old bubblewrap envelope containing a wad of mysterious photos. Each photo was a screenshot of a Minecraft world.

It didn’t take my wife long to realise these were pictures of her lost world, one she hadn’t seen for three years. I asked her to check there was nothing else in the envelope. She found a small USB drive attached to the bottom of it.

You see, I had kept her dead drive all this time, unable to let go of her Minecraft world, intending to get it recovered one day. And I had finally done it. Her original world was right here, in one piece, on this tiny shard of plastic and metal. However, the real gift was not to recover a world she had never mourned, but to tell her how much her world had meant to me.

And she said: “So how much did that cost?”

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  1. My sympathies. And you know what – the same thing has happened to my daughter. Our Win Disc kinda crashed. I am still trying to recover it, not sure, but I hope that I’ll get with MS DOS modus to that sacred Windows folder.

    My daughter (7) discovered Minecraft half a year ago, and now she already builds castles, portals and writes books in the note-function. I hope it will be recovered… Next time I will try to remove the profile folder to another partition.

  2. Sorry for your daughter! Recently I’ve been including the AppData folder in our backups although I didn’t realise itch.io installed games in there by default…

    We got two Minecraft books about building for our 9yo daughter at Christmas as she loves designing in Minecraft (creative only these days).

  3. I love Mrs. HM’s practicality, and also your beautiful gift. What fantastic glossy photos!

  4. Thank you and same here: creative mode. Not because Survival is complex or stressy, but because Creative means freedom :) And it’s great for kids in their developing various skills :)

  5. Steerpike – the photos were pretty easy and relatively cheap to do and we both thought they looked kinda cool and now thinking about putting up these screenshots (or others) up on the wall. I say pretty easy but getting the screenshots was not quite that easy. When I loaded up the world, I appeared to be in the middle of nowhere – the jungle lake I talked about – but no rail in sight. How was I going to find the rail? I had to do some careful following of torches to locate the end of the rail. And her rail was so long. It took a long time to traverse and it kept BLOODY raining screwing up all the screenshots. I ended up hunting commands to change the weather!

    Merzmensch – it’s definitely more stressful, more than it used to be. I do hate having to plant lights everywhere to make the world safe in survival. And even in creative, my wife and daughter are desperate to save villages from raids.

  6. I have been trying to build a Minecraft replica of Highclere castle for my partner for about 10 years. I have lost it TWICE to disk failures.

    God dammit.

  7. Maybe the castle is causing the disk failure, James. It is too heavy on the disc platter. You should consider this.

  8. Before I read the conclusion to this story I was thinking “aw hey, it’s the journey that counts”, following Mrs HM’s shrug. Instead, what a thoughtful gift!

    I remember you speaking of this hard drive failure before and I suspect it cost… more than a few bob. :)

  9. That’s a lovely gift!

    I was gonna add more to this comment, but really that covers it :)

  10. Thanks Shaun, Andy.

    My wife knew how eye-wateringly painful the cost of saving the video drive for A Field of Flowers was and wondered if saving her drive was the same. Not as much – the damage was nowhere near as extensive as my video drive – and I was able to use a discount for, er, repeat custom. But it was still more than a few bob – the main reason I didn’t do it straight away!

  11. Oh, what a lovely idea! Great photos :)


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