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The magic of Minecraft: Students recreate Randolph's campus inside world-building video game

Minecraft build 2020

Main Hall, as designed by Randolph students in the world-building game Minecraft.

Main Hall sits by itself on the screen, all other buildings conspicuously absent from the landscape. An American flag waves out front, not far from the Even Post and Odd Tree—not to be forgotten, of course.

The replica of Randolph’s iconic and historic first building was not recreated in watercolor or ink. Instead, a group of Randolph students portrayed the building in graphic blocks—Minecraft style.

Led by esports coach Jordan Oliver, the students have worked since April to create the College’s campus inside Minecraft, a world-building video game.

The build began as a class project for Shenandoah University’s esports major but soon evolved into a friendly competition, where students from other Virginia colleges and universities set out to build their own campuses.

It quickly became a way for them to stay connected to their respective schools while learning remotely this spring. The project has now been extended into the summer.

“It is amazing to see and talk with each other about what places we each remember most vividly,” Oliver said. “You realize that this second home has different nuances that we each hold dear. You have this overall picture of Randolph in your mind and rely on each other to fill in the blanks. We easily have spent more time reminiscing than we have building.”

Each school was given a 1,000-block-by-1,000-block plot within the game where they can place square blocks that represent real-world things like grass, concrete, wood, brick, and glass.

Main Hall - Minecraft build 2020

Main Hall, as designed by Randolph students in the world-building game Minecraft.

“Right now our biggest challenge with it is the scale of the campus, versus the land that we’re given in Minecraft,” said Hailey Gilman ’21, part of the core group of five students who have done the majority of the work. “Basically, if you’re building something with Legos and you have a flat board to start with, that’s essentially what we’ve been given. Each Lego is one pixel, one block, that you place, block by block. That’s another part of the challenge. There are a lot of blocks to be placed.”

They’ve been working on their computers from plans designed by team captain Mikayla Jenkins ’23. She only had experience playing Minecraft on console, and not PC, so she offered to come up with some blueprints for those who would be doing the actual building.

“She created a plan for us, a bird’s eye view of campus and how to translate it into the blocks in Minecraft,” Oliver said. “She is in a computer drafting class, so she used her knowledge from that class. It’s kind of a cool crossover.”

The first judging—in which only a first place winner, Southside Virginia Community College, was announced—was held in mid-May, the day after finals ended.

For some, leaving the real world for a virtual one was a respite during those last weeks of classes.

“We joined later in the competition, around the time we were all working on our final projects and final exams,” Jenkins said. “It was a nice break from our work and stress even if you just hopped on for a little bit, or did what I did, playing on my computer doing some drafting, just blissfully working on something completely different.”

While the official competition has ended, the server remains open so they can continue working on it this summer. Students can join in on the builds at any time and don’t need prior experience with the game in order to participate.

“It is a true sandbox in creative mode,” Oliver said. “You can enter the game with no knowledge and almost immediately understand that the only limit is your own imagination. It can be fun to try to see a concept become a reality, but also requires a bit of problem solving. The controls are very basic, and it can be a great introduction to 3D games.”

In addition to Main Hall, which team members said completing is the priority, they’ve also built Winfree Observatory.

Jenkins said it’s fun to brainstorm what could come next. The Organic Garden. The athletic fields. As an engineering and physics major, she’s particularly fond of Martin Science.

“It’s a fun thing to look at and be proud of what you made, especially on such a large scale,” she said. “It’s like an art piece you can walk through.”

Over the last couple of weeks, they’ve moved inside Main Hall, working on the building’s interior, using the virtual campus tour for reference and, as Oliver said, their own recollections.

Main Hall interior - Minecraft 2020

Students have been working on the interior of Main Hall most recently, focusing on details like the fireplace and decor.

“I think it’s really interesting to kind of try to visualize something you’re used to seeing every day,” Gilman said. “The other night we were spending some time thinking about the inside of Main Hall. We’re all sitting there going, ‘What does the fireplace look like?’ It’s this funny aspect of, we see this every day. We should know what color the fireplace is. That’s just the magic of Minecraft. You end up building it, and then building it again.”

Or, as Oliver jumped in to add, “The journey is more important than the destination in this case.”

“Failure is a stepping stone to success in games like Minecraft,” he said. “You can break it down and try again. It is really fun when you start to see your ideas become a virtual reality.”

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