At the looks of it, The Uncensored Library seems like a fairyland or a 3D prototype of a physical building. But, in reality, this virtual building actually holds over 200 books censored by oppressive governments. A project ideated by Reporters Without Borders and designed by UK company Blockworks, the teams have built this on Minecraft, leveraging the platform as a collaborative 3D design arena. In fact, this is the same service Blockworks offers: creating virtual models of architectural structures designed and subsumed in Minecraft.
While this project broke the news, it is not the first time Minecraft has been used beyond gaming. The ‘gaming’ platform actually supports collaborative learning, awareness building and engagement, given it is essentially a no man’s land.
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Minecraft: a ubiquitous centre for interaction and sharing
Minecraft supports such projects because of two main features: easy worldwide access without legal constraints and engagement beyond gaming. Tobi Natterer, senior creative director at DDB, a German marketing agency that Reporters Without Borders had collaborated with, discussed this as the reason behind their idea of using Minecraft. Verge reported that Natterer noticed video game players using the platform to speak to each other and merely meet in a virtual space. Bringing the two features together, he further realised that people in countries with heavy censorship can still interact on gaming portals and have huge gaming communities.
The Uncensored Library was successful on Minecraft because individuals could access banned documents from countries with high security and censorship. Additionally, the government’s of these countries have close to no power over disseminating this information, not for their lack of trying.
In an interview with The Verge, James Delaney, managing director at Blockworks, discussed the ‘ubiquity’ of Minecraft and the difficulty legislatures may face to shut down projects like these, purely given the nature of the platform. Unless the powers shut down Minecraft completely, it is nearly impossible to dismantle the server because the world is downloadable and running on several servers among the public.
The tech stack behind Minecraft architecture
A classical architectural building, the library was built over three months by 24 builders and with over 12.5 million Minecraft blocks. Given its massive scale, the building is filled with teleports to various countries and ‘rooms’ to organise the structure better. This structure was, of course, not made block by block, as Delaney mentioned to Windows Central, but through a tech stack. Blockworks usually leverage 3D data, such as GIS or LIDAR, to recreate cities and towns. Additionally, the designing happens on the Java or Bedrock edition. Usually, Java does the heavy lifting of building virtual environments.
Minecraft for learning and engagement
Blockworks uses Minecraft for learning and engagement by bringing important elements to the game. The company has worked on several progressive fronts and corporate/educational programmes, including visualising a green tech city, energy consumption, water consumption, climate crisis and more.
The company devised a Lean Six Sigma training program for Pepsico during the pandemic on the training front. The sessions stimulate real-world problems to train the employees and thus, prefers in-person camps. They created a parallel world on Minecraft where the employees mimicked an imaginary distribution company producing pallets, shipping them to warehouses and sending them to the customers. More than 1000 trainees have been taught to reduce waste and inefficiency through this Minecraft program.
Awareness building projects on Minecraft include Climate Warriors in collaboration with NRMA insurance, an initiative to teach Australian students about the threat of bushfires and how to prepare, act and recover from them. The world is a fictional Australian coastal town made through real-world data and climate challenge research, predicting the weather conditions that might occur in the future. The students can explore the environment while learning about the fires and preparing to deal with them.
Wonderful water is another immersive Minecraft world to raise awareness about the importance of water, water shortage problems and solutions to prevent water wastage among school children. The world was built on water company Severn Trent’s properties in England, resulting in a touring bus game, reaching over 100,000 kids.
TempleCraft is one of the worlds for interaction, history sharing and community building. A digital twin of a community arts project in Northern Ireland, the environment mirrors a volunteer-built wooden temple on a hill overlooking the city where residents bring personal messages, souvenirs, and objects. Around the time of the temple’s burning ceremony, this Minecraft replica invited users from around the world to share their stories and set them on fire as a remembrance act.
“Minecraft is like a virtual space where I can get students used to exploring things differently,” said Stephen Elford, Minecraft Experience Creator in a CLTV conference. He described one such project of applying “real life math skill work, where students got paid for doing work worksheets in the real world or managing their budget, and then they then got to use that money and purchase lots of land or mining licenses.”
“Minecraft was no longer a game—not to us. It was a medium. We worked like architects, graphic designers, 3D modellers, and sculptors. Indeed, many of us worked in these professions, and we held the game to real-world standards. The line between the game and life was blurring,” said James Delaney in his book, Beautiful Minecraft.