If you're an individual interested in reading alternative games media, such as the beautiful gaming magazine you're currently reading, chances are you could quickly and easily rattle off dozens of game titles that have served to mold you into the person you are today. Many of us have religiously played video games for as long as we can remember, and as such their influence on our lives is apparent. As far as the rest of our global society, there are only a handful of video games that have permanently altered the trajectory of the cultural zeitgeist. Tetris, Super Mario Brothers, Space Invaders, and more recently games like Fortnite, have all transcended the typical gaming circles and have become household names. A welcome addition to this cultural hall of fame is the 2011 indie titan known as Mojang's Minecraft.
Minecraft is a bit of an odd-duck when it comes to games that permeate through society. It's a survival game delightfully simple in its concepts - the player can either survive and gather resources to build larger and more elaborate bases out of pixelated blocks, or the player can forego the survival aspect and just create whatever they want to using the game's systems. What started as a fairly humble indie game has exploded into a multi-billion dollar titan of the industry. The draw of this phenomenon has and always will be its simple and graspable core - creative freedom.
Because Minecraft gives the player the ability to create basically whatever they can imagine, players have nearly endless possibilities presented to them. From total recreations of Game of Thrones' King's Landing, to functionally working cellphones and computers, anything and everything has been or is currently being made for the incredible pixel powerhouse. One of the most interesting and fundamentally important pieces released recently, however, is Reporters Without Borders massive undertaking: The Uncensored Library.
Freedom of speech and freedom of the press are two facets of democracy that are taken for granted by those of us lucky enough to enjoy them. It's hard to imagine in a post-internet age that millions of people around the globe are consistently barred from the endless ocean of information available on the web. This is, however, the unfortunate truth for dozens of countries whose governments and religious overlords actively censor their people and their ability to spread news and information as they see fit. The persecution, oppression, and possible execution of those journalists whose job it is to give people truthful and factual information is a real-world problem with real-world consequences. Reporters Without Borders built the Uncensored Library as a direct response to these problems, giving previously silenced journalists the ability to regain their voices through the virtual walls of a Minecraft library.
The Uncensored Library is exactly what it says on the tin - it's a massive library that's accessible for free through a Minecraft server. Developed by 24 people from 16 different countries over a 3-month period, the massive in-game library is made up of 12.5 million Minecraft blocks. The main dome of the library is reportedly over 300 meters wide, which would make it the second largest dome in the world had it been made in the physical world. The Library is stylized using the neoclassical architectural style, in the same vein as the United States Capitol building or the British museum.
From a distance, one could easily mistake pictures of this massive construct as being material since the details are so striking. The magnificent structure spans almost the entirety of the island it is placed on, complete with multiple courtyards, a grand staircase, and a beautiful blocky sculpture of a closed fist gripping a fountain pen embellishing the front entrance. There have been some intense creations adorning Minecraft's extensive history, but Reporters Without Borders were able to make this building feel like a very real and very grand place.
The inside of the Library is filled to the brim with in-game books, articles, and news stories from five extremely censored countries. Russia, Mexico, Vietnam, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt are all represented throughout the hallowed halls of the Library, each having its own dedicated wing. Along with this, Reporters Without Borders has its own wing along with a room dedicated to truthful information surrounding the Covid-19 pandemic. Each wing's architecture was inspired by the individual countries represented and their unique struggles in regard to journalism and censorship within their cultures. Over 200 total articles are represented within the Uncensored Library, readable as Minecraft books, with more being added and updated consistently. Library goers can freely access as much of this information as they want for as long as they want, effectively turning this Minecraft server into a bonafide information vending machine.
It may seem a bit asinine at first - combating something as culturally important and sensitive as mass censorship through a blocky pixelated creative survival video game like Minecraft. The reasoning behind it, however, is actually quite sound. It's incredibly difficult to block certain servers within Minecraft without blocking the entire game itself. Minecraft is an international phenomenon, and as such generates considerable revenue for the countries in which its hosted as well as allowing for a harmless outlet of creative freedom. The innocuous nature of Minecraft could potentially contribute to the success of the Library, as video games are still seen globally as a child's pastime and something not worth looking into. Despite some pushback from server hosts afraid of upsetting their clients (especially those based in China) the Uncensored Library has been open for over two years now, with no sign of closing its doors any time soon.
Governments dictating the press, threats of violent retaliation, private interests superseding those of the public - these all contribute to a misinformed and ignorant society. The less information society has, the easier they are to manipulate and coerce by those who wish to sway public opinion for their own personal gain. There have been countless attempts to lessen or eradicate censorship in everyday media from just as many people and groups throughout history, most of which ultimately prove fruitless due to the unabated strength of the powers-that-be who impose the censorship.
It makes it all the more surprising and moving that a humble computer game has taken the plunge into being a relatively iron-clad way to overcome censorship in countries whose governments and citizens kill for less. Digital murals stand for the brave journalists who have lost their lives in the pursuit of the truth, tall and proud in the pixelated corridors of the Uncensored Library, ever-present and ever-lasting in their solidarity to oppose those who would purposefully keep us in the dark. Reporters Without Borders is using Minecraft to fearlessly stand up against authoritarian tyranny, and if that doesn't prove the importance and magnitude of video games, I don't know what will.
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