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Ongoing Criticism of Minecraft’s Uncensored Library

Reporters Without Borders built the massive Uncensored Library in Minecraft to slip past authoritarian censorship laws. Online debates ensue.

An overhead picture of The Uncensored Library with the logo above
The Uncensored Library is made up of 12.5 million blocks put together by 24 builders. Credit: ©RSF.

In authoritarian countries where journalists are constantly jumping through hoops to publish their work without losing their livelihoods (or worse), Reporters Without Borders (RSF) presents us with their modern solution to this problem: Minecraft.

Minecraft, the best-selling video game of all time, has inspired endless creativity from people of all ages and nationalities since its release in 2011. From building every player’s first dirt house in Survival Mode to experimenting with design ideas for real city infrastructure, the game is a showcase for all sorts of artistic and technical achievements.

And now, it has become a medium to advocate for press freedoms.

Compared to standard media outlets that journalists are more accustomed to, video games can be more complicated to monitor and censor. This is because games don’t always fall under the same, sometimes old-fashioned, content regulations. Games may also have live chat features and player-made material that is difficult to censor in real time.

Despite the live chat and player freedoms in Minecraft, RSF noticed that “the world’s most successful computer game is still accessible” in many countries where media is otherwise strictly controlled.

This observation sparked the idea to reintroduce censored journalism to restrictive countries by using this digital loophole and, in 2020, The Uncensored Library was born.

In partnership with design studio BlockWorks, RSF created a world in Minecraft where players can read tens of censored articles by journalists from 9 different countries. This world exists as a map that can be accessed via an online server, a download (for an offline, solo experience), or a 3D interactable preview on their website (which operates like Google Earth).

What’s inside The Uncensored Library?

The sunlight pouring through the glass dome and over the 180 hanging flags in the entryway of The Uncensored Library.
Behind each of the 180 flags on the ceiling is a book explaining the country’s ranking on the Press Freedom Index. Credit: ©RSF.

Upon entering The Uncensored Library, players will find a central domed room with flags and brief descriptions of all 180 countries on the Press Freedom Index. They will also see a room dedicated to misinformation regarding COVID-19 in 10 different countries, including China and North Korea.

A look down one of the three hallways extening off the dome, this one donning the flags of Vietnam and Russia on either side.
The flags of Vietnam and Russia line either side of this hallway to help players navigate the Library. Credit: ©RSF.

Beyond this, the Library extends into six different rooms covering Russia, Vietnam, Saudi Arabia, Mexico, Egypt, and the RSF itself. In the past four years, three more countries were added in glass conservatories in the surrounding gardens: Brazil, Eritrea, and Belarus.

Articles in Minecraft Books, Artwork in Blocks

Each room contains a unique architectural symbol, like a kraken to represent Russia’s multifaceted crackdown on journalism or a collection of shrines to honor the deaths of reporters in Mexico. Beside these sculptures are various Minecraft books readable to players.

A screenshot of the Russia room, which contains a kraken just emerging from a pool that fills the room. At the bottom of the pool is a string of 0s and 1s to represent Russia's stern control of the internet.
The kraken in the Russia room sits in a pool of water atop 0s and 1s to represent government control of the internet. Credit: Leah Smith.

The books contain works by an author from the room’s respective country, available in English and the author’s native language.

Some rooms have jukeboxes that play a recording of one of the pieces being read aloud in its original language (though it’s unclear whether these voices belong to the authors). Most rooms also have a description of the sculpture and a short biography of the writer. 

If you’re like me, you didn’t know about The Uncensored Library until now. I only discovered it through a Tweet I happened upon recently. But others in the Minecraft community have seen posts about the Library circulate again and again since its initial release in 2020.

Nowadays when the Library is discovered by someone new, who then posts about it on social media, it’s bound to spark a debate.

Whether this project is an “ineffective publicity stunt” or “old news,” there is a discussion to be had about the criticism surrounding the goals and outcome of The Uncensored Library.

Critics Call it Over-Publicized and Inaccessible…

In my search for more information and reception on this project, I found a mix of appreciation and critique. Many users across all social media appreciate the creative use of a video game to improve press freedoms.

Still, many more worry that the consistent publicity of the Library will threaten Minecraft’s accessibility in authoritarian countries.

I feel like it’s not going to do what it thinks it’s going to do and just get minecraft banned instead

Reddit user Azozel, about the Library

Boosted popularity only makes it more likely that restrictive governments will learn about the project and ban the website, the server, or Minecraft altogether.

While some countries allow the use of VPNs, or virtual private networks, which can help users reach banned content, this is often a risky method of access. Even if VPNs aren’t outright illegal (like they are in China or Russia), some countries might monitor and penalize their citizens for using them to read treasonous material.

Another common criticism of the Uncensored Library is that a Minecraft map is an inconvenient method to deliver such crucial content. Minecraft is currently $29.99 USD. On Minecraft’s Mexican website, the price is listed as $799.00 pesos, or $48.01 USD. There are multiple system requirements as well, though they aren’t very demanding.

Essentially, The Uncensored Library requires additional, sometimes costly, steps to access in comparison to other mediums. Using a nondescript USB drive instead, for example, would allow someone to download banned articles with less technological or monetary requirements.

Then there comes the added layer of knowing how to download the map, transfer it to your Minecraft save files, and use the game’s controls, none of which are very intuitive for those unfamiliar with the game.

This barrier to entry and potential for censorship of Minecraft itself have led some commentators to accuse the Library of being “just for show” or even a feel-good publicity stunt.

…But The Uncensored Library Needs Press

While these critiques help remind us to analyze The Uncensored Library by more than just its impressive build, they still miss the point.

The main goal of the Library is to provide people access to important journalism that is banned in their country. To accomplish this, the creators encourage sharing the project far and wide. Their website even has a press kit prepared with quality images and background information to make it easier to spread the word.

A screenshot of The Uncensored Library's website, showing links to download the map and to download the press kit.
The Uncensored Library’s press kit contains images, videos, social media posts, and more. Credit:

In The Uncensored Library, RSF addresses the concerns about receiving too much publicity. They point out that censorship of the Library is indeed possible. However, the map has been downloaded thousands of times and is accessible through multiple other servers already. This would make it challenging for any government to fully ban access to.

A screenshot of a Minecraft book from the Library reads: "Can the library be censored? Technically yes, practically no. This library has already been downloaded thousands of times, and re-uploaded to multiple servers. It's spreading quickly worldwide, making it difficult to take down."
RSF believes that a ban would not prevent the content of the Library from being spread. Credit: Leah Smith.

Although it’s unclear to me what countries heavily censor Minecraft or how likely it is that the game is actively monitored, it is true that the map is out there and still spreading for more players to find. If the project is not publicized and shared, then how will it ever reach those who need it?

…And it Needs Creativity!

To the point that The Uncensored Library is not a convenient option for those that would otherwise benefit from accessing it, I argue that ease of access is not the point here.

Sharing banned information is undoubtedly an ongoing effort in every country in the world. Most commonly, this would consist of sharing articles, interviews, books, and other straightforward and traditional media.

The Uncensored Library, however, aims to grab the interest of younger generations. It acts as an artistic and engaging collection of work that adds interpretation and context to the original pieces.

An image of the Vietnam room in The Uncensored Library, which contains a dense maze surrounding  a shrine and text that reads "THE LABYRINTH" on the floor.
The Vietnam room uses a dense maze to represent the government’s efforts to prevent citizens from finding truthful media. Credit: ©RSF.

Beyond being informative, the Library is a collaboration of inspired and hopeful human minds.

For a project so new to have garnered as much conversation as it has, I look forward to the expansion and growth of The Uncensored Library. If you have the time, it’s worth taking a look for yourself, too.

Written By

Recent graduate and lover of language, history, and video games.

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