Modding Minecraft with Friends, or What Playgrounds Are For

A picture of our city in Minecraft, with many large buildings and pipes full of oil passing right trough.

Minecraft is the game the internet is shaped around.

I wanted to put a list, here, of things that happened since Minecraft’s release. I’m not sure why, I guess to make myself feel old. I searched trough the news, trough subreddits and YouTube channels and “Top Ten Things You Won’t Believe Are From the 2010s” articles. From those last ones I thought I got nothing, the facts were all either well known, completely irrelevant or things I forgot about for good reasons.
There were only three major exceptions: Minecraft, Twitch and the Swine Flu epidemic.I started to think that maybe not much had happened in these last 10 years, that the game wasn’t that old or significant. I got lost in the details, missed the forest for the trees.
After trying to find something that was as old as Minecraft, and only after giving up, because none of it was great, I realize the problem was with me. 10 years ago feels longer that it is because I’m not use to recognize the world from back then. These past ten years are the spawn of time I’m not nostalgic for yet. It’s within the time frame of web 3.0, of social media seeping in offline life, of smartphones becoming everyday objects. It is almost as long as I’d say I’ve been some kind of adult.

Throughout this time Minecraft has collected some impressive records: it’s no doubt the single most popular game on YouTube, the platform itself owing much of its success to the let’s play craze It inspired; it is the first visible example of the work of an independent developer kickstarting an entire franchise, as well as establishing a precedent for this sort of success, to add fuel to the fires of the indie game revolution.
During all this, since 2009, my Minecraft account saw me coming back every couple of years. It stayed with me as I changed mail three times, moved trough two houses and a whole set of pets. I have memories of this game stretching from high school to university. Minecraft is over a decade old, 2 years older than Twitch, 4 years older than “what do they eat”, and I started playing when it was in beta, I had my first voice call a full decade ago. It spiraled from there:

“Oh god I’m so old, I’m basically dead already, what have I been doing all this time, I wasted my best years on Minecraft.” Me, Just now

So imagine my surprise when I learned that this thing is currently, extremely popular.
In the second half of its life, following its acquisition by Microsoft in 2014, the game has sold more copies than ever before: in 2020 the now 11 years old game reached 200 millions copies sold, doubling the 100 millions milestone of 2016.

Is it because of Covid?

While it’s honestly impossible to say for sure, the data seems to suggests that, no, Covid had nothing to do with it. The game’s “rebirth”, the great spike in interest in the game, the one that put it back on the throne of most viewed game on YouTube, started in 2019.
Even though the numbers speak clearly, or maybe even because of that, I find it interesting how easy the assumption is to make. It comes natural to mee, too, and I want to understand why.
During a global pandemic, as all physical contact becomes a calculated risk, once we’re all bored of DnD, the article on the appeal of a familiar virtual environment basically writes itself. A shame, then, that’s not what really happened. But to explain why the correlation is still so hard to avoid, and why it really, really doesn’t work, let me tell you about my Minecraft Quarantine experience.

Twice during quarantine we started a server, always around March. The first time we stopped was around June, as Covid restriction were relaxed for the summer, but even after that ended and the second wave hit us we waited until February before logging back on.
We started by booting up last year’s world again. Tired of the game we mastered already, we scrapped the old server and covered it in mods. It was the end of our first day when we realized that the modpack wasn’t working correctly. Only after a few hours (and a server reboot, and many experiments) of trying to force the mod to work on our un-modded world would we finally give up and start from scratch again.
On our third world, after the second server reset, i found a rubber tree.

Why did we use a mod from 2012?

I have no excuse for this. It hasn’t aged well.
We used Tekkit Legends, a now ancient collection of mods based on building, automating and updating hundreds of new machines. Most of us had never heard of it and the ones who did hadn’t gotten too far in.
For the first two days, I was the only one to engage with the new stuff: i made rubber from resin, cables from copper, generators and batteries and an electrical oven.
On day 3 i got others involved by having them use my machines, which were already stronger than their coal powered furnaces. By that evening some had their own basic devices, by the next day they would start making energy by themselves.
My shed for this technology (which was still new to me) grew to shadow our first farm, the town’s expanse made our forest a plain. Some expanded our original hut, digging deep below the plain to find room for everyone, while other moved to a distant hill to build there their mason, then connected the two. I made my bed in an angle of the machine’s room.

I left early, on day 4, so I could test something by myself.
Tekkit Legends is a modpack, meaning most of the custom content is produced by different devs who didn’t all know what else the pack would contain. As a result Tekkit uses many different kinds of energy and what we had initially focused on, EU from Industrial Craft, is by far the easiest to obtain and control.
I spent half a day trying to make a converter work, from EU to RF, even tough they’re inefficient and my solar farm was already stretched thin. It was a dumb issue, caused by poor documentation and made worst by us using an old version of Tekkit.
My contraptions had outgrown the small hut I kept them in, making the flow of cables and pipes impossibly hard to visualize, and I was about to add a whole set of new machines. I had to get a clearer picture, to get out of my cabin.

I left early, on day 4, frustrated with the tiny house and the broken engines and the unpowered machines just sitting there, so far removed from any practical use.
I managed to make the converter work by dropping out of the server and building it in creative mode, spawning full stacks of components our whole team had worked hours to craft one of, in this untouched world of dense forests and uncaged animals, the ugly machine now looking very out of place.

A pig sitting on top of my converter.

I had my converters working in 15 minutes so I decided to check what they could power. I wanted to make an automated farm but wasn’t really looking forward to spending the time to learn how. Again, unable to stop, i browsed trough wikis and guides until I figured out the bare minimum to make one but couldn’t bear to reproduce it on our common world. I began assembling its basic blocks, back on our server, until I emptied my supply of materials, after which I forced myself to go hunt for them.
I burned out on Minecraft, I knew how that felt like, but this time I kept going. I couldn’t bear to have wasted resources and time, I couldn’t think of them as mine to waste.

When I next logged on, that same evening, the curtain lift: I built a farm, did some automations, I told everyone how to use it, compared my discoveries with my friend’s, who spent their time building jetpacks and transmutation tables for all.
From this point on, the game changed to its core. The line between work and play disappeared. Transmutation technology made mining irrelevant and the trips to the grottos and hell became our own choice. The time we spent, studying, on outdated wikis, for sub-par solutions to self imposed problems flew by once we realized that’s what we came for.
Without the pretense of urgency or risk there was no hiding why we logged on every day.

Minecraft IRL

A couple days later we went for a walk, up a small hill, right next to our town.
It took us a while before reaching the top (or what counts as the top to tired bone and flesh). Circling over ancient ruins, aiming for the massive cross, not unlike those we used on our server, showing us where the path would lead us, we talked of buying a terrain and building a common house, of how much that would save us and where to go from there.
Other than space and labor and goods, we thought we should have to build our own state. I’m still not sure how but we’d save up a lot.
There was a sort of sarcophagus, right below the cross, resting on our mountaintop, an empty stone cube we had to assume ancient. In the pauses of our speech men spoke of consciousness and peace of mind and what to bring to the test tomorrow. Children skipped over the ruins left out of the gates, leaning on else inaccessible space with play.
I remember thinking, then, that’s what we do too.

Though we had climbed all the way there, planned the shape of the hills and the size of our house, divided the work and prepared for expansion, we couldn’t claim the mountaintop. Civilizations had beaten us by 1800 years.
But like children playing on ancient ruins, running deep below their feet, and if this space, as all space is, has been so seen and used and made by humans to make it burst, if there was no space for us left inside, we could still build our own non-space on its peak. After all, what else is there to do?

We gave the coffin another pass, there were letters below the moss. MCMXXXIV is two thousands minus one hundred plus thirty plus five minus one. 1934 is five years prior to the institution of the cultural environment protection act. The duke named on the coffin sold the land to the state before he could be forced to give it away on the basis of its poor conservation.

Our noisy neighbours, a group of kids in white robes, kept their talks of consciousness going until we joined, too. The cross brought us friends left behind, the ruins made the waiting worthwhile. To remake society, like a castaways’ island, can be no more than fantasy, yet we still build our world.
We build not to make, transform or steal but to fix all ourselves to what solid we find. Without human free spaces we build on each other. Without physical space we use acts and ideas. If we don’t have either we invent them with play.

The evening of the day after the hike, a week ago from publishing this article, I finished the transport pipe from the oil rig to our base.
Oil is a finite resource, in reality as in Minecraft, but for us it’s a great step forward from the inefficient, cross-mod, energy converter.
Once my Pipes reached over our base they weren’t immediately connected to my machines, which I knew I was unlikely to use ever again. First, we tried to transform the burned oil into electricity for the near endless, end-game battery a friend of mine had just built.
We spent half a night connecting the pipes and the wires, building the various engines necessary (the pipes, too, need to be powered, of course) and watching ancient YouTube videos from a certain Cpt. Jack.

A screenshot from a Minecraft let’s play video, showcasing a Captain Jack Sparrow skin.
A screenshot from a Minecraft let’s play video, showcasing a Captain Jack Sparrow skin.
What did you expect?

Once we had all we needed we connected the 3 cube long machine, the contraption looked at odds with both mods it was trying to connect. The black pipes leaking oil on the light wood and mirrors of the house’s ceiling, the single block wide skybridge of dirt, a sustain to my rig, clashing hard against my friend’s elegant cable management, the world crashed.
We managed to reconnect and found the world still intact but my audio drivers appeared wiped. I restarted my machine but had to do some digging to get everything as it was before.
It was a known bug, we shouldn’t have used such an old version of this modpack, and as a result our night’s work had been useless. The oil pipes and the electric battery sitting one next to the other, our work close and cooperative but unable to come as one. It was the most fun I’ve had with Minecraft in years.

The real Minecraft were the friends we found along the way

We never returned to our world, I never developed the petrol into gasoline, the oil powered machine never produced anything in the end. Learning to enjoy our time with this buggy, frustrating, outdated version of Tekkit meant removing more and more layers of satisfaction until nothing but shared frustration remained.
This structure brought with it one major issue: with each tier of new machines we unlocked, each new project we decided to start, we shaved more and more people away, made the system less inviting for those with less time.
Eventually, organically, without needing to speak of it, we choose to rejoin our friends, and we left.

Self appointed writer, wannabe game critic, three-worded mottos maker, wish me luck.

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