Some governments monitor and regulate what information its citizens can access, while citizens fight against censorship using tools like the internet and Blockchain. A project has appeared to aid in this fight, using the most unlikely of tools: a video game. Trust me, you’ll want to read this…
The Birth of Information
We live in The Information Age. Computers and networks from all over the world exchange information every second of every day, all thanks to the internet. If you went back in time, it would be nearly impossible to explain it as anything but magic. So, who’s the original magician?
J.C.R. Licklider, the father of the internet. Thanks dad!
MIT graduate J.C.R. Licklider is considered the one who first conceived the idea for the World Wide Web. He laid out concepts in his ‘Galactic Network’ memos in 1962, which described a system of interconnected computers all around the world that would allow anyone to quickly access data and information from any address provided. Sound familiar to you?
In that same year, Licklider was appointed the first Head of Computer Research at DARPA . There, he collaborated with other on the theory of ARPANET . It didn’t take long for that concept to become a reality, one that would eventually evolve into the internet we know today.
The internet is built on one main idea: Open Architecture Networking, with the key word here being open. It laid the groundwork for Satoshi Nakamoto to give the world Bitcoin in 2009, causing a renaissance in censorship resistance through Blockchains. While the internet and Blockchains continue to free the masses from censorship, some governments have been hard at work to limit the power of these tools.
The Shepherds of Censorship
So, with the internet and Blockchains around, what’s a corrupt government to do? You can’t have all information freely accessible to everyone. Why, this would surely lead to a plague of free thinking amongst your citizenry! The answer? Simple. Centralize the internet, allowing you to control the information your people receive by selectively choosing what supports your goals and what doesn’t.
Governments like North Korea, China, Russia, and Saudi Arabia have proven themselves to be masters in the art of control through information censorship. While each use their own tactics to determine what its people can actually access, all remain concretely in control of the internet.
The king of censorship North Korean leader Kim Jung Un. I’ve heard Kimmy can talk to dolphins and doesn’t poop. Both sound legit to me…
North Korea is probably the most extreme when it comes to censorship. Its citizens often have no knowledge of what is truly going on in the world around them. I have seen personal vlog accounts of people visiting the insular Asian nation, which is only permitted through certain authorized travel agencies. You’re literally told what you can and cannot photograph, what you can say, and even where you can go. The North Korean authorities even locked a vlogger’s tour group inside their hotel at certain hours every day! Talk about oppressive!
Unfortunately, censorship has allowed the government to convince many citizens that Kim Jung Un is a great leader. And while Kim tells an untold amount of lies to his people, including that he is a living god, I do think my favorite absurd story I have heard is that Kim Jung Un played golf for the first time and proceeded to shoot an 18. As in, 18 holes, 18 hole-in-ones.
It definitely threw me off guard. Why would anyone in his country even care if he was good at golf? Oh right, a god. Absolutely ridiculous! Anyway, as North Korea dishes out censorship in its own way, Saudi Arabia caught global attention with an extreme example of its own in recent years.
The Desert of Lies
Saudi Arabia became the center of discussion for brutal censorship tactics back in 2018 when Jamal Khashoggi, a US-based journalist who was a vocal critic of Saudi Arabia’s government, was murdered after entering a consulate in Istanbul. The world watched as the Saudi government repeatedly denied any wrongdoing while an evolving narrative of foul play emerged out of the ensuing investigations. Khashoggi was seen entering the consulate via a security camera feed, but there is no record of him leaving.
Jamal Khashoggi walking into the Consulate
This fatal visit to uncover a major story resulted in Khashoggi never being seen or heard from again. The generally accepted narrative is that Khashoggi was murdered by the Saudi government, which I myself believe. Naturally, this is something the government repeatedly denies, claiming that he had been killed in a fight. Yeah, sure…
This tragic story shows the lengths some governments will go to silence dissenters. In fact, censorship in Saudi Arabia infects almost all forms of entertainment as well— only approved books, movies, games and television programs are circulated to the public. People caught with banned materials often face fines, imprisonment, or worse. These censorship controls are put in place through various means, but largely revolve around controlling information available via the Internet.
But not all hope is lost, as a group of reporters known as Reporters Without Borders are fighting back in a very unique way.
Sticking it to censorship since 1985. Keep fighting the good fight!
Information Freedom Fighters
Reporters Without Borders, was founded in 1985 by four reporters out of Montpelier, France. It has grown to become the current world authority in promoting and defending the right to report and access information. The organization monitors for violations regarding freedom of the press all over the world. Their primary approach is to expose these transgressions to other countries in order to garner support to scupper censorship.
However, in more recent times, they have taken part in a particularly unique project that hopes to honor those lost in stopping censorship and continue that fight in a new and inventive way. Believe it or not, Reporters Without Borders are leveraging, of all things, the highly-acclaimed game Minecraft as a major tool in bringing uncensored news and information to the people who need it most.
One of the most popular games of all time. And now a source for truth?
The Unseen Tool
Created within a seemingly basic, but hugely popular game, is a server (or World, depending on your Minecraft vocabulary) known as The Uncensored Library . The library, which went live in March of 2020, was built by BlockWorks , DDB Berlin , and MediaMonks as a way to continue the mission of anti-censorship and honor the journalists Jamal Khashoggi, Yulia Berezovskaia, Nguyen Van Dai, Javier Valdez, and Mada Masr.
The library provides uncensored articles and news from Mexico, Russia, Vietnam, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt. The library itself is divided up into 5 different areas, each of which is devoted to a select country honoring the journalists. These sections let anyone with access to the game read news and articles that would otherwise be censored and unavailable to them.
All the stories and articles are translated into English as well as the native language of the country or countries concerned. All information is transcribed into books that anyone can read hidden within Minecraft’s book assets, right under the noses of the very governments that approved the game. Amazing!
The Uncensored Library— it’s beautiful, and HUGE
Ironically, while these governments focus on controlling which websites and ideas are allowed, the ingenious plan to utilize Minecraft has seemingly slipped through the cracks. It also shows that every video game approved by these governments has the potential to be used in much the same way.
In time, The Uncensored Library could even prove to be the Trojan Horse that fuels the fight against censorship in many countries. I hope that there are thousands of offline copies of the library in these nations, because if this is true, it would prove very difficult for anyone to take this access away. Now, that really does sound familiar…
So after reading all about The Uncensored Library, why it was created and how it uses a video game as a way to honor people and spread decentralized information, I just knew I had to see this place for myself. And that’s exactly what I did…
My Journey to The Uncensored Library
At the The Uncensored Library website, I downloaded a map file and followed the instructions on how to import the library file into my saved worlds offline (located lower down the page). I then started up the Java version of Minecraft and headed in. I was placed on a walkway leading up to the library entrance. I quickly realized my settings needed to be pushed harder to fully appreciate the scope of this place. So the first thing I can say is— this place is huge. And completely stunning.
Pretty darn awesome if you ask me!
Before I entered the library, I wanted to briefly explore the external environment. As it so happens, this turned out to be good decision. Opposite the main entrance stood an impressive statue of a fist clenching the mighty pen, a fitting tribute to dedicated independent journalists.
Seems like a solid statement right there
I then decided to turn around and head back to the entrance. Upon entering the library, I came across an even more impressive sight— The Main Hall, which boasted an amazing concave dome covered in glass emblazoned with a map of the globe bordered by the library’s name.
The view you get just walking into this place. It’s insane to think how long this would have taken to build!
While walking on the glass, I noticed giant sculptures of books at all corners. Passing one, I ambled down the closest hallway as the surroundings became more and more awe-inspiring. As each block loaded in the distance, new structures and unique ornate designs built into the floors, walls and ceiling were revealed. It’s nothing short of a truly great monument to freedom of speech even without its hidden troves of information.
Heading down the hallway, I reached a room with tentacles protruding out of what I assumed was the floor. After actually entering the room, I soon realized the tentacles belonged to a massive model of a Kraken and that the floor was actually water.
Release the Kraken! …Anybody?
After climbing out of the water (that I totally didn’t fall into), I saw what looked like a shrine on the other side of the room. Which was wall-to-wall bookshelves that went up three levels. I headed over to the shrine and discovered two book alters, one for English and the other for Russian. I then noticed that this was written in huge letters on the wall directly opposite me.
The Kraken makes more sense now…
I accessed the book and viewed page after page of basic text that had been transcribed from the author Yulia Berezovskaia, who is credited at this shrine. After a while I closed up the book and proceeded to peruse every section one by one. Each was unique in its own way and credited one of the authors honored by the library. Moreover, each respective section is full of censored material that is freely available to Minecraft across the world.
I had officially made my pilgrimage and paid my respects. I had the privilege of experiencing an amazing initiative that uses a game to hide uncensored information, and I can say with full confidence that The Uncensored Library is definitely worth the trip.
The other remaining areas…still can’t believe how much time this would have taken. So many distinct messages in each room
The pictures don’t do justice to the library, and I encourage those of you who have Minecraft (and even those of you who don’t) to visit and see for yourself. The sheer scale, work, and care that went into honoring each journalist is beyond comprehension. This digital landmark opens up all-new potential to use games as an effective tool to combat censorship. The Uncensored Library is truly something to behold!