It was Christmas Day and I was 6,000km away from my partner and family. I loved my job and had made good friends while abroad, but it was very isolating to be away from my loved ones at a time that was so built around routine and togetherness.
I got a message from my partner to join our Minecraft server. We’d been spending time on the server together from afar, so I was excited to be able to see him and hang out for a little while. What I found when I logged in is honestly still to this day one of the most thoughtful things anyone has ever done for me.
In front of me, in the center of our base, was an enormous spruce tree covered in coloured glass blocks and light sources. We weren’t far along on the server at the time, so it must have been pretty difficult to create something on that scale. Beneath the tree were several chests (which were, of course, re-skinned as gifts for the season as always) and an enormous gift made of wool blocks. My Christmas gift that year was a set of fully enchanted diamond armour and tools, and inside the wool gift were two Minecraft cats for me to tame and keep.
If anyone’s ever drawn a picture for you, written a poem, or produced anything creative for you, you’ll know how this gesture made me feel. Even years later it’s a memory I treasure and helped form my belief that games are so powerful when it comes to forming and maintaining relationships.
Last year, on our anniversary, it was my partner’s turn to be away for work. Each November we would usually watch a fireworks display together, but with him away in Scotland – and with Covid restrictions still in place – this was not going to be possible. Inspired by his thoughtfulness in previous years, I spent hours in Minecraft working out how to craft all the different types of firework rocket and setting up a (very rudimentary) redstone fireworks display. We logged in and, as the Minecraft sun set, we were able to watch the fireworks together as we always did.
This isn’t something unique to me, either: the game has been used for people all over the world to stay connected during what was perhaps the most isolating time of all of our lives. For just one other of many examples, The Warren Project ran a Minecraft server to connect young people during lockdown, helping them maintain friendships, and make new ones, from afar.
At some of my loneliest moments, Minecraft has helped me connect and share experiences, proving that games can be vital in the fight against loneliness.