Experiencing campus through Minecraft

CSE student helps create a virtual University of Minnesota

Before coronavirus-related closures, lockdowns and social distancing, College of Science and Engineering junior Khang Lu joined 10-20 other University of Minnesota students last fall to create a virtual replica of campus as a joke.

However, their creation of the Minecraft server “Goldycraft,” containing a still-growing, to-scale model of the Twin Cities Campus, has gained special meaning for students when classes have moved online during spring semester 2020.

Minecraft is a popular video game that allows players to build virtual structures in a 3D world using unlimited resources, making it a great application to recreate University of Minnesota architecture. While nothing beats the real college experience of being on campus, Goldycraft comes close. Its detailed and extensive model captures a sense of what it’s like to walk around in Golden Gopher territory. 

Building the server 

“To ensure the buildings were the correct shape and size, Google satellite images were used because that offers a street view as well as a satellite view,” said Lu, a mechanical engineering major and recipient of the University of Minnesota Iron Range Scholarship. “People went out and took photos of buildings in weird areas where Google couldn’t see it or even had drones flying in certain areas to get photos.”

While East Bank exteriors are mostly finished, Lu said they are going to build “pretty much the entire campus,” including West Bank, St. Paul, and Dinkytown. 

To provide an experience as close to reality as possible, Lu said Goldycraft builders carefully place “villagers” around the campus. These characters represent the people typically found at different parts of the University.

“You’ll see someone running for the light rail, or you’ll see someone saying ‘ope’ right in front of the bus stop or ‘let me sneak right past you’,” Lu said. “Those fun, little gimmicks are something I really like finding around the server, and new ones pop up all the time, so you’ll see campus demographics represented in different ways.”

Online campus community 

A lot of campus was already built on Minecraft when classes at the University were moved online in March, and this drew students experiencing nostalgia for their home-away-from-home.

“We’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback [because of] the fact that a lot of people were sent home to different states or even countries [and] they can’t really see the campus,” Lu said. “So, being able to walk around in a virtual campus, albeit Minecraft, it makes a lot of people happy.”

Nostalgia isn’t the only thing attracting students to join as players, according to Lu. They can also find a sense of community—something students were missing during the pandemic. 

“I think it's a great way for people to connect considering not many people can see each other or greet face-to-face anymore,” Lu said. “So, the more people that join the server, the better it is.”

The Minecraft server has already held virtual events, such as a commencement ceremony for the Class of 2020.

A video from this commencement will be used in the official UMN virtual graduation ceremony on May 16, according to the Facebook event page created by the Campus Meme Society. The group has enthusiastically persuaded students to “come to the server, put on your cap and gown, walk the stage, and accept your virtual diploma from Joan Gabel.”

Regarding the future of the Goldycraft, Lu said there’s “no end” to the detail and places that can be included.

“I’m going to graduate next year,” he said. “So, I would like to see the server passed on from generation to generation, hopefully it continues on and on.”

Only students and alumni from the University of Minnesota can become players or contributing builders. To request permission, complete the Goldycraft server Google form. (To view or interact with Goldycraft without building, visit the latest version Minecraft Java Edition and enter “” in the server IP.)

“It doesn’t matter if you’re not good at building or don’t know much about Minecraft per se, we would love to see more people,” Lu said. “There’s no obligation to stick around or spend hours and hours building.”

Story by Kathryn Richner

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