The potential of gaming platforms as revolutionary comms has been pondered for decades.
In his young adult novel Little Brother, author Cory Doctorow imagined teenagers using their video game systems to connect to an encrypted network to evade draconian government agencies in the wake of a terror attack and in For The Win, Doctorow explored the virtual economy of MMORPGs and their potential as an organizing mechanism against corrupt state power.
Enter one of the more interesting real-life examples of a video game platform being repurposed to fight fascist state censorship. Reporters Without Borders has tapped Minecraft to develop its new project The Uncensored Library, which is a virtual hub where users can access censored journalism from around the world.
Developed as a synergistic effort by the German branch of Reporters Without Borders, the German marketing agency DDB, and the UK design company Blockworks, The Uncensored Library is not a gamification of press freedoms but rather part of a series of projects based on using alternative platforms and collaborative 3D design to fight censorship.
Reporters Without Borders specifically sought out a company that could leverage the global engagement of Minecraft, which is so ubiquitous that it would be virtually impossible for a nation’s government to shut its servers down. DDB senior creative Tobi Natterer found in his research that countries with particularly draconian press censorship – Russia, Egypt, Mexico, Saudi Arabia, Vietnam, etc. – have extremely active gaming communities. Minecraft is the largest of those communities and it happens to allow gamers to write books in-game.
“Inside [those books],” explained senior interactive producer Robert-Jan Blonk, who worked on the library, “you can find articles and information about the journalists that are being censored in their own countries. We share these stories through the books that live in that library, and people can just openly read them, because even in the countries… where these journalists are from, you’re able to play Minecraft.”
The Uncensored Library features special sections for certain countries like Egypt, where there are virtually no press freedoms. The library features articles from Egypt that you simply can not find anywhere else except inside the Minecraft server. In Mexico, where journalists and dissidents face routine assassination from both the government and cartels, there is widespread self-censorship that is based on fear.
“In the Mexico room we built memorials to 12 Mexican journalists who have been murdered,” said James Delaney, managing director at Blockworks.
“Because of the explicit danger to journalists in Mexico, there are a lot of issues they won’t talk about because it’s too dangerous.”
The game includes a pedestal for the work of murdered journalist Javier Valdez Cárdenas.
Behind the library’s neo-classically iconic statue of a fist holding a pen and museum-like wings of book collections, there is a world map inscribing Reporters Without Borders’ Press Freedom Index, which ranks 180 countries based on their press censorship. The rankings factor in everything from executed journalists to the online censorship of articles, algorithmic censorship of keywords and even blocking VPNs, such as in China and Russia.
The Uncensored Library is getting plenty of attention in countries that do not blatantly censor the press, of course. The map has clocked 23,000 downloads globally and the official server has drawn 17,000 unique visitors.
For platform-specific info on how to access the library, Gizmodo offers a breakdown.
For a virtual tour of the Uncensored Library, check out the video below: