Maybe you didn’t know this, but Minecraft ends with a surprisingly poignant poem that touches on heavy themes like dreams, the universe, and ultimate meaning. Now, Julian Gough, the man who wrote the poem is putting the work into the public domain.
According to Gough, the poem has weighed on him for years. He said he never signed a contract with Minecraft creator Markus “Notch” Persson or Microsoft—which acquired the game for $2.4 billion—and that, after taking some mushrooms in the woods of the Netherlands, he wanted to release the poem for everyone to use in a spirit of love.
The big picture reason Gough is doing this comes down to a sentence. “I wrote a story for a friend. But in the end he didn’t treat me like a friend. And I’m hurt,” Gough said in a Thursday Substack explaining why he put the poem in public domain.
Gough is an Irish writer and the author of several novels and a children’s book. In 2011, he was a struggling artist and Persson was looking for someone to write an ending for his already wildly successful video game. Persson and Gough connected in 2011 and, according to Gough, the two hit it off and became friends.
When Gough sat down to write a narrative ending for the survival crafting game, he said it felt like the universe flowed through him. “I wrote it longhand, and, as I did so, sometimes my wrist sped up, and I would watch words simply appear on the page before me, without my conscious mind having any idea what the next word would be,” he said on his Substack. “So, the universe (or my unconscious, or Thalia, or the ghost of Philip K. Dick) dictated the ending, and I polished it up a little and delivered it to Markus.”
According to Gough, Persson loved the poem—which scrolls for about 9 minutes at the end of Minecraft once players defeat the Ender Dragon—and didn’t want to change a word. Persson put the poem into the game and had Carl Manneh, then the CEO of previous Minecraft owner Mojang, reach out to Gough about getting paid. According to Gough, the two exchanged emails but never formalized an agreement. Eventually, Mojang sent Gough €20,000, which he spent.
A month later, Gough said, Mojang sent Gough a contract that would sign away his rights to the ending poem. He refused. “I let them use the story, even though there was no contract, because I liked Markus, and I liked the fact that lots of people were reading the story,” he said. “Sure, many millions just played in creative mode, and never reached the end; but many millions played survivor mode, and did; more and more as time went by. It was a tremendous privilege to be able to reach such a huge audience with my words.”
A few years later, Mojang reached out to Gough again. It was 2014 and the company was about to sell Minecraft to Microsoft in a multi-billion-dollar deal. They needed Gough to sign over the ending to placate the corporate giant. Again, Gough refused. They sold the game anyway and Microsoft kept using the poem.
According to Gough, the idea that his friend wanted him to sign away the rights to his poem hurt. So did the fact that Persson made billions of dollars from the game. Gough could have used some of that money. The problem tortured him for years, he said.
Then he took mushrooms in the woods around the Dutch town of Apeldoorn. “I just told the universe, OK, forget about what I want; just give me whatever you think I need,” he said. “And it gave me, to my intense surprise, advice about Minecraft, and Microsoft… and you.”
Gough realized that the reason he was upset wasn’t the money. It was that he’d let the money stop him from enjoying the love he had received from creating something so many people enjoyed. “I had actively hidden away from love. Because there were many, many people who tracked me down over the years (my name is in the credits of the game, and with a bit of googling you can find a contact for me): I frequently got Twitter DMs, and emails, and messages through my website, that told me how much the End Poem had meant to people,” he said.
“And that night, with the stars blazing above, the universe told me that it wasn’t acceptable for me to give love, but then refuse to receive it,” he said. “That was just fake humility; another form of arrogance, of ego. I had to allow people to say thank you; I had to accept whatever gifts people might wish to offer in return, because too much charge was building up along that blocked circuit. I had to complete the circuit. Let it flow.”
Giving away the End Poem will help him complete the circuit. Gough has announced that he’s officially using the CC0 1.0 Universal (CC0 1.0) Public Domain Dedication license for the poem. Meaning anyone can use it for whatever purposes they want. It can be remixed, re-used, and even put on merchandise and sold, by anyone, including Microsoft.
“You can do this for free, and read everything for free, because I want to continue to live in a gift economy, if possible,” he said on Substack. “I like it; I prefer giving my art away to selling it; it serves the ideas better because they reach more people, and it makes me feel better. Happier; freer.”
Microsoft declined to comment on this story.