For undergraduate Charles Neumann, the announcement that spring quarter classes would be delivered via remote instruction was sad news. Like many graduating seniors, he had hoped to spend his final days at UC Santa Barbara in the company of friends on the picturesque campus.
“I was actually studying in the library at the time,” recalled Neumann, a fourth-year political science and global studies major, “so I just decided to write a post on Facebook.” His idea: Keep the community together by creating a joint server where fellow Gauchos could enjoy the video game Minecraft with each other.
He didn’t expect much attention, but interest exploded. “Comments in the posts started talking about, ‘Oh, let’s re-create campus,’” he said. “‘Let’s build Storke Tower.’”
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Now Neumann administers a digital version of the seaside institution, constructed and populated by the students who hold it dear. The virtual campus already includes landmarks like the UCen, Storke Tower, and Campbell Hall at a scale of one Minecraft block to one real-life meter.
The pastel-colored sidewalks and red cinderblock buildings impart a familiar feeling to home-bound students, faculty, and staff. “People have been saying that it’s literally as if they are walking on campus because the attention to detail is so amazing,” Neumann remarked.
Central locations, such as The Arbor, Storke Plaza and the UCen, have received early attention, as have the on-campus residence halls. The community has re-created the iconic foyer of Davidson Library in exquisite detail and is working on the rest of the massive structure.
However, the server captures more than just the architectural aspects of campus. Players can ride around campus — not on bikes, which aren’t a part of Minecraft, but rather on horses. They can also enjoy Dog Therapy Day on the grass north of the library or talk with the man at the 5¢-advice booth near Girvetz Hall. Students can even stop by for some quality time with Big Boy the cat.
Although Neumann hosts and administers the server, the project has no central management. Anyone can join using the Java edition along with the IP “islavista.mc.gg.” Once there, they can help build the map as long as they use Google Earth to ensure the measurements work out.
The endeavor quickly grew beyond just Neumann’s own cadre of friends. “I have never met, probably, 95 percent of the people who are part of the server community,” Neumann said. And new people join every day — more than 420 people had joined the Facebook group as of late April.
While Neumann intended the server to be a place for friends to hang out, the community is already adapting it to its needs. For instance, he’s heard of prospective students using the map to familiarize themselves with the campus. Neumann also hopes to host fun events in the future. “I definitely want to do a graduation ceremony on the server,” he said.