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Outside the Box

Written by Molly Gase

Outside the Box

Within Minecraft’s virtual worlds, gamers leap from height to height without fear.

Michael looks down to the boxy earth below, planning the next move as he nears the finish line. With an audible intake of breath, he jumps. Landing safely on the next cube, Michael exhales and turns to look for his challengers. An opponent charges from behind. Jack reaches Michael and sends him to the ground with a punch. Across the way, Gavin misjudges the distance and plummets. Ray darts past him only to be thrown from the sky by Ryan. Over and over, they plunge to the distant ground. Over and over, they return to the starting line.

Michael and friends don’t have the nine lives of a cat, but in Minecraft’s open-world gameplay, their namesake characters re-spawn infinitely. Using a creative mode and a survival mode, players can create whatever they imagine, block by block. Rooster Teeth, an influential online gaming community, manages a prolific YouTube channel with approximately 5 million subscribers dedicated to building and playing Minecraft worlds. From behind their controllers, the Rooster Teeth guys build cities, play elaborate practical jokes on each other, and even mimick the reality TV show Wipeout — all in Minecraft. Using the creative features granted by the game, they live vicariously, pushing their pixelated bodies to run, leap, and re-spawn.

Rooster Teeth employees Jack Pattillo and Geoff Ramsey created “Achievement Hunter” in 2008 as a core component to the main website, in which they create gaming videos that highlight both how to create and how to play a variety of worlds. Through humorous dialogue and a constant death reel, the players challenge each other to leap across blocks in the sky, completing moves they could never do themselves. “Parkour is very cool. When I see dudes jump from rooftop to rooftop, I would love to be able to do that, and I will never attempt that,” says Ramsey. “But I can make it in Minecraft and do it all day long. And as soon as I get bored with it, I will just build a new course.”

Pattillo, 31, and Ramsey, 37, admit they’re unlikely to practice parkour in real life. However, both found inspiration to create places that test limits in the virtual world after playing the parkour-based game Mirror’s Edge. Available on PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, or PC, the game presents a cityscape of challenges for a runner to master. “When Mirror’s Edge came out it was kind of a big change because 99 percent of games you see you’re killing something, you’re swinging a sword, or shooting a gun,” says Pattillo. “And the idea that you’re playing a game where you’re running and jumping as your primary tools, that’s pretty cool. To see that transfer over to Minecraft has been a lot of fun for us.”

Though creation and exploration make up a large part of what “Achievement Hunters” does, the spirit of competition has a special place in their Minecraft “Let’s Play” videos. Courses may be born from creativity, but they exist to be conquered. Racing through the route, players knock each other to the distant ground, ruthless for a victory. “People don’t usually punch each other in the face when they’re doing parkour, at least not in my experience,” says Ramsey. “So there’s that element where guys are racing, but also fighting.”\

Ramsey took concepts from Mirror’s Edge and applied them to Minecraft to create a course suspended in the sky. The resulting video, appropriately named “Clouds,” has more than 1.8 million views on YouTube. “It’s a lot of fun to sit there and try to figure out how somebody will navigate the terrain you’re creating,” says Ramsey.