Urbanisation in Minecraft

Urbanisation in Minecraft

I started playing Minecraft only a few months when it first came out: I don’t remember the exact date, but I believe it was somewhere around September 2009, possibly October. Right from the start I noticed that Minecraft was an exceptionally unique game, for a variety of reasons. Not only did it have a freedom in playing style unlike anything I had tried before, but Minecraft was a game of pattern.

I noticed pattern everywhere, right from the start of playing it in the early versions of Creative I played, up to the versions of Survival I have played for the last few weeks. The more intelligent of you reading this article have also probably noticed something similar to my various observations.

I’m a student, studying Humanities. No, not at university or anything, but instead at a Secondary School here in the UK. Most recently throughout this academic year, I’ve learned a great deal regarding settlements, economy and industry. Economy is something which exists surprisingly prominently in Minecraft. As does settlement patterns and industry, but Minecraft’s economy is something which I find particularly interesting because, like in the real world, cities seem to drastically affect economy.

Recent gaps in my academics and lack of homework have allowed me to start playing Minecraft more regularly. For the past two weeks, I’ve played on a particular server; I’m not going to spill which, however. It was a server which had a fairly constant, linear increase of population (number of players, that is) throughout the two weeks I played on it. We started playing on a blank map: a first, it was just the four of us in the bottom of a fairly small but quite flat valley. Immediately, we jumped into decisive action: we assigned individual roles to ourselves and got to work collecting resources or doing other jobs. Personally, I was a miner. The other two were lumberjacks/woodcutters and the other guy was the architect.

I mined mostly on the surface for a bit, collecting cobblestone from an exposed plateau whilst the others hacked away frantically and started to mark out plots. I told my fellow players that I thought I should go down into the earth and collect a lot of cobblestone (several hundreds of pieces). They equipped me with many stone and iron pickaxes and I left. I mined for around four hours, and during that time several more people started to join. From what I could gather from the chat, the architect wasn’t particularly experienced because some of the newer players were complaining about some of his work: mostly, the insipid box-shaped houses and the awkward layout of the town so far. I mostly ignored it, getting engrossed in my work.

When I returned to the surface, I was quite surprised at the progress which had happened so far. Already, the roads were paved with smoothstone and cobblestone; rustic wooden houses and stone public buildings rose high into the sky, stretching up with multiple storeys; lampposts constructed with glowstone adorned some streets. However, I did agree with the other player’s view of the awkward street layout: it was rather cramped, but it also seemed rather familiar, as I had seen the same kind of pattern across many a server.

After handing in my cobblestone to some builders, I went to make a few more pickaxes. Walking down the unfamiliar streets, I could not spot a single tree or even a sapling amongst the narrow houses. Looking down, across the street I noticed it was pretty much solely made out of cobblestone, natural stone and sand. Even the small spaces where there was a patch of dirt available a tree would not be able to grow there, due to the cramped back alleys.

“Where are the trees, guys?” I asked, piping interest. “You’ll have to walk out a couple of roads to the forest.” One replied. I decided to do that, and sure enough I was able to find a few trees to create a crafting bench and then sticks for my stone pickaxes.

After I had restocked my supply of tools essential to my dwarf-like lifestyle, I returned to my vast mine. When I had left it, it was pretty large: around 5 blocks high and 10 blocks wide, it continued for around a hundred metres, going along the side of the town. So far, I hadn’t found any tunnels. When I returned I ran into 5, conspicuously artificial tunnels within a couple of minutes. At this point I noticed the large amount of players on the server. There were around 20, including the original four.

I decided to follow some of the tunnels, and they lead to large hollowed out spaces. I worked out that they were pretty much directly underneath the town. These weren’t particularly small caverns, though: they were huge pits, particularly deep but also quite wide. Evidently, the town had grown into a city by now and was craving resources. I met many builders during the next few hours; occasionally we mined together, but I was nowhere as nearly productive as I had been on my first run.

Eventually I returned, digging out of the top of the valley hill. This hill was quite large, perhaps 50 metres up. When I first stepped out onto the surface, I was instantly dwarfed by the large structures which had been built. The skyscrapers of cobblestone and glass were like ugly, gigantic trees! There were around 25-30 players online at this point, and I had been playing for around 7 hours, so I decided to take a break for 20 minutes to make myself some food. My last look of the game was the hill I was standing on, along with a backdrop of the predominantly cobblestone built city.

Whilst I was making my food, I distinctly remember how bare I thought was hill was: when I had first started this map, you practically couldn’t move due to the trees. Now there were barely any on that hill, only three or four were obviously visible. When I returned, I was surrounded by two houses and a crude gravel road leading back down the valley.

New players were streaming in one every five minutes. Nearly all of them were asking the same questions, or rather, complaining about their circumstances: where are the trees for building? Where are the plots? The admin, who was the architect in the beginner, simply redirected them to “…the edge of the city, you’ll probably find them there.” I was still standing on the hill at this point, surrounded by players creeping up the sides of it like slugs: somewhat slow, but relentlessly moving. Trees were being eaten up at a ferocious speed. Travelling back down into the city, I walked back into the entrance of my mine to find it had been hugely expanded. One particular player complained to the admin that there was no space to build an underground city he had hoped to construct. Five other players responded, telling him to go to the edge of the city.

Making my way up to the top of the hill again, I got a large overview of the city now. After 10 hours of playing, the city was essentially a huge plaza of stone, upon which incredible volumes of buildings had been constructed. There were now 45-50 players on the server, which was probably the max it could handle without seriously lagging (the admin was apparently rather wealthy). I now observed three things:


  1. The valley was severely overpopulated, with houses spilling out everywhere (remember, it had only been a small valley in the first place).

  2. There were no trees, anywhere.

  3. Underground, cobblestone had been hollowed out in huge quantities.


The following stage over the course of the next hour was truly incredibly to witness. Starting from the arrival of night, I could see points of light twinkling from everywhere in the city. Apparently, people were getting bored and frustrated of having to walk half a kilometre out from the middle of the valley to find a single tree, and there was a mass migration outwards onto the hills of the valley. I have to stress: no admins organised this, and neither did any player. It was purely of a unanimous nature. The lights at night showed that people were taking the glowstone and torches from the centre of the city with them. Soon, the hills couldn’t hold the players on them, and so they spilled over them too, forming settlements at the bases of the hills. I presumed that, along with the torches, people had taken with them other valuables items and blocks, leaving only an empty shell of a city. A newbie complained of being killed when attempting to escape the city, as the spawn point had remained there. Soon the admin changed the spawn point to a new city formed across the valley, on the other side of the river some distance away where there were plenty of resources to sustain the population. There was a smaller town on the other side of the valley as well.

This population of players had caused from really rather strange, but logical, things to see. Due to the huge pressure of resources and lack of infrastructure, the settlement had firstly fractured, sending its population outwards slightly; before splitting apart and fragmenting out, collapsing like a deflating balloon.

Earlier in this article, I mentioned economy; this collapse of the society which had been built and the mass migration to the countryside caused the economy of the server to become very strained. Raw materials rose in value sharply just before the fragmentation of the city. When the two new settlements had properly formed, I noticed at first trade between them was very tentative; people were hesitant at the thought of crossing the “dead city”, as one player had branded it. Eventually the merchants came, but they didn’t particularly want to cross into the pit of zombies, skeletons, creepers and ghasts which the city contained (the admin decided to spawn some there just for fun).

Evidently, Minecraft is one of the most accurate paradigms of the real world I have yet seen, and it wasn’t even built specifically for that. It imitates a living, breathing world, very similar to our own: I would say the only difference is that there is less advanced technology and less significance on agriculture. What do we learn from this, what we have witnessed? Primarily it is city layout and resource management: even simple things like building a nature reserve or a park or a tree farm to grow trees in is a good idea. Controlled mining is also good, so players can build underground: perhaps community mines in a direct facing away from towns is particularly intelligent. However, most importantly, it is that people are an unstoppable force. Of course, you can make suggestions and occasionally nudge them in the correct direction, but most of the times it is difficult to do so, and you can only hope for the best. It is true in the real world, and also true in the amazing game which is Minecraft.

This is a guest articles submitted byDark_Surfdiscussing his first-hand observations aboutUrbanisation in Minecraft

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