'Boring and awkward': students voice concern as colleges plan to reopen – through Minecraft


Cookie maker & sage
Staff member

Students express mixed feelings over plan to virtually re-create school via world-building video game

Kari Paul
Mon 17 Aug 2020 16.35 EDT First published on Mon 17 Aug 2020 06.00 EDT

In Minecraft, players can work together to design a virtual world.
In Minecraft, players can work together to design a virtual world. Photograph: Alamy

Like many college students in the throes of what feels like an endless pandemic, students of Johns Hopkins University will not be returning to campus this fall. But there’s still a way for them to visit school, albeit a fantastical one – via the video game Minecraft.
The Baltimore-based university is giving every enrolled student free access to the game, in which players interact in a digital world that they build collaboratively.
The game allows users to work together, building and mining to design their virtual world. They first choose a “biome”, or a terrain for their city, which they can adjust while building roads, structures and landscaping.

25 best video games to help you socialise while self-isolating

Read more

The plan is for Johns Hopkins to provide students with measurements to create an accurate replica of campus in the game, which students can access through the university’s internal platform, a spokesperson said.

A recent TikTok about the announcement shows that students received a notice that traditional school events like the annual autumnal celebration Hoptoberfest will take place on Minecraft. “Not going to lie, I’m kind of excited,” the TikTok user wrote.

A couple throw a frisbee for a dog on the real-life Johns Hopkins University campus.


A couple throw a frisbee for a dog on the real-life Johns Hopkins University campus. Photograph: Rob Carr/Getty Images
The move is part of a concerted effort to provide students with “opportunities to engage virtually” despite studying remotely this semester, a spokeswoman said.

“Building the campus [on Minecraft] offers students ways to leverage engineering, computer, and memory as they create the exteriors and interiors of our campus,” she said. “It digitally brings the feel and look of the campus to undergraduate students studying remotely who miss being connected to campus and interior spaces such as libraries, labs and lounge spaces.”

Not every student is so thrilled, however. A petition started by one undergrad claims the educational version of Minecraft is not worth using, even during a pandemic (a spokeswoman from the school said it has not yet decided which version of the game to offer students). The petition notes that the educational version caps the number of students who can mingle at once to 30, which, as the student who started it puts it, “will make events extremely boring and awkward”.

Similarly, Matthew, an incoming freshman at Johns Hopkins, said he was irritated to see the announcement, despite being a recreational Minecraft player himself.

“There is certainly a place for building community using online games and tools like Minecraft or other systems,” said Matthew, who asked to be identified by a pseudonym in order to speak freely about his school. “But it can never replace the legitimate in person contact.”

Matthew said many students were upset the school waited until just weeks before the start of classes to confirm they would be taught remotely this semester, and that the Minecraft announcement felt like a poor effort to make up for it. On 6 August, the school reversed plans to allow students to return to campus and announced all classes would be online.

“It felt like they were saying ‘Hey, I know your first year of college, a time when you’re supposed to discover yourself and meet close friends, is cancelled – but it’s OK because here’s a Minecraft account,’” he said. “They were trying to make us feel better about something they didn’t do very well.”

person plays minecraft


Minecraft ‘digitally brings the feel and look of the campus to undergraduate students studying remotely who miss being connected to campus’, said a Johns Hopkins spokeswoman. Photograph: Bloomberg/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Johns Hopkins is not the first to introduce Minecraft as a social tool. Columbus State University in July held its freshman orientation event, usually a four-day affair on campus, on the gaming platform. Students at Brown University created their own model of the campus in April to give prospective students tours despite the pandemic.

While these games re-create the physical appearance of the campus, there will be many aspects of student life that simply don’t translate to pixels, said Matthew.

“The biggest thing we will miss is circumstantial contact,” he said. “I’m not going to be able to be in the library and run into someone who I might not have any classes with and make a connection.”

Other students are still excited to find some form of social contact in a time when school cancellations seemed inevitable. Xin Zhang, an incoming sophomore, said it seemed unlikely Johns Hopkins, which itself has become one of the foremost resources on the spread of Covid-19, would reopen the campus anytime soon as the virus surges throughout the US.

“I am bummed out, but it’s pretty inevitable,” he said. “I’m excited about the use of Minecraft. We already use Zoom and FaceTime almost every day – this is just one more way to connect.”


Potato Overlord
Wow! That's definitely an interesting method/idea! It'll be interesting to see how it actually goes through and if they decide to continue with the plan or not.
It's definitely a bummer that so much is going on and it's making schooling and socializing difficult, and minecraft is a less than ideal way to experience your first year of college, but hopefully they're able to enjoy it and use the opportunity to bond with their classmates over a fun video game and the weirdness of it all!At the very least it'll be a year they'll never forget! Haha. :D