Video games have always been a great way for gamers of all ages to connect and meet new people, and with the COVID-19 pandemic keeping most Western students inside, many are looking to create and build new virtual communities online.
Cole Levy, a Computer Science major from West Seattle, and Emmanuel Buell, a Computer Science pre-major from Mountlake Terrace, are the co-founders of DormCraft, a WWU-dedicated Minecraft community that first debuted last November.
Minecraft is a video game developed by Swedish game-development company Mojang that allows players to use their imagination to build anything they want and is often referred to as “digital LEGO.” There are no real specific goals to accomplish in Minecraft, allowing players basically unlimited freedom to choose how to play the game and build the virtual world around them and build projects as ambitious as their imaginations allow.
“Minecraft is ubiquitous. It's a game that you have either played or know of because your friend plays it,” Levy said. “Emmanuel and I had heard about student made Minecraft communities popping up at Western in the past, but because of the size of Minecraft's following, we wanted to create a larger-scale operation, open to everyone.”
Minecraft, a massively popular game with over 91 million players worldwide, embraces the creative minds of its players. The almost 200 members of DormCraft are certainly a part of that expressive community.
Buell said they started DormCraft to provide a community for WWU students to meet each other and play Minecraft, a game they both love.
“This allows them to vent about classes or even get help from other students on challenging assignments,” Buell said. “But first and foremost, its main purpose is to allow students to de-stress.”
Students like River Reyes-Boyer, a Biology major from Alaska, joined DormCraft for the game, but stayed because of the great sense of community it fosters.
“The server’s community is great because it’s a tight-knit group, and the developers and moderators are very active,” Reyes-Boyer said. “That cuts down a lot on toxicity that’s commonplace on other servers (individual online communities) I’ve been on.”
Levy says building the server has been as much about assembling a reliable team of moderators, developers and community members as it has been about building the game itself. He also said that having a community-oriented attitude has helped them a lot with recruitment and most new players learn about the server from word-of-mouth, on-campus advertising and Reddit.
“After a week or two of initial development to lay the groundwork, we opened the server to the public in early December,” Levy said. “Because the server is still in its beta stage, we have been hesitant to advertise on a large scale, because more players means more people finding bugs, and until recently, I was pretty much the sole developer of the project.”
The experimental process has been the most enjoyable part of the process for Levy, but he also said it has led to some long nights spent on bug fixes.
They’ve been spending equally as much time working on making unique features for DormCraft as they have been trying to preserve the original feel of the game, according to Levy.
“Our brand has always been based around an enhanced vanilla (basic Minecraft game) experience, meaning that we make quality-of-life changes such as adding these features, while remaining mostly vanilla,” Levy said. “During the development process, significant emphasis has been placed on features' ease of use, so that the extra know-how required to play our custom version of Minecraft is concise, readily available, and generally intuitive.”
Buell and Levy have been working on features such as teleportation, save points, private messaging and the ability to claim and protect your items, which are simply not in the vanilla game.
Much like Reyes-Boyer, Ashbaker, an Accounting major living in Birnam Wood, said she enjoys DormCraft both for the game and the work the developers have done, and for the friendly online community.
Levy said the ability to customize the game for DormCraft’s users was a big draw to them to take on the project, but is a ton of work.
Video games serve a vital role of staving away boredom and bad thoughts, and are really useful for extroverts who can't be comfortably alone for weeks on end.
“Minecraft server development is made easier by the widespread availability of open-source resources on forums like spigotmc.org, but any development process is challenging when it's being tested by hundreds of players around the clock,” Levy said. “And on top of that, there's no manual. I can't check the help section if I don't know how to solve a specific issue. Instead, I have to scour forums, ask those with more knowledge than I for help, or even just try things from time to time.”
Buell usually works on the upkeep of the server, pushing out big updates and fixing bugs but lately has been working overtime at his job, which he says he’s very grateful to have during the pandemic.
Online communities like DormCraft have been especially important while people are staying at home due to COVID-19, which is a benefit not lost on Ashbaker.
“Video games serve a vital role of staving away boredom and bad thoughts, and are really useful for extroverts who can't be comfortably alone for weeks on end,” she said.
DormCraft also maintains its own Discord server, a web-based communications platform that allows users to chat while they play the game. Those interested in helping develop the DormCraft world can join its Discord server at https://discord.gg/RgUpuP8 and chat with the developers and moderators.
Levy said they haven’t started any big marketing push yet, but hopes to have that done in time to recruit freshman next fall, once they have completed the beta phase of DormCraft.
“We have some big updates and projects planned for the future,” Buell said. “If you would like to get the latest info on these, join our Discord and meet the amazing people who have already joined the community.”