Minecraft inspires crafty way around government censorship

Aerial view of the Uncensored Library

Within this grand structure texts await — texts that governments don’t want their citizens to read.

Reporters Without Borders

Minecraft, the popular video game that lets kids enter a virtual world and build just about anything with “digital Legos,” is now being tapped as a way to get censored journalism to people in repressive countries.

Press-freedom nonprofit Reporters Without Borders teamed with design studio BlockWorks to create the Uncensored Library, an in-game digital library that houses articles censored in their country of origin. Authors include people like Jamal Khashoggi, the murdered Washington Post columnist who was critical of the Saudi regime.

“In many countries around the world, there is no free access to information,” Christian Mihr, managing director for Reporters Without Borders in Germany, said in a post on the group’s site. “Websites are blocked, independent newspapers are banned and the press is controlled by the state. Young people grow up without being able to form their own opinions. By using Minecraft … as a medium, we give them access to independent information.”

Mihr told the BBC that Reporters Without Borders chose Minecraft because of its huge worldwide reach, even in restrictive countries, and because it’s not on the radar of censors.

The Uncensored Library's fist sculpture

A sculpture that suggests the pen is mightier than the sword.

Reporters Without Borders

“There are big communities in each featured country, that’s why the idea came up — it is a loophole for censorship,” Mihr told the news outlet. The countries represented by their own wings in the library are Egypt, Mexico, Russia, Saudi Arabia and Vietnam.

Launched on Thursday, which was also the World Day Against Cyber Censorship, the library is an impressive-looking neoclassical structure where players can wander and look at books that contain the various articles. The content of the books can’t be changed.

An interactive producer who worked on the project told Fast Company that repressive regimes would have trouble thwarting the library. If a government tries hacking the server hosting the game, he said, other servers could take over, so there’ll always be a version online.

And the BBC entered Minecraft and spoke with a visitor to the library, who said that because the library can be downloaded and reuploaded by players, “it is easy to replicate and therefore hard to kill.”

On the other hand, a computer science professor told the BBC he had some doubts. He said that, yes, because the censored material gets entangled with the game, it could slip past censors. Still, he said he didn’t think the project was invincible and could fall victim to a determined foe.

At any rate, the Uncensored Library could help inspire creative approaches to sneaking by censors — or at least raise awareness of issues around press freedom, and of the dangers faced by journalists in different parts of the world.

The library is reachable through Minecraft via the server address visit.uncensoredlibrary.com. You can also take a limited virtual tour and get more info at https://uncensoredlibrary.com/.

Microsoft, maker of Minecraft, didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

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