In many countries, websites, social media and blogs are controlled by oppressive leaders. Young people, in particular, are forced to grow up in systems where their opinion is heavily manipulated by governmental disinformation campaigns.
But even where almost all media is blocked or controlled, the world’s most successful computer game is still accessible. Reporters Without Borders (RSF) uses this loophole to bypass internet censorship to bring back the truth – within Minecraft.
In line with Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which recognizes that information is a fundamental right regardless of borders, Reporters Without Borders upholds a mission that is crucial in the ever-consistent fight against authoritarianism and oligarchy. News and information is increasingly difficult to parse in our high-tech age, especially for those with limited access to the training required to pick apart the truth from the headlines. With even reputable news organizations making mistakes or outright leaning into bias, and with the figureheads of many governments considered unreliable sources of information, projects like this are more important than ever.
Saudi Arabia, Russia, Vietnam, Mexico, Egypt — all countries with repressive anti-democratic systems currently restricting access to free information. Even in supposedly democratic countries like the United States, the risk of censorship is not alien. Vigilance against information censorship is one of the most vital aspects of a functional democracy, and a functional society in general.
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The Uncensored Library was built by the company BlockWorks as a massive open-world information-sharing. When contacted by Reporters Without Borders, the BlockWorks team took delight in the idea of building a platform for democratic information sharing. Their work has helped offer a new medium through which censored information can not only make it through many of the barriers imposed by authoritarians, but can be interacted within an immersive and novel fashion.
“We need to defend press freedom every day.” - Hatice Cengiz, fiancée of Jamal Khashoggi
It took 24 builders from 16 different countries over 250 hours to design and create the library, which is composed of over 12.5 million blocks. With a main dome nearly 300 meters wide, this would be the second-largest such existing dome if rebuilt in the real world.
“The Uncensored Library is a bold use of Minecraft. It really encapsulates everything that is great about this game and the community it has created.” — James Delaney, Managing Director BlockWorks, Architect of the Uncensored Library
The neoclassical architectural design style was chosen because it is often incorporated in public buildings around the world as a representation of high culture, democratic principles, and historical integrity.
Originally, censored articles from five different countries and various journalist got republished in Minecraft books. These include articles from Mexican journalist and author Javier Valdez. Founder of the newspaper Riodoce, a weekly dedicated to crime and corruption in Sinaloa, one of Mexico’s most violent states, he was gunned down on May 23, 2017 at the age of fifty. His work lives on.
Also included are articles from grani.ru, where editor in chief Yulia Berezovskaia helped promote articles about protest activities, politically motivated trials and civil society activism. Cut off by Russia in 2014, these articles are now available in The Uncensored Library.
Articles by Jamal Khashoggi, who was killed in 2018 after a lifetime of critical responses to the horrific human rights violations committed by Mohammad bin Salman. His murder still has not been appropriately responded to by the United States government, but his work lives on.
Divided into six sections, the library offers a way to access the articles of five prominent journalists and news sources, as well as the work of Reporters Without Borders itself. Each of the five journalist sections features a pedestal on which a book is placed that showcases the current state of government censorship in that country. This includes that country’s rank on the World Press Freedom Index, a valuable tool for seeing how poorly so many of these countries treat those who value truth.
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These five archives explore the life and work of the journalists who contributed material (or whose work was contributed posthumously). But this is more than a place to read their work, it’s a place that lends to the experience of their work through clever architectural choices, building upon the wonderful interactivity of Minecraft to create a unique and immersive experience. The Vietnamese archive, for instance, features a twisting maze that players must walk in order to reach the knowledge at the center — a visceral representation of how hard it is for ordinary citizens to gain access to uncensored information.