Humans like to build large impressive structures. It’s one of the general truths that history can speak to given that monumental architecture appears all over the globe while there continues to be few nations today who trade off tallest tower titles. A perhaps under appreciated subsection of the human drive to build great things in the modern age is the amount of problem solving and creativity that goes into large scale builds in games like MineCraft. Building in virtual worlds is an incredibly diverse hobby and sweeping generalizations are probably not a good idea both because generalizations usually aren’t and because it is near impossible to actually survey the entire breath of anything on the internet. So, for the sake of explorations and argument the MineCraft community that plays on the HermitCraft server as well as the people who watch them is a good point of reference. HermitCraft gathers some of the top talented builders and creative types of the MineCraft internet (at least as I have been exposed to it) to build in a shared world on projects that are both collaborative and individual.
Beyond that its hard to make any kind of statement about what gets built because it varies widely and includes no small amount of ‘because I can’ type projects. A personal favorite was a multi weeklong building battle that included, dragons, spaceships and Pixar references all built at a truly impressive scale while occasionally fighting off raiders. HermitCraft is an opportunity to see top level players working together, or at the very least in proximity to each other, but there are multitudes of other MineCraft projects that are easily found through the internet. People recreate real world buildings or entire fictional worlds like Middle Earth and most of the time it is all put up for everyone to see free of charge. Many creators even have a particular style, either aesthetically or in the types of things they build ranging from houses, to resource farms to restone contraptions which are the pseudo-tech of the in game world.The popular players who are playing on serves like HermitCraft probably make some kind of income through Patreon, YouTube ads or other sponsorships but for the most part the people who build online are not getting paid or praised yet they continue to pour their time into the game.
While the creative mode in the game is tailored for those kinds of building projects there are a great many people who choose to work in the much less forgiving survival environment in which the plot-based part of the game occurs. And with survival MineCraft comes logistics concerns because materials aren’t always easy to come by and there are zombies, skeleton and assorted other creatures coming to kill you. These are not the kind of logistical concerns that come up in real world building, where ensuring project survival across the multiple generations required for cathedral building was a pressing concern or in global resource purchasing that is an integral part of building practice today. However, the choice of these players to build their creations in a virtual environment that makes some attempt to replicate the concerns of real world architects is another reflection of the purpose that MineCraft is serving when it is played in this way. It also offers the opportunity for different types of buildings, ones that actually benefit the player’s ability to function in the virtual world and improve success rates on future projects. They don’t just want to build something that is aesthetically pleasing, these players enjoy the process and challenge of executing a plan in that kind of hostile environment.
None of this is to say that building projects in game like MineCraft are just as challenging as building in the real world. Instead a consideration of how architectural, history, trends, and ongoing progress is mimicked in a created world – exposing the parts of the design and building process that fascinate people. If working on these projects, both in the real world and on the computer, wasn’t rewarding no one would do it. MineCraft though proves that the process of designing and constructing something is incredibly rewarding since millions of people pay for the game and sink hours of unpaid, usually unacknowledged, time into creating impressive large-scale builds. That willingness to work and created in an unrecognized sector shows that this is a kind of creative practice that offers something incredibly rewarding to the players – beyond the considerations of real-world success. This is a fascinating part of any artistic practice, the benefit to the artist regardless of the recognition they may gain and the expansion of this aspect of art onto the internet is something worth considering.
The people who play on the HermitCraft server and the multitude of other creative building practices on the internet live in a strange place between the art of the real world and the beauties of the internet. They are not trying to make hyper visual monuments of human achievement, but they are still building things that are undeniably large. They sink hours of largely unpaid, unacknowledged time into the games that they play and figure out how to monetize their practices later, through Youtube or other platforms. The world of the internet has opened these kinds of opportunities for new forms of creative practice and while some aspects of these communities mimic the real world practices, they are based on MineCraft in general and HermitCraft in particular show the impressive range that is possible in the virtual realm.