I am completely blameless in the sad story of Markus Persson. I had vaguely been aware of a computer game called Minecraft, but I had never felt the need to contribute to Persson's unfeasible wealth by joining the many millions who have paid £4.99 to download his app. Minecraft is a hybrid of Lego and Sim City, and as I have succumbed, at various points of my life, to the narcotic appeal of these two games, I am slightly surprised I never became a Minecrafter. And now it's too late, because I don't want to cause the hapless Persson any more pain.
Persson, you see, is a billionaire. He sold his 71 per cent stake in Mojang, the Stockholm-based company that developed Minecraft, last year. Microsoft bought the company in a deal worth $2.5bn, so Persson, by the age of 36, had made enough money to last him several lifetimes (even if he chose to live in Stockholm).
When he sold up, Persson wrote a blog in which he said: "I am not a CEO. I am a nerdy computer programmer who likes to have opinions on Twitter." He was more than happy to remove himself from the corporate world – "It's not about the money. It's about my sanity," he said – but the money certainly came in handy for a guy who dropped out of school, allowing him to live the dream with a Beverly Hills mansion, complete with circular granite swimming pool, private jets and celebrity friends. Money, however, hasn't been able to buy him love, and certainly not personal happiness.
In a succession of cri-de-coeur tweets at the weekend, he let the world – or at least the 2.5 million people who follow him – know that he was something of a soul in torment. "Hanging out in Ibiza with a bunch of friends and partying with famous people, able to do whatever I want, and I've never felt more isolated," he wrote.
Persson looks uncannily like Zach Galifianakis (who plays the short, fat one with the beard in The Hangover) but, unlike in the movies, he doesn't get the girl. He tweeted that he had "found a great girl, but she's afraid of me and my lifestyle and went with a normal person instead". Persson actually is a normal person, if only he could allow himself to be so again. This is why he doesn't find any happiness in his stash of cash, and why he finds personal relationships, which are defined by his enormous wealth, to be vacuous and unsatisfactory.
At least he recognises that his complaints will strike a hollow note with most people. Yesterday, in the wake of a huge response to the baring of his soul, he tweeted: "To people out there with real problems: I'm sorry the whining of a newly wealthy programmer gets more attention than yours. Stay strong." Well, he does characterise it as whining, which is how most of us all will see it. I find it mind-boggling that a computer game with relatively simple graphics, and with no advertising revenue, can be worth $2.5bn, but such is the world we live in, where more value is put on the virtual than the physical, and certainly the spiritual. But Persson, a Swede, should understand the correlation between wealth and happiness. In every survey, Scandinavian countries register the highest happiness index, largely because their wealth is more evenly distributed.
In America – and Britain increasingly – the vast economic disparity between the poorest and the richest has created dysfunction and dissatisfaction in society. Besides which, it has been proven that people in Western countries become increasingly happy up to a salary of around £70,000. Beyond that, money does not necessarily bring contentment.
So the tale of Markus Persson is very much a morality tale of our age. He talks of feeling isolated and unbalanced. So, Markus, the answer is simple: give it all away. And then you'll find out who your real friends are.Reuse content