National Museum of Korea creates a virtual, children’s museum. (National Museum of Korea)
Over the Christmas holidays, seven Korean YouTubers gathered in a room to draw lots for a Secret Santa gift exchange. In another room, almost a hundred YouTubers posed together for a group picture. No one wore face masks. Or rather, their virtual, Lego-like avatars didn’t.
Under South Korea’s strict social distancing guidelines because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the YouTube community took their gatherings online on Minecraft – the most popular video game of all time.
Communities can create their own servers, or huge online worlds, that allows its users to build anything they want under the game’s creative mode -- from fancy castles to entire cities filled with towering, blocky skyscrapers.
”This really feels like a holiday since we are all gathered in one house,” said one of the YouTubers Yang Ji-young, who is better known by her channel name Yangdding.
YouTube Korea, which initially planned to hold an annual year-end meet-up event called Creator Town, decided to move the meeting online to a Minecraft server instead. Creator Town first kicked off in 2019 as an offline event in Busan.
“We thought that Minecraft was a suitable platform for the event because it allows multiple creators to gather in one space. Also, we can freely build customized maps within the game and prepare our own programs for creators to enjoy,” a YouTube Korea spokesperson told The Korea Herald.
Around 200 YouTubers participated in the meetup held from Dec. 18 to 20.
“Due to the virus, I haven’t been able to go out and attend meetups like this for almost a year. I thought this was a fun experience. I appreciate it,” said Sung Ji-hoon, also known as YouTuber Testerhoon.
“It was great that we could meet up with different content creators,” Yangdding said, adding that it was also nice to communicate with YouTube employees through the game.
Many YouTubers who participated in the event also filmed their experience and posted the virtual meetup on their channels, allowing their subscribers to join in on the fun.
“Wow, I was wondering what Creator Town looked like,” read one comment on an Acau Youtube video.
Twitch streamers gather at Twitch Castle created on Minecraft for a year-end party (Twitch)
Twitch Korea, a live streaming platform dominated by mostly gamers, also held a similar event on Dec. 26 with around 200 content creators, or what Twitch calls their “partners”.
“Every year we hold an annual party with our partners. Since it became impossible to hold an offline party this year, we prepared a Minecraft Twitch Castle instead,” a Twitch Korea spokesperson told The Korea Herald.
The server and the event were jointly organized with Sandbox Network, a YouTuber management startup.
Unique awards were given out to participants in the virtual party, which was live streamed by Twitch partners.
Twitch streamer Pungwolryang was announced as the winner of the popularity award for having more than 90 fellow streamers at the party as his followers. The viewers erupted in laughter when he appeared late to the award ceremony because he was too busy playing a treasure hunt game at the time.
Aside from Minecraft’s popularity as a game in Korea, it has also been used for educational purposes, mainly for young kids.
In December, the National Museum of Korea set up a Minecraft server for kids, allowing its participants to learn and experience Korean history and culture in a fun way through having to clear 10 missions online.
The virtual children’s museum comes at a time when museums around the country have been going back and forth between opening and shutting in response to the spread of COVID-19.
The museum said that it decided to make the game for kids who are spending a lot of time at home due to the pandemic.
Young kids learn about traditional culture through a Minecraft Gyeongbokgung Palace server created during the Royal Culture Festival (Royal Culture Festival)
Earlier, the Royal Culture Festival organizers had also opened a server to educate young people about Korean history and culture in October. The server provided kids with an opportunity to experience the different streets of Hanyang, or today’s Seoul, during the Joseon era. Players could also visit Gyeongbokgung Palace and try out the “gwageo” test, the highest-level state exam to hire ranking officials during the Joseon Dynasty.
“The museum’s game seems like an interesting way for kids to become familiar with Korean history. I know that there are schools and even churches abroad that are using Minecraft to hold assemblies and also classes,” said an elementary school teacher who wanted to be identified by her surname Kim. “I think it would be nice if we could also use the game for educational purposes in school.”
But not all are happy with letting their children experiment with new ways of learning.
“I get that it is educational, but it is still a computer game,” said Lee Ji-soo, a mother of two elementary school kids. “My kids already spend lots of time in front of the computer and smartphone, so I am not sure about letting my kids play with contents like that,” she said.
By Song Seung-hyun (firstname.lastname@example.org