Throughout my time in high school I worked for Open World Events, an event production company based in Philadelphia. OWE produces massive STEM-inspired events across the country for young students and families. Their largest event, Minefaire, is an Official Minecraft Community event that brings together YouTubers, their fans, and players under one roof. Minefaire has four different shows in massive convention centers across the country this year alone, with three more already planned for 2019. Each show attracts between 10,000-20,000 Minecraft fans over the course of one weekend. As a very casual gamer and a complete stranger to Minecraft, I am continually shocked by the intense fandom that surrounds the game. What seems to me to be a simple game that allows players to use basic creative skills to build worlds with 3D blocks has recently become the second best-selling video game of all time, with nearly 154 million copies sold across all platforms. In an attempt to comprehend this reality that is so distant from my own, I will explore its various components and its place in the gaming community as a whole.
A significant part of the Minefaire experience and the greater Minecraft fandom is rooted in its YouTube presence. Some of the top Minecraft channels, PrestonPlayz, TheAtlanticCraft, Popular MMOs, and Aphmau boast respective subscriber counts of 7.4 million, 4.9 million, 15.5 million, and 4 million. That’s a lot of people.
Most popular video game centric YouTube channels focus on first-person shooter video games where the YouTuber attempts to kill as many other players in the most entertaining, unique way possible. Minecraft, however, is a sandbox video game in which the player is freed from the traditional video game structure and chooses what, when, and how they want to approach the game’s content. As such, Minecraft videos on YouTube are often creative, light-hearted, comedic videos that offer unique, entertaining expositions of the game. Some titles of recent popular videos include: “I WAS CRUSHED IN MINECRAFT,” “I ONLY HAVE 10 SECONDS TO MAKE IT TO THE END,” “WHAT’S BEHIND THIS DOOR IN MINECRAFT,” “TRY NOT TO LAUGH OR GRIN MINECRAFT CHALLENGE.” Here is one of these videos from UnspeakableGaming:
As Minecraft lacks a single defined objective, YouTube videos offer alternative ways for players to experience the game. They offer challenges, new skills, and entertaining commentary to viewers. In doing so, Minecraft YouTubers fully enhance players’ experiences with the game. Many YouTubers build on this experience with their own merchandise, online forums, and other social media accounts; each channel possesses its own community and fandom of sorts. The nature of Minecraft as a sandbox game makes it such that there are infinite forms their content may take. In this sense, channels are infinitely entertaining; they never get old.
At Minefaire events, many of these “famous” YouTubers are flown in from around the world to speak at the show. Their prominence is a very unique sort of celebrity; I find it difficult to fathom how hundreds of individuals would be willing to wait hours in line for a picture with someone whose face they don’t even see on YouTube.
Here are some pictures that demonstrate the scale of this event:
While it is difficult to see in these pictures, most of the event attendees are elementary school-aged children. This ties into Minecraft’s kid-friendly nature. Players don’t kill other players, but rather flex their creative muscles to find an experience in the game that appeals to them. It is all fairly wholesome; players build worlds, interact with other players, and exercise skills directly related to STEM fields. Microsoft even has a version of the game, Minecraft: Education Edition, that is designed specifically for classroom use.
The entire premise of Minefaire itself is to highlight these educational benefits of the game. Through workshops, educational speakers, YouTuber Q&A’s, and more, young students learn how their experience with the game applies to the real world.
This passage from an article about Minefaire’s show in Philadelphia last week highlights this:
“…father Chris Gordon was his two young daughters’ escort to an alternative digital universe of biomes, precious ores, the Creeper, and other creatures well-known to youngsters around the globe as Minecraft.
‘I love it — just to see the creativity. This one’s 2 years old,’ Gordon said, nodding to daughter Charlotte, ‘and she can build her own world.’
‘I like that you can do creative stuff,’ agreed sister Elizabeth, 9.”
Minecraft is a refreshing departure from other popular video games and their fan bases. It offers an educational, family-friendly, fun alternative to gaming. Unlike the League of Legends World Championship and the intense fandom that envelops the world of Esports, Minecraft and its community events have yet to be overrun by large corporations and overwhelming, world-class production. Minefaire is truly a community event, and this reflects the grounded nature of the game and of the social aspect of the larger community. Minecraft fans commit to the game for the sake of the game itself.
And the kids keep on playing.