InsightOut: Project Build SMC – to virtually walk through St. Mike’s campus from anywhere in the world

David Rubenstein graduated with an Honours Bachelor of Science with High Distinction in Biochemistry and Physiology. With aspirations to join the medical vocation, he has been accepted into the LMP MSc program for 2022.

“SMC is home” is a phrase that is often heard being used by visitors to the grounds of SMC/halls of Brennan, for those fortunate nesters who have lived in residence, and those flocks of commuters that travel long and far just to hang out in the COOP. 

For me, “SMC is Home” holds meaning because this has been an important place that has aided my growth into the person that I am today. It has been my stepping stone in my academic career, It has been my nest, the place where I have met many friends, faced challenges, and accomplished many feats. 

Build SMC club members found community online
Build SMC club members found community online

One of the achievements I am most proud of is the creation of a Minecraft club during the beginning of the pandemic that worked towards fostering community through a collaborative project of recreating a virtual 1-to-1 scale of our St. Mike’s Campus on our public server. 

To give a little background about how this all came about: it all started when I lived in the residence buildings during my first two years of undergrad, between 2018 to 2020 — the pandemic year. 

During my first year, I was a proud and engaging member of Mallon House located on Elmsley Second. The Mallon boys had a strong community thanks to our valiant leader and Don Big Mike. But as second year came around, community was a little bit harder to come by for me. 

Build SMC logo

My dorm room during second year was located in the north wing of Sorbara First, which was uniquely designed to have a walkway in between the north and south wings such that they were not physically connected. This most definitely made connecting with my brothers in the south more difficult, but it also turned our wing into a nice secluded little patch of paradise with very little foot traffic. A perfect location to ride out the self-isolation during the Covid-19 pandemic in March 2020. But even before this, it would also get a bit lonely sometimes to be so close yet so far away from the rest of the floor. 

In September 2019, I was elected president of the Sorbara First House Council, and for one of my first initiatives, I helped to establish and promote multiplayer video and board game nights as an attempt to strengthen the community within our floor and with our sister floor (Sorbara Fourth, Wall House?  – I forgot the house name sorry). We played games like Scribblio, Codenames, AmongUs, and my personal favorite: Minecraft. 

Minecraft depiction of St. Basil's church and Odette Hall
St. Basil’s church and Odette Hall

For those who are unfamiliar, Minecraft is a video game where players can make or break apart various kinds of blocks in a three-dimensional world. With a distinctly simple yet chunky aesthetic, this game offers two game modes: Survival- where players collect food and resources to explore and survive the world and its many dangers. And Creative- a sandbox mode where players are given all resources and are free to create anything they want to. 

Minecraft also offers multiplayer access, so players can interact on the same world or server and complete tasks together. This was a perfect platform for us because a good chunk of my generation had grown up playing Minecraft, you could hop on any time and just have fun.

With my friend Jake Lunn’s help, we created the Sorbara First server and invited everyone to play on. Throughout the school year, we would all sit around in the common room or in someone’s dorm room and build our dream houses, go on epic quests, do harmless pranks on each other and just have fun. (shout out to the madlads: Borair, Sam, Kamil, Cedric, Vansh, and Jake). But then as March of 2020 came creeping in, so did the self-isolation protocols. While our in-person gathering came to a halt, we continued to use the digital worlds of video games like Minecraft to socialize and play together. 

An arial view of St. Mike's campus in Minecraft
An arial view of St. Mike’s campus in Minecraft

One night, as I sat staring boredly at the walls of my 11’ x 14’ room (yes, I had reached a point of boredom where I decided to measure the dimensions of my dorm using just a pencil and a 12’ ruler) I decided that it would be fun to recreate my dorm room in our minecraft server as a way to remember where I spent self-isolation during these difficult times. My fellow Sorbara minecrafters loved the idea! And joined me on this personal project and built their rooms as well as it was a fun and unique activity. 

We let our creativity soar high and wide, and what started out from just building rooms, extended to building our entire floor, and eventually to the entirety of Sorbara Hall. It was at this moment that I proposed an idea. What if we built our entire UofT campus? 

Of course I was being extremely ambitious, but this question led me and a small group of friends (Keanu, Gordon, Matthew, and Mateo) to create a new SMC club in the summer of 2020 called: BuildSMC. Our goal was simple: to foster community and work on this project of building our St. Mike’s campus in Minecraft. 

We created a club Minecraft server free to join for any SMC or UofT student and worked on this project all summer. By September 2020, we had already built all of Sorbara Hall, every historic house on Elmsley way, and had laid down the foundations for Brennan Hall, Elmsley Hall, the Queens park buildings, and Kelly Library.  

Brennan Hall layout as depicted in Minecraft
Brennan Hall layout

Because Minecraft blocks use the metric system and have been designed to be one cubic meter, we decided to create as accurate a model of our campus as possible. For measurements, we used various online tools to aid our build. Such as using Google Maps features like Measure Distance to determine the dimensions of buildings, locations, parks, and the Google Streetview feature to look at building exterior designs. For building interiors, we used apps like FindMyClassroom, old SMC floor plans that were accessible from the library, and the emergency exit displays that can be found in almost every building. Naturally, we also took creative liberties with spaces that we could not see using any of these methods. 

For the actual building process, every block that is on the server has been placed either manually, or generated en masse using commands and game mods like worldedit. We had dedicated building times at least once a week where we would hop on a call on Discord and work on the build project together. 

Looking back, it has been well over two years since the initiation of the project and the establishment of the club. I am proud to say that since the start of 2022, we have now built (almost) every SMC road and structure, and have started working on phase II of our project: building all of UofT. We have already laid down the entire roadway network of the St. George campus — every major car road between Bloor, College, Bay and Spadina. (You can literally walk on our campus recreation through the virtual world!) But aside from these accomplishments, I am most proud of the little community that has been created simply through the mutual love, curiosity and creativity that we all share for Minecraft. 

At this time, most of us who were involved have now moved on to different things, especially as we graduate. The project is currently waiting on our server for the next generation to pick it up and continue it to the next stages of its development. So please! If you are interested feel free to reach out to me!

But I must say, as I had returned to St. Mike’s with my family by my side on convocation day – to walk across that podium with the degree that I worked so hard over the last four years to earn and accept the recognition that I have been given. I can truly say, SMC is – and always will be – Home. 

It is thanks to St. Michael’s Annual Fund and Leadership donors that our students can work on student driven projects like Project Build SMC.  The Annual Fund supports the maintenance of student spaces, library and computer network resources and other student services to enhance life on campus.

Read other InsightOut posts.