The Vault is a hidden server he and some friends are putting together to preserve the bases and structures they find or create in 2b2t, before they are summarily destroyed. They download entire areas of the server and copy them to the Vault, fulfilling the role of archivists – a role you wouldn’t normally expect on such a notorious server. He has also made a map of the server’s wastelands to “share the history of spawn” and provide some basic help to new players, to help them escape spawn and “join the rest of us.” By the end of our trip together I would come to think of James as an archaeologist of sorts. One of a small group of players who fights to save the creations of 2b2t, not destroy them. Although he admits he has done plenty of marauding in his time.
“I suppose when I joined I may have ‘rekt’ two or three [bases]. But I don’t really get any satisfaction from doing it. I’d rather build something with people, something big and impressive. I’m not really a fan of just going around destroying things. Oh! Here’s a sight.”
James has spotted something as we are running along the Nether Highway. On the wall to one side there is an ISIS flag.
“There’s a tunnel here somewhere we have to take and for the life of me I can’t figure out where.”
He peers around at the wall, he looks at the ISIS banner.
“Oh,” he says, “it’s behind the flag.”
We burrow our way into the hidden tunnel with our bare hands. The tunnel is claustrophobic and jagged. It starts to move diagonally. Holes appear at our feet, with lava far below, and we have to plug the gaps with stone. Eventually we find another portal, leading back to the Overworld.
“All right,” says James, stepping into the purple light. “We are either going to come out and see a base. Or we’re going to come out and someone has put lava all over the portal.”
He disappears. I wait to see what he says.
“No, it’s good,” he reports. “No death today.”
I pop out at the other side and hear myself exclaim: “Trees!” We walk for a while and see a huge castle looming in the background, on the shore of a lake. Watermelon and pumpkin is growing in fields next to some buildings. Compared to where we have been, this place is paradise.
There are some signs of wreckage, however. The domes of the castle are demolished. But the walls are still there and there’s even glass in some of the windows. It’s been a year since James was last here, he says. He came to download it, part of his preservation efforts.
“It’s fairly intact,” he says. “I’m quite surprised really”
He shows me a huge monument, in the shape of a flame. He asks me if I notice anything strange about it.
“Is it… gravel?”
I blink. In Minecraft, bedrock can’t be mined or placed. It is the one solid and immovable thing I understand about the world. But even this law of physics is shown no respect by the citizens of 2b2t. James tells me about a hacker called ‘popbob’, famous among the server’s regulars, who is responsible for much of the wackiness perpetrated in the land. He is the one who comes up with the exploits, scouring Minecraft’s code for oddities. Some of these exploits are bizarre.
“There’s a way to find people in Minecraft based on the sound of thunder,” says James. “Because thunder is only played near a player. So if you can determine by ‘listening’ to the server where thunder is being played, you know where people are. He [popbob] devised a way to actually capture these packets of information coming from a server… so if you can decipher this information, you’ll be able to know where everyone is. I’m just going to get some melons, because somebody hasn’t touched my melons.”
He wades into the melon patch, telling me more about popbob and offering me fruit. Later we will see a small bolthole, completely gutted, with a sign outside reading: “ruined by acid aka popbob”. Given that a major pastime of the players of 2b2t is making alternate accounts and posing as other players, there is no way of verifying this claim.
We head over to a sandstone pyramid. It is small but majestic in its own way, and notable for being almost entirely untouched.
“I can’t show you from here,” says James, “but below where we are there is nothing but anvils.”
“Someone has put, underground, about 600 anvils. Don’t ask me why.”
We find our way to a small passage, flooded with water. We go below and emerge in the tomb beneath the pyramid. James is right. The chamber is full of anvils. Hundreds of anvils. I feel like an Egyptologist being trolled by Tutankhamun.
“This hallway down here,” says James, pointing to a multicoloured corridor, “you can see where they used to keep the sheep. And they’ve coloured the whole wall based on the colour of each sheep.”
The animals themselves are long gone. The ruin is empty. It looks like nobody has been here in months. We climb out of the tomb and head back into the Nether. We start back towards the Highway. On the chat, some players are berating each other, issuing unimaginable bile about children and minorities. The server’s dark side is starting to reveal itself.
“I think that’s one of the things about 2b2t,” says James. “You tend to get desensitized to things that maybe would shock a ‘normal’ person, dare I say.”
Racist slurs are not the only thing earning the server its reputation, which James admits is deserved. Being killed by another player or coming home to a destroyed cabin is nothing compared to some of the abuse that can happen.
“Doxing is a real problem on 2b2t,” he says. “That’s one of the main reasons a lot of people don’t talk. Because if you’ve used your name anywhere on the internet they’ll find you, they’ll find your address, they’ll find your parent’s address. It’s not good. There’s only a select few people that do that, some of the old regulars, but at the minute they haven’t been on for a little while so that’s not much to worry about.”
Why does he think the server attracts that kind of person?
“I think because you can really let out your dark side on 2b2t. And if you’re smart and you log into an account that hasn’t been used and doesn’t link back to you in real life, you can get away with anything. There are some people on 2b2t that are infamous for abusing people. They’ll tell you to kill yourself, they’ll tell you to kill your family, to shoot up your school and all sorts. The stuff that’s said can really offend people. It’s essentially the /b/ board of 4chan if it was a videogame.”
We are approaching the Hub, the centre of the Nether Highway, where all roads spoke out. If we were going to die anywhere, says James, this would be it. Ahead of us a player is scrambling around. He sees us and scurries away like a cockroach, leaving behind some trashed blocks, part of a structure he was in the middle of destroying. A sign left in the Hub reads: “2b2t is a muslim server.”
“These kinds of signs are very normal.”
We continue on the road. There is another sign up ahead.
“wank stain,” it says.
“I think the funniest sign that I’ve ever seen,” says James, “I was probably about 20,000 blocks away from spawn. There was no sign of life, it was all untouched, natural terrain. I was pretty sure I was generating fresh terrain, I was that far out. And I find a sign and it says: ‘Nothing you ever do means anything’. Just… in the middle of nowhere.”
Along the Highway, James stops at some holes and fixes them up, so other players using the Highway won’t fall. It is a moment of community spirit I didn’t really expect.
“A lot of us are, though, community-minded,” he says. “2b2t got its name because you’ll find two opposite sides of the spectrum. You’ll find the people who want you dead and then you’ll have people like the guys that you base with.”
After a short run along the Highway, we find another portal and step through, back to the green and pleasant Overworld. This time I shout: “SNOW!”
We have come up in a winter biome. We cross the ice and cut through frozen woods until night falls. Finally, we see some lights ahead. On the crest of a hill I look down and see field after field of wheat.
“I found this maybe a year and a half ago,” says James.
It’s a big base and, despite the beautiful fields of wheat, it is in a state of severe disrepair. Partly, this is James’ fault. After all, he is the one who ‘rekt’ it, setting the wooden ceiling on fire and flooding the storage room – an act of vandalism he says he was manipulated into committing.
“When I found this farm, I thought it was one of my enemies, because he told me it was. So I destroyed the hell out of this farm, thinking that it was. Then he told me it wasn’t his, and the owner came on and was less than happy.”
Now, instead of destroying bases, James is engaged in trying to save them, relocating them to The Vault. An archive of 2b2t’s architectural history, restored and unaltered, right down to the dickbutts and Swastikas. One of the most common images we’ve seen on our trip is the flag of ISIS, a group known for destroying museums and historical sites. I can’t help but see a parallel. Except wrecking things appears to be part of 2b2t’s culture of anarchy. It hasn’t got the calculation of Daesh.
In the farm’s old storage room water flows through the ruined ceiling. There’s a noticeboard on the wall, full of signs, expressing thanks and gratitude. They all have datestamps, another small record of life on the server. One celebrates finally getting reeds, another says “got food :)” Above these decent messages of isolation and kinship, there’s a single sign that simply reads: “aids”.
“The community is its own worst enemy,” says James. “The history of 2b2t is also in bases that are destroyed. But they’re really nice, so we try and save some.”
You don’t think you’re fighting a losing battle?
“Not really. We’ve saved over 50 bases, over 50 bases we’ve got listed now.”
We amble around, looking into rooms and across the fields. The trickling of the flooded chamber almost makes it sound peaceful.
“It’s a lovely ruin,” I say.
“Thank you,” says James.
He laughs. We begin making our way out.
And then he adds: “Not that I’m proud.”