For many Anteaters, the UCI campus has become an object of nostalgia. Few have set foot on the sprawling 1,475 acres since stay-at-home measures were introduced in March due to the coronavirus pandemic. But the environment is vivid and accessible in the imaginations of the 72 builders of Minecraft UCI – a full-size virtual replica of the school.
Minecraft is a cross-platform software program that lets users create and explore an infinite variety of complex worlds, which are constructed through the painstaking placement of blocks. With each block representing exactly one cubic meter, the results of Minecraft UCI are impressively precise. Details include the iconic modernist towers, buildings, bridges, gardens, and paths that encircle and branch out from Aldrich Park. Students are in the process of crafting dorm rooms, classrooms and even University Center, the adjacent shopping plaza.
The project began in February 2019, after a Reddit user pitched the concept in a message forum. The thread gained traction, and the idea took off. But the virtual campus assumed new meaning this spring when students had to shelter in place and do their schoolwork remotely. Around that time, one of the campus’s builders, fourth-year computer science major Chase Carnaroli, launched a website and social media presence to share the project with the wider community.
“It’s meant to be a place where anyone can come, hang out with friends and enjoy our beautiful campus virtually,” he says. “Given the need for social distancing and the fact that many students will be remote this fall, it’s more important than ever to design virtual spaces for people to connect.”
Students can tour the campus through the Minecraft Java edition (server address: 18.104.22.168:25565) or through the live map. The digital UCI has had more than 850 unique visitors so far, and new builders are always welcome. They just have to join the Discord and ask for permission.
The dozens of active builders utilize a host of resources to re-create everything as accurately as possible. They draw from Google Maps to obtain the longitude, latitude, width and depth of structures and roads. They peruse architecture plans in the archives of the UCI Libraries to find the exact measurements of buildings. They scour UCI-affiliated websites for diagrams and images of classrooms, bridges and parking garages. They also visit the campus and take photographs for later reference.
“It’s a community composed of current, former and future UCI students, along with people who don’t even go to UCI but still love our campus. Some come in and only contribute a little, while others stick around to build a lot,” Carnaroli says, adding that most users are anonymous. “We’re so strong because the focus is on the community, not any specific individual.”
Taking inspiration from UC Berkeley’s Minecraft replica, which held a graduation ceremony and music festival earlier this year, the builders hope to work with UCI and student organizations to host similar events in the future and further foster a sense of unity.
Minecraft users aren’t the only ones who have employed a world building program to bring the spirit of UCI to the safety of their homes. During spring quarter, anthropology professor Tom Boellstorff conducted his digital cultures course in the 3D virtual environment Second Life, where he constructed Anteater Island, a “campus” perfectly tailored for his syllabus (with the added bonus of an anteater-themed roller coaster). In Animal Crossing: New Horizons, a simulated world of islands populated by cute anthropomorphic critters, alumnus Joshua Montefalcon ’18 designed UCI-related scenes and merchandise to share with other users. An anteater sporting a navy-and-gold UCI sweatshirt can be found roaming his island.
Sometimes distance makes the heart grow fonder. “Personally, I’ve gained a greater appreciation for the beauty of our campus. When re-creating a building in Minecraft, you have to take a closer look at the finer details,” Carnaroli says. “It made me realize how amazing UCI architecture is. With remote learning forcing students to stay at home, it’s nice to still have that virtual connection to the campus.”