President Tubbo looked out over the L’Manberg grassy hills on the morning of Doomsday War. TommyInnit, his second-in command, sat beside him on a bench and nodded stoically. TommyInnit paused and said, “Listen.” “I knew you had to exile my.”
TommyInnit, Tubbo and their Lego-like avatars were demonstrating how they would handle tension in a Macchiavellian political drama that had been unfolding over the past year in Minecraft. Over 1 million people watched the live stream last week. TommyInnit claimed they would forget the past and he was not mad anymore. L’Manberg’s future was in danger. TommyInnit stated, “It’s got me and you against Dream, just as it always has been.”
Dream is the owner and operator of Dream SMP, the virtual world created by dozens of characters. These characters navigate intrigue and betrayal and create stories and arcs that are more unpredictable than reality television. Video games are not just pop culture. They are also the basis for its creation. A new theatrical tradition emerged from that knowledge-gunky, psychedelic, stupid and random in the “lol so randOm” way that only the internet can be. Many of the most popular online games have been made into stages for live theater that can be broadcast to millions via Twitch or YouTube.
This includes Minecraft, which is part game and part digital playground. It’s as if the imaginations that kids create around their Lego sets could be made manifest and infinitely adaptable. Blocks and blocks of colored terrain can be used to create perfect replicas of the Spirited Away universe, or Game of Thrones’ King’s Landing. While building is the base skill, there is also a Survival mode in which players can gather items, craft tools and fight other creatures.
Dream SMP is exactly that: A survival multiplayer server for Dream players, where top Minecraft stars have created an ongoing narrative over many hours of livestreaming. Twitch allows each participant to stream live on their channel, allowing them to share their perspectives with their millions of subscribers. Their fans have created Thucydidean wikis that describe each conflict: the BT period (Before TommyInnit), controversial election between the So We Are Gamers and Politicians of Gaming parties, and the Second Pet War right up to Doomsday.
“Stories are often told in a more traditional manner in TV, movies, and musicals. Quackity, Dream SMP’s Dream SMP’s Dreamer, says that what happens here is extraordinary. “Making Minecraft is a game that allows people to mine and gather resources. This is what Minecraft means to a lot people. We have legitimized the idea that video games can be used to tell interesting stories.
Dream SMP offers a small, exclusive writers room. It can be found on Discord. The storyline’s characters meet secretly in voice channels to discuss the main plot points, such as an election or a new building. Written declarations of war (“Sometimes it just gotta kill some people sometimes, yaknow – Sun Tzu”) or military strategy. Things can quickly go off track once the livestreams start. This is often the case. Quackity recalls waiting at a podium to hear the results of Dream SMP’s presidential election. GeorgeNotFound was not there to be his SWAG2020 running mate. He actually slept through the event.
“We joke about it. Quackity says that GeorgeNotFound is the reason for all of the Dream SMP lore. Quackity, who had been abandoned, formed SchWAG2020 with Jschlatt, a drunken insurrectionist. They won with 46 percent of popular vote, compared to POG2020’s 46%.
Online role-playing is as old as online video gaming itself. In the 1990s, role-play multiuser dungeons (RPMUDs) established rules of engagement and created elaborate storylines using elaborate, text-based characters. Early online role-playing games were massively multiplayer. Players would abandon the plot in favor of leveraging avatars’ fashions and emotes to create communal storytelling. Twitch and YouTube, live video platforms, have transformed private role-playing games into entertainment and business. It is an art form that has evolved into a bonafide viewing experience, and a culture machine. It is closer to live theater than Tyler Blevins’ Fortnite trick shots.
Minecraft SMP doesn’t have to be the new standard for performance. It is just one part of a renaissance. Grand Theft Auto 5 is an open-world action game where gamers can play a variety of characters. They move their avatars and vehicles around a large city map. In 2019, viewers watched 17 million hours of GTA-style role-playing in just seven days, which was its peak time of popularity. A server managed by Offline TV, a Twitch streamer collective, has become reality TV in the 2013 multiplayer survival-shooter Rust. Many top streamers created their personalities on the game, breaking up factions and stabbing one another with spears. The game attracted over a million viewers at its peak in January.
Games are art, and commodities are games. But they can also be artistic media. If you choose to use them in this manner, games are the sum and substance of their mechanics as well as their aesthetics. It’s like the underbelly or set of a Broadway show. Because of the many references to the musical, some fans refer to Dream SMP as “Minecraft Hamilton”. And that’s why liveness is important. The spectator sport is analyzing how players work together to create narratives. Even in a slow and creative game like Minecraft the artists can see limitations where others don’t.
“We have legitimized that video games can tell very interesting stories.”
These qualities make Dream the greatest Minecraft player ever, according to YouTube videos with 16 million subscribers. Dream holds world records in Minecraft Survival mode speedruns. In these, he uses his knowledge of Minecraft to mine materials and craft items and beats the Ender Dragon, which is the largest natural monster in Minecraft. He took a few seconds longer to name his sword “penis” in one speedrun. However, some of Dream’s speedruns have been disputed and he denies any cheating. His Minecraft Manhunt YouTube channel, in which he raced against the clock to kill an Ender Dragon with one life, was a huge success. His friends were hot on his heels, pursuing him with traps and weapons to stop him. The stream is his theater, and the game is his art.
Dream SMP has had its own moments of high drama thanks to his knowledge of Minecraft’s mechanics. There is a “Disc Saga”, a continuing story about the quest to own two rare records. TommyInnit once hidden his discs under a mountain. This was live on stream, but not from a camera so there was no visual record. Dream began to search the mountain for the discs, but instead he turned to sound and analyzed the footfalls of his rival. He captured the discs in a similar fashion.
The internet is a stage. Video game theater’s huge popularity is due in part to its accessibility as online entertainment. The internet is the ocean everyone is swimming in-viewers and performers, critics and everyone in between. The performance is scattered across Twitch and its archived YouTube videos, streamers’ Instagrams (where it flexes), and their Twitters (where he or she whines). The stage appears flat because it has no pit. Dream has never shown his face. His Minecraft friends know that he is a Minecraft elemental and are all enjoying the same tides.
The battle for L’Manberg raged on Doomsday. Blocky avatars with swords bounced around the district’s crumbling terrain. Tubbo suddenly yelled, “What?” He saw flames clouding his vision. Streams of explosives fell; Dream had hiddenly placed TNT machines in the skies before the battle. L’Manberg’s bricks were purged out of existence. It was now a crater.