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With graduations canceled, students are using ‘Minecraft’ to recreate college campuses

The online video game lets Gen Z rebuild its physical campuses from scratch.

With graduations canceled, students are using ‘Minecraft’ to recreate college campuses
[Images: PCH-Vector/iStock, Mojang AB/Microsoft]

Coronavirus has forced schools around the world to close, and with the virus showing no signs of slowing down, most institutions have already postponed their commencement ceremonies or moved them online. Students haven’t been able to engage with classmates and coursework in person, but they’ve used their time at home to create a new type of year-end experience using Minecraft.

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Understandably, students feel that graduation has been turned into a forgettable digital event—not unlike a Zoom conference call or a FaceTime check-in. Now they’re using Minecraft to make this landmark a touch more personal.

Minecraft allows multiple players to collaborate on architecture and urban and landscape design; students from several U.S. colleges including the University of Pennsylvania, Berklee School of Music, and Oberlin College are recreating physical buildings on their campuses by designing 1:1-scale replicas within the game’s universe. As in real life, the process of designing a city or a building allows for human connection to eventually occur within it. Once students have finished building Brutalist versions of their small campus towns and the rec centers and libraries that live within them, they’ll be able to fill these spaces with events (track meets, club meetings) that mirror the reality they once had.

These college classmates, whose avatars essentially become a community within the game, can communicate about how to build the physical landscape they’ve lost to quarantine. Builders have redesigned real-life sculptures and specific campus roads (using accurate dimensions) in an effort to simulate the feeling of socializing at school. Though isolation has infringed upon their ability to access the dopamine that comes from seeing a crush across campus or a stimulating classroom discussion, the visuals of being on campus are virtually the same.

Minecraft was released in 2011 and has since become the best-selling video game of all time. It allows players to design landscapes and build structures in all different types of locations, and the format allows users simply to explore and create without having to solve a puzzle or reach a destination.

College seniors aren’t the only ones using Minecraft’s virtual world to commemorate milestones. In Japan, elementary school students designed a graduation ceremony for themselves in Minecraft in the wake of COVID-19.

Because people around the world are stuck at home, Minecraft holds a huge appeal. Mitch Smith, managing director of the Minecraft-server-hosting service Shockbyte, told The Verge that demand for the game has risen sharply since March 12, the day after the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic (and right around the time the Japanese in-game graduation went viral on Twitter). Now, college seniors in the U.S. are creating not just their own virtual graduations but their larger campus environments, too.

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By the time May rolls around, there’s no doubt graduation tents will be pitched, digital diplomas will be printed, and campus greens will be in full bloom—even if we still can’t go outside.

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