Truth finds a way: Minecraft’s Uncensored Library, a loophole for censored journalism in oppressed countries

Truth finds a way: Minecraft’s Uncensored Library, a loophole for censored journalism in oppressed countries

Getting banned information in front of people who need it most

CultureMarch 26, 2020 By Will Brendza

“In a time of deceit telling the truth is a revolutionary act.” — George Orwell

Freedom of the press and freedom of speech are “God-given rights” here in the US that we tend to take for granted. The Truth is not often an easy thing to come by in other parts of the world — particularly when it deals with corrupt government institutions, massive criminal organizations or powerful individuals.

Entities such as these tend to have a black hole effect on information: The Truth gets twisted, bent and stretched around them, and sometimes swallowed up completely. And when people’s sense of Truth gets warped like that, so too does their sense of reality and their understanding of their place in the world.

But good journalism anchors people in The Truth. It fixes information in place and often exposes injustices, oppression, abuse of power and corruption by doing so. It gives people a clear window through which to view their own reality, without the self-serving influence of corporations, politicians, criminals or dictators bending that perception to suit their own ends.

That’s incredibly important. And it’s why Reporters Without Borders, Blockworks, DDB Germany and MediaMonks teamed up to build something called the “Uncensored Library” in Minecraft — a massive (and beautiful) virtual building that contains censored and banned journalism from five different countries around the world.

Images courtesy of The Uncensored Library.

Yes, Minecraft, as in the video game. The one where 145 million active world-wide users explore an open map, collect resources, build things, mine things, and can even read things. Someone at DDB Germany saw that as an opportunity. If they could build a library and fill it with banned and censored content, they could circumvent its prohibition; they could get important information into the hands of people who need it most.

Minecraft represented an open loophole to bypass internet censorship, and they made no delay in taking advantage of it.

“We first selected the countries because we wanted to make sure that each of them has a big Minecraft community so that we actually reach people and don't just create something that nobody accesses,” says Kristin Brässe, the campaign manager for the Uncensored Library.

So, they decided on five specific countries: Russia, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Vietnam and Mexico; places where journalists are persecuted and their work is often buried, censored or banned outright.

“For the journalists, we wanted to make sure that no one who is included is being put into danger,” Brässe says. For Russian and Vietnamese content they decided only to feature exiled journalists like Nguyen Van Dai and editors like Yulia Berezovskaia. And for the Egyptian articles, they left journalists completely anonymous.

“It would have been too dangerous to even mention their names,” Brässe says.

The topics that these journalists cover range from revolution, to freedom of speech, abusive leadership and the drug war. The ideas they present are profound and eye-opening; they lay the world open and present The Truth in its bare and ugliest form: it’s most essential form: unadulterated: unsullied by the powers that be.

That’s a dangerous thing for the Status Quo. And it’s why these journalists are targeted, exiled and in some cases even killed (just look at what the House of Saud did to Jamal Kashoggi last year). It’s why their work is suppressed — to keep their Truths from enlightening others.

Now though, anyone living in any of these five countries (or anywhere in the world) can access this Temple of Truth, just by visiting the Uncensored Library’s website, or by downloading the map and checking it out from your own Minecraft account. Wander the unique and artistically crafted rooms. Read banned articles, learn about the struggles of people under repressive regimes and marvel at the incredible building it’s all encapsulated within.

Which, for anyone who has played Minecraft, is a feat of architecture in and of itself. The building blocks of Minecraft are just one square meter apiece and each must be placed individually. This massive virtual library is comprised of 12.5 million blocks, and took 24 builders (from 16 different countries) over three months to complete. The main chamber of the Uncensored Library is 300 meters wide (almost 1,000 feet) — which, if this were a real building, would be the second largest dome in the world.

Images courtesy of The Uncensored Library.

The builders made the library in a “neo-classical” architecture style. Drawing heavily from Greek and Roman architecture, the library is meant to physically represent culture and knowledge. Each room is dedicated to censored or banned journalism from a specific country, and each has been artistically designed to represent the struggle for Truth being fought in each.

For example, the Russian room has a massive Kraken at its center, to represent the Russian government’s extensive internet censorship program. The Egyptian room has a massive balance and scale at its center, to represent the injustices that journalists face. The Vietnamese room features the “Labyrinth of Truth” which embodies the impossible struggle that the Vietnamese must people go through in order to get uncensored information. 

Images courtesy of The Uncensored Library.

The ultimate goal of all this, is to put important banned journalistic content, in front of young people (young Minecraft gamers, specifically). To open their minds and eyes to what’s happening in their own countries and around the world, and maybe, hopefully stimulate some kind of change. And, it seems clear from the amount of traction the Uncensored Library has already drawn, that people are excited to get in and use it.

“We already have over 20,000 visitors in the library and around 30,000 downloads,” Brässe tells me.

Which says a lot. People want access to uncensored information, and if there’s a virtual library where they can go and get their eyes and minds on it, they will. Truth finds a way — and this time, that way was through a blocky online video game.

Images courtesy of The Uncensored Library.