I'll just come out and admit it. I turned 40 this summer. Yes, I'm old. Please be kind with your comments. :)
I remember when my dad turned 40. Mom threw a big party, and everyone was there. We gave him a bunch of "Over the Hill" gag gifts, we referred to him as "Old Man Bentley"; those kind of things. All of this was done in person mind you, which right now almost seems like a strange thing. My dad was able to have dinner inside a restaurant, hug & shake hands with friends and family. He even opened his gifts without wiping them down with disinfectant wipes. It was a good party, and while I don’t think he was fond of the notion of getting old, he was certainly happy to be surrounded by so many loved ones for his birthday.
Now, in the year 2020, my 40th birthday was very different. My wife and I decided that it wasn’t a good idea to have a party in person. Our home would be too cramped, and the last thing we wanted to do was put our loved ones at risk just for some cake and ice cream. I’ll be honest, the days leading up to my birthday I was really kind of bummed that I wasn’t going to get the big four-zero blowout. It had been years since I really celebrated a birthday, and my 40th should have been a way of recouping some of those lost parties. Quite frankly, a “Zoom” meeting with my friends felt a little anticlimactic.
Something different had to be done. Different indeed.
So, I messaged a bunch of old friends from all over the country with a link to Minecraft Realm and said to meet me there on my birthday.
My wife and I spent a few days cleaning things up before everyone logged into the Minecraft server for the first time. I knew that some folks would be logging into Minecraft for the very first time, so we made an obvious path from the spawn point with signs that said “Party This Way.” At the end of the path we made a swimming pool out of polished diorite and lots of buckets of water, and created a high dive that was literally so tall you couldn’t see the pool when you jumped off. (also my wife made a giant stone “40” to commemorate the occasion, in case anyone forgot why we were getting together.
When the day came, we were ready with Minecraft birthday cake, fireworks, and play area loaded with TNT, buckets of lava, and many other ways to arrive at an untimely demise in the game, you know… so the noobs can learn.
To my surprise, the evening was a success. Friends I hadn’t had a chance to talk to in years hopped online and said hello as I gave them a tour around the Minecraft realm they same way a king might show off his kingdom to a visiting ruler from a far off land. “Hear is my castle, and below are the mines. To your left is where we keep the cows, and we harvest wheat to loaves of bread for the whole realm!” I might live in the suburbs, but for my birthday I lived in a massive infinitely expanding realm and had the resources to fly all my friends there for an evening.
But here’s the thing, the party didn’t stop. It’s now been months since my birthday and my friends are still coming back to the server. They have expanded out made massive bases above and below ground, and invited their friends to the server as a space to hang out. It’s a real social space where we collaborate on creating bizarre red stone contraptions, fight ender dragons, or just hangout and generally have a good time. It’s a solace, a home, a community.
2020 has been a rough year for many, there is no doubt about that. But in some ways, we humans are fortunate. We have ways of connecting with each other that no other society has ever had before us. We might not be able to have a pool party IRL, but there is little stopping us from literally building a virtual pool and hosting one across the world online. We may be separated from our loved ones, but we can still have adventures together in digital worlds get a real sense of place even if we are sitting on a couch or in a gaming chair: did I mention we now sell gaming chairs? I kid… I kid… but no really we sell gaming chairs.
Games have the potential to be an incredible gift to humanity. Sure, there are grievers, internet trolls, and poor sports everywhere, but when games & gamers are at their best, they connect us, push us to work towards a common goal, and bridge divides in ways that no other form of media can.
It’s my hope that this community will be an example of the best that games have to offer. For now, we are apart, but this can be a place where we can come together and create something incredible.
T. Mark Bentley
P.S. Did I mention we sell gaming chairs, because you know, we sell those. It’s a chair… that you can play games in.