Socializing During Socially-Distant Times: Students Build Chamblee in Minecraft

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Photo courtesy of Andrew Hatcher.

A screenshot of the exterior of the front side of Minecraft Chamblee.

Keegan Brooks, Staff Writer

Even with virtual classes, some students are still hanging out at the CCHS buildingin Minecraft. Over the course of the 2020 fall semester, a group of CCHS sophomores built a model of Chamblee Charter High School on a Minecraft server, exploring the ways that the virtual sandbox could be used to socialize in socially-distant times. 

The idea for building Chamblee in Minecraft began earlier this year, when sophomore Toby Russell suggested the idea in a Chamblee Discord server. From then on, the idea spiraled, with several other sophomores joining in.

The Birth of the Server

“We were talking about corona[virus] and stuff because we have the Discord server where we all talk about school. And we were […] talking about how it would be funny if we had Homecoming in Minecraft and whatnot,” said Russell. 

A screenshot of the Discord message that led to the creation of the Minecraft server. (Photo courtesy of Nick Nitsche)

Discord, an online messaging platform that describes itself as “the easiest way to talk over voice, video, and text,” was the setting of the Minecraft server’s birth. While the idea was initially described by several users as “cringy,” they went ahead with the idea.

“It would be kind of cringy to have Homecoming in Minecraft, but essentially we said, ‘Let’s try it,’” said Russell.

Building the School

The main three people in charge of organizing the server and working on the school were sophomore friends Russell, Bryan Zhao, and Andrew Hatcher.  Initially, the group planned to just find an already built model of a school and add it to their server. But they quickly changed their minds. 

“We wanted to get a stock school off of Minecraft, an already built school,” said Russell. “But we said, ‘Why don’t we just build our school?’ That’s fun, and it’s a cool thing to do.”

A screenshot of Minecraft Chamblee showing the classrooms inside. (Photo courtesy of Andrew Hatcher)

The group started working on the model of the school, joined by other sophomores on the Discord server.

“We started to work on it. A lot of people hopped on, I started up the [Minecraft] server, and we started to work on the school,” said Russell.

The model school includes both the exterior of the buildings, along with all of the individual classrooms at Chamblee. 

“There are classrooms inside, and we do have a complete exterior,” said Hatcher. “We don’t have the tennis fields, we don’t have the stadium, but we pretty much have that whole area.” 

This included building all of the lockers in the school, along with the auditorium and other non-classroom locations.

“There is a full interior, including lockers. The best parts are the gym, the auditorium, the swimming pool,” said Russell. “We have a full interior of classrooms. Most of the classrooms are exactly the same, so we didn’t personalize them at all. But we do have almost every single classroom.”

In addition to building the school on the server, the group also crafted nearby buildings, such as Dandy Donuts and the florist across Chamblee-Dunwoody Road.

“We do have a couple easter eggs under the map, and we do have Dandy Donuts, and the flower shop, and the road outside of the school,” said Hatcher.

The Scale of the School

In Minecraft, each block has the intended measurement of one meter in real life. While building on the server, the group attempted to keep that scale.

“We weren’t really too precise on it, at first, which led to a lot of revision later, but we did kind of want to do one-to-one,” said Russell. “We sort of eyeballed it and said okay, this windowpane is one block, how long is this wall based off of that? We kind of just went from there.”

In Minecraft, all players are two blocks tall, which impacted the school’s design. Because of this fact, Minecraft doors are also two blocks tall, which was eventually factored in the size of the building.

“Because the doors have to be two blocks tall in Minecraft, that was essentially the biggest limit, and then after, that we kind of just went with it,” said Russell.

Spirit Week Comes Around

The original idea for the server was to hold Chamblee’s Homecoming dance in Minecraft. Spirit Week traditionally involves a different clothing theme each day to boost school spirit and ends with the dance, but virtual classes canceled the majority of the routine festivities this year.

“There are a couple classrooms we didn’t get to in time because we wanted to get it all done by the end of Spirit Week, before break,” said Zhao. “And we could theoretically have a homecoming.” 

But that never actually happened, so the experience of building the school and letting people on to the server was the group’s main accomplishment. 

“We never did [hold a dance] though,” said Russell. “We were just happy to let people on [the server].”

The Big Scare

When the group was around halfway done with building the school, there was an incident where their work was almost gone forever.

“We were about halfway done, we hadn’t finished the interior but had finished the exterior, [and] there was a really big scare when I messed up working on the server files when I was trying to extend the server,” said Russell. “Long story short, it got deleted, so […] we thought that we wouldn’t be able to finish, which is kind of crazy now that we think about it because everybody likes it so much.”

Luckily, the tech support at the Minecraft server hosting company they used was able to retrieve a backup of the server.

“We lost the file, it was deleted, but the tech support guys where we host the server were very helpful, and they actually found a backup,” said Russell. “So we were able to eventually reclaim our lost world.” 

Socializing Virtually

Working together to build the school in Minecraft bolstered social interaction that the pandemic otherwise hindered.

“Just building the school, building it together, [created] a lot of social interaction,” said Zhao.

Russell also maintains that virtual learning has severely changed how students socialize compared to in-person school. 

“It’s changed a lot because we used to have Discord servers and group chats to talk about school, and to get help for school, but now it’s a lot more prevalent,” said Russell. “Everyone’s online, and if you’re online all of the time, why not be online friends?”

Discord has become a common tool for students to connect during virtual learning.

“In class breaks, during lunch, we will try to keep the same sort of social aspect of talking to others, hanging out,” said Russell. “It’s nice to be able to talk to people even if you don’t have classes or lunch with them because in [virtual] school you aren’t able to.”

Discord has allowed students to make new friends, something which is severely impacted by not seeing peers in-person every school day. The building of the Chamblee in Minecraft also allowed students to meet new people.

“I’ve met a couple friends of friends through Discord, and I’ve gotten to know a lot of people through building the school,” said Hatcher. “Everyone on the Discord server would come together and start working on the school. I got to talk to a lot of people. We spent hours working together to build this thing, and we had a lot of social interaction. And we goofed around a lot.”

Although there was no traditional in-person Spirit Week or homecoming festivities this year, students were able to work together towards the creative goal of building a virtual Chamblee Charter High Schoolallowing them a virtual “homecoming” despite the pandemic.

Indeed, “Why don’t we just build the school?”

A screenshot of Minecraft Chamblee while the sun is setting. (Photo courtesy of Andrew Hatcher)