For Graduation, Cal Students Build ‘Blockeley University’ in Minecraft

A version of UC Berkeley's campus built in Minecraft and dubbed 'Blockeley University.' (Courtesy of the artists)

What do you do if you’re a college senior with a sense of humor, a canceled graduation and, suddenly, a lot of spare time?

On March 15, UC Berkeley student Bjorn Lustic got the idea to recreate the graduation in Minecraft, a video game where the objective is to build structures by placing blocks around a 3D environment. He cites a sarcastic Facebook comment as the source of inspiration. A month, a few more Facebook posts and several thousand likes later, the project has grown into a full-scale recreation of the UC Berkeley campus with a waiting list of students trying to get in on the fun of construction.

When IRL events started to disappear around campus, students, like everyone else, turned to the internet. “It’s kind of a natural thing at this point to look online and look to virtual communities to hang out, that’s what we’re used to,” Lustic says.

Users at work building 'Blockeley University.' (Courtesy of the artists)

Minecraft, owned by Microsoft, is a simple way for people to build digital structures, even for those without a background in engineering or architecture, but it’s also sentimental for people who grew up playing the game. “This game already has had a really big impact on our lives and our social interactions,” Lustic says. “I’ve been hanging out with friends on servers for like eight, nine years. Being able to do this in another school, another place, it brings back a lot of memories of being at home with friends.”

Lustic initially started working on the plan to build Memorial Stadium with his friend Hunter Hall. When they realized the two of them weren’t going to be able to complete the project by themselves, they posted in the Facebook group Overheard at UC Berkeley. A small but steady stream of students offered to help until early April, when one of their Facebook posts spread across the platform. “I guess we were shell shocked—at least I was,” says Hall of the overwhelming response. “I woke up at noon, and I was like, ‘Either something really good or something really bad has happened.’”

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The project previously had about ten people organizing on a Discord server. As news spread, over 500 students began applying to help use satellite data to create a 1-1 scale model of not just UC Berkeley landmarks, but the whole school. “Our intention was never to build the entire campus,” says Hall. “We were expecting maybe a few dozen, at most maybe a hundred people to get a fun Minecraft graduation party for whoever was interested. It’s certainly grown and been self-sustaining since then.” The organizers are slowly building permissions to allow access for those who want to help.

A Minecraft version of Memorial Stadium, where graduation ceremonies were scheduled to take place on May 16. (Courtesy of the artists)

Hall and Lustic started with Memorial Stadium, where their graduation would have taken place on May 16. They worked on building the field and outlining bigger structures, but they also added details specific to their own Berkeley experiences. Both of them are former members of the Cal rowing team and trained in a storage area of the stadium.

“I rebuilt [the storage area] one night, and Hunter walks in and he’s like ‘Wow, it feels like I’m almost there,” says Lustic. “It’s really weird how the 1-1 ratio in Minecraft can bring a mental presence to actually being there. It resurfaces a lot of emotions that wouldn’t have really come up unless you actually went to that exact place.”

Fellow seniors Nick Pickett and Elliot Choi joined the project through one of the earlier Facebook posts on Overheard. A member of the Cal band, Pickett has his own special relationship to Memorial Stadium—specifically North Tunnel, where the band spends a lot of time before games.

“When I first logged on, I was kind of taken aback by how gorgeous the stadium was, because it’s freakishly accurate,” says Pickett. “But as I’m walking towards North Tunnel, I’m like, ‘Wait, this isn’t right.’” He then spent hours recreating the tunnel by referencing photos from his four years in the band. “It was kind of surreal. It was like putting a puzzle together that I already knew what it was supposed to look like,” he says.

North Tunnel, a familiar space to members of the band, recreated from personal memories and photographs. (Courtesy of the artists)

In Minecraft, the act of recreating those spots became a way to share the personal significance of otherwise easily overlooked nooks and crannies on the Berkeley campus. “Going around to the other side where the band and the football team are, I’ve never really walked through there—maybe twice in my life,” says Hall. “So it was cool to meet someone who knows it to a T.”

And for all the work they’ve done together, most of the students involved in building a Minecraft campus haven’t actually met one another in real life. “Nick and I have been in classes together for I think, like, the last four years,” says Hall, “but we hadn’t really spoken until we started working together.”

Every new person who joins the server adds another layer of unofficial Berkeley history to the project. “Google Images and Google Maps help us figure everything out, but each of us have very distinct memories of very near and dear locations,” says Pickett. “We might have our own personal photos that we can source to really get an accurate representation of campus for as many people as possible.”

“The point is to bring people together and have them be in a place that they remember liking and having good memories in during a time that we can’t,” Hall adds.

As graduation creeps closer, the group is focused on finishing what they refer to as “Blockeley University” by getting more and more people involved. In a perfect world, they say, the school would partner with them and give everyone who wants to participate a free Minecraft account for graduation day. “Or even Microsoft themselves,” adds Choi.

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This post was updated to reflect that Bjorn Lustic and Hunter Hall are former, not current, members of the UC Berkeley rowing team, and that Lustic is not a graduating senior this year.