Tour of the Minecraft campus: even the sofas and plant pots are the same
Alexander Whitcomb gives a tour of the exact campus replica in Minecraft. Later in the…
So who are these makers? They are Alex Whitcomb and Patrick Leer of Erasmus X and members of Erasmus eSports, including Jan Smeets and Jan-Willem van Wingerden. The virtual campus they created was given its baptism of fire during this year’s Eurekaweek, when first-year students were given the opportunity to find 48 locations in a kind of scavenger hunt.
The locations will be familiar to anyone who is acquainted with the campus. They include the Polak Building, the Auditorium, XIOR, De Smitse and the Sports Centre. But there is more to be found in Minecraft than just the Woudestein Campus. “We also built a few metro stops,” says Jan Smeets of Erasmus eSports. Minecraft players get to choose between four stations: Kralingse Zoom, Blaak, Dijkzigt and Marconiplein. However, Minecraft journeys are faster than real-life journeys; players arrive at their chosen destination in the blink of an eye. Once they get there, the buildings of the Erasmus University College, the Erasmus Medical Centre and the Erasmus Centre for Entrepreneurship are clearly recognisable.
More than just a fun game
During the introduction week, 78 students participated in the game, spread over four sessions. They hailed from all over the world. “We had players from the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Indonesia, but from the Netherlands, too. On average, they played for about an hour and a half,” says the project manager, Alexander Whitcomb. Students joined teams of three to four players and sought to find different locations by following the instructions provided. Team members were allowed to discuss their strategy using Discord chatrooms. “In the end, they managed to find 41 locations,” says Patrick Heer, a teaching assistant.
The virtual campus is more than just a fun game. “We were told by the participants that they really enjoyed familiarising themselves with the campus in this way. They had no other way to do so, at present,” says Whitcomb.
Minecraft is not exactly photorealistic. The world is constructed of square blocks, meaning that sloping walls or slight gradations in height are impossible. As a result, the virtual campus comes with enormous speed bumps in Institutenlaan. Even so, the team made a conscious decision not to use more realistic software, such as Virtual Worlds. “This is much more accessible to everyone,” Whitcomb explains. “This generation of students is very familiar with this game.”
Water changing into lava
Another advantage Minecraft has over other games is the fact that the game has a playful touch. Among other things, this means that Easter eggs such as the secret underworld can be incorporated into the game. “Basically, the Nether mirrors the Overworld [the world above – ed.], with one difference: you can actually die there, which you can’t in the Overworld. There are a few other differences, as well. For instance, the water in the pond changes into lava.” The team is not sure whether any players have found the secret entrance. “But we can see when a player dies, and technically they can only die in the Nether,” says Smeets.
Not all buildings come with completely finished interiors. The interiors of the Van der Goot Building and the V-Building require a little more work. Whitcomb is considering organising a session with students who are interested in world-building in which everyone will be allowed to implement improvements. The sets cannot be altered during a regular gaming session, when all sets are indestructible.
Train to TU Delft
The team have a few other plans for the game, as well – for instance, a ‘Randstad Rail’ railway connection to Delft University of Technology’s online campus, and educational applications. “A lot of research is being conducted on the possibility of using Minecraft to teach,” says Whitcomb. “First and foremost, it can be used to teach architecture and mathematics, but also chemistry, because in Minecraft you can create all sorts of things by combining substances. Of course, these are not necessarily subjects that will suit Erasmus University, but we are definitely going to look into it.”
For the time being, the main objective of the game is to present students with a virtual tour, but it also helps people who have been working remotely for a while to feel at home. “I myself really enjoy wandering around the campus,” says Whitcomb.
Meanwhile, I’m still looking for a secret entrance at the bottom of the pond. I can’t see an entrance, but I can see the number of hearts decrease in the top left of the screen. Thankfully, I can’t actually die here, can I? Once the number of hearts is reduced to one, I do start feeling a little concerned. But which button is it again that allows you to jump? Before I manage to jump out of the water, my avatar chokes to death. In other words, you can actually die in the Overworld, if you’re truly bad at playing Minecraft.
If you wish to explore EUR’s virtual campus in Minecraft for yourself, check out virtualerasmus.com for instructions.