How I Peaked
(in Minecraft)

Or, How I Finally Quit Video Games:
A Memoir, A Warning, A Saga

Part Two

I. The Resurrection

Only a few days after my ban, I got a sudden ping. It wasn’t possible. An anonymous benefactor had purchased a $20 ban appeal for me (Many months later I would find out that it had been Dev). I was so glad to be able to come back that I completely forgot my prior qualms with server “donations”, or the scummy “bribe me and I’ll unban you” system. I dropped everything, rushed back to the computer, and logged in the very second that they unbanned me. When I rejoined the server, it was like I had just survived a near-death experience. I had seen the other side (the real world) and was determined not to waste the precious (Minecraft) life I had just returned to from the brink. Rarely had I ever felt so invigorated, and with all this new energy I ached for an ambitious project to put it towards. This was it, I would finally bring us out of the rut in earnest. I would finally do all the things I had dreamed of, but never had the motivation to actually pull off. There was only one issue: what would my grand project be, my masterpiece?

The first thing I noticed when I returned was that the server had somehow become massively laggy. The main explanation seemed to be that there had been a minor version update during my brief absence that made some changes resulting in performance issues for many servers. The obvious solution was to upgrade the server’s hardware, something that probably should’ve been done anyway when the server jumped from having ~5 players online at a time to suddenly 30-40. But instead, nothing concrete seemed to have been done at all to reduce the lag, and I suspected it was due to the owner’s stinginess. Even though he brought in thousands thanks to technically-illegal “donations” (the overpowered donation perks he sold were against Minecraft’s EULA), he didn’t pay any of the server admins that did the majority of the development work to keep the server updated and add new features. I conjectured that this could also extend to the odd refusal to upgrade the server, even though it was rolling in players, and consequently dough as well.

So, what did the server staff do to try and alleviate the lag? All they did was write a post on the forums blaming Mojang for making certain blocks laggy in the update, and suggested that players use them less to reduce lag. This seems reasonable, but the whole suggestion became absurd because of the main block they asked players to use less of: chests. CHESTS. Possibly THE most ubiquitous block in the game. Nobody plays Minecraft without chests, since all of the other storage options have less than half the capacity and are situationally useful at best. It was an absolutely ridiculous proposition, but that is all we got from the staff in terms of lag reduction, trying to pass the buck to the players. They knew that they couldn’t actually enforce a ban on chests (like with a plugin that removes them) without a massive revolt, so they just made it a suggestion to make it seem like they were doing something.

When I first read the forum post, I immediately recognized its comedic potential, and used it as fodder for many jokes in chat about the lag upon my return. At one point, the lag ended up getting so bad that it actually crashed the server and booted everyone to the backup server. After the server came back up, I made the following innocuous quip:

[Karakorum] Baron Von profbananaslug: i am now accepting resumes for people who want to be part of the international chest inquisition, which will go around making sure people are not using too many chests

[Karakorum] Baron Von profbananaslug: we have calculated and exactly 1.68 chests per player is actually ideal

It was just supposed to be a one-off joke, but I realized there was enough there to take things further. A lot further. I promptly dropped what I was doing, rushed back to the base, and started designing the official banner of the International Chest Inquisition. I looked up how to make a chest design on a banner, and made one simple addition: a red diagonal line across the whole banner. Now we had a name, a mission, and a logo. The whole time in the global chat, players bantered and extended the joke, but little did the players joining the conversation know that they were contributing to a blueprint. Someone mentioned chest fines, of 500 gold to the power of however many chests over the limit players were, and in turn, I quickly wrote out a chest fine book that we could distribute to violators. Finally, I put the banner design on some shields, and gathered the rest of the crew in a voice chat to tell them what we were going to do.

II. ICI, in Theory and Practice

The original ICI inquisitor squad displays their brand-new shields right before heading out for the first time. Note the amount of chests in the picture

We gradually refined the main International Chest Inquisition (ICI) schtick over the course of those first days. We started out by seeing if the mayors (or other high-ranking members) of towns were on the server, and then we’d use the online server map to find their towns. There were many players who opted to create their own towns, and plus the mayors of towns were usually the most active members, so there was no shortage of potential targets. Then, we’d suit up in our best fighting gear, grab our ICI-pattern shields, and head out to conduct “chest inspections” at the towns we’d identified. When we arrived at the town, we’d announce ourselves as the International Chest Inquisition, tasked with reducing lag on the server by enforcing chest restrictions. We said all of this in global chat every time, and soon enough there was no need for explanations since everybody already knew (and dreaded) the ICI. Once our presence was sufficiently established, we’d proceed to go around the town, counting all the chests we could find. I actually did count chests using a tally counter I kept by my computer, but the chest limit I’d made up that first day (1.68 chests per player, which we rounded to 2 “in practice”) was so low that I didn’t try too hard to be precise. When done, I’d announce the chest count, and of course towns would almost always be in violation, so I’d hunt down the mayor and hand them the ICI fine book that explained they had to pay a chest fine. After that, if there was no pushback, we’d usually leave, and then depending on the reactions, come back whenever we felt like it to “collect the fine” or “conduct a re-inspection”.

The initial response on the server to ICI could at best be described as “mixed”, with the town mayors who had been resistant during chest inspections being the most negative. A description of the ICI, distributed to members of the server’s largest nation, Allegiant, and representing popular views of the ICI at the time, is as follows:

Hey guys! So many of you have probably heard about whats happening in Towny, with a group called The ICI. run by profbananaslug Their main goal is to limit the amount of chests that people have to limit the amount of lag on the server. They even went as far as to open a store in /warp Playershop selling different options besides chests, like shulker chests and barrels. They even have the motto 'The World is Our Chest.' Many people are against this, and aren't following the rules including our own president. 'The ICI are miserable trolls and their violent, detestable methods should be denounced by all. Their logic as backwards and immoral' states our president. The ICI kill innocent people and take their items, as stated by Taurie, who had two of her towns members killed. They come to towns and run inspections over how many chests you have. They call themselves 'UrbanMC's leading humanitarian organization. Another take on the ICI from our nations own Secretary of State, OcelotPrincess is 'ICI's cause isn't bad. I think it's a good cause that is meant to help the server experience for everyone. However, I think that their hostile tactics are what's tearing people apart. People are getting angry and reacting to their harassment, which is completely valid considering they are being violated in their own town. I think that there are plenty of ways to positively reform server lag. For example, Kanaloa is giving out shulkers and helping to limit chests within town. We strive to help condense the items in our town without having to harass or harm any of the 81 members.' Her statement provides much truth to the situation at hand. Despite that, there is much talk about war and treachery, even within our own nation. Our plans are already starting to work, since profbananaslug, the founder of the ICI just kicked out Luiy, one of the members of the ICI. Thats all the news I have for now, message me if you have anymore details! More news to come out soon.

The negative response to the ICI chest inspections was just as we’d expected. “Who the hell were these guys to roll up to my town and tell me how many chests I can use?” was the general attitude, and it reminded me of how I reacted to that staff forum post. From our perspective, a lot of people seemed to get quite unreasonably mad, even though there was quite little we could realistically do while in their town if they played it smart. As long as town mayors kept PvP turned off and had all of their town permissions correctly setup to disallow outsiders from building/destroying and so on, we couldn’t really do anything other than run around the town. But I suppose looking at it from the other side, it’s extremely aggravating if a bunch of geared-up players show up at your base and essentially demand tribute under obviously bullshit pretenses, especially if they act self-righteous and talk about how they’re trying to help the whole server and so on.

Some of the grief that could be found outside our town

The smart players didn’t argue with us when we came for the chest inspections. They let us run around their town, count the chests, and gracefully accepted the chest fine. After we’d left, they’d take a few minutes to remove all their visible chests and maybe hide them underground, leaving only “approved chest alternatives” like barrels visible in their town. We didn’t really look too hard for hidden chests unless we wanted an excuse to quarrel with someone, so if you were outwardly compliant, the chest inspections tended to be rather shallow. The defiant players, on the other hand, were the “true” targets of the chest inspections, and took up by far the majority of the time. Many times, they would simply go off in chat, wisely avoiding a fight with multiple fully-geared ICI inquisitors. This would not stop them from trying to taunt or otherwise defy the ICI, often destroying the chest fine book by throwing it into lava, or refusing to pick it up in the first place. Some of the more creative ones would take advantage of the fact that we were in their towns and try to dump lava on us, or lure us into traps. We almost always saw the traps coming from a mile away and dodged them easily. The lava tactic could be completely nullified simply by taking a Fire Resistance potion. The players who fared the worst, though, were the ones who tried to attack us directly. It didn’t happen often, but sometimes we found someone foolish enough to try who would inevitably lose to our superior gear and numbers.

For our part, we developed a number of techniques for circumventing the town protections, or luring players out into danger. We were mainly fighters, so killing players is how we preferred to go about things. Many players were wary of attacking, but you could sometimes you could trick them into attacking you if they believed they had the advantage. To do so, we’d carry good armor in our inventory, but outwardly wear bad armor and then quickly switch once attacked. If a player had lots of friends online, we would send in only one person and pretend to be outnumbered. Then, once attacked, the rest of the crew either logs into the server or teleports in. If a player wouldn’t attack, you could simply try and find a way to get them out of a safe zone. A classic was to use fishing rods to drag idling players out of safe zones and then attack them. Donors in god mode couldn’t be attacked even outside safe zones, but god mode was disabled in the Nether dimension, so we realized that you could just rod them into a Nether portal and attack them there.

Invisibility potions were a fixture in many strategies as well. One time a player was taunting us by attacking us in his town, then quickly running into his house, which we couldn’t access because we could not open doors in his town. So, MadeHistory went invisible and hid within the house, and then we waited for another attack. Sure enough, he attacked and then ran into his house, but little did he know that this time, he was going from the frying pan into the fire. Another tactic involved placing a few valuable blocks, such as diamond blocks, just outside the town boundaries, and hiding nearby using invisibility. Seeing free diamond blocks just sitting there, players would stray outside their town boundaries to pick them up, where the invisible ambush would be lying in wait. Once they were hit even once, the server’s “combat tag” system meant that for the next 30 seconds, they could be hit within safe zones like towns as well. The combat tag system itself was very useful to us because it had a few quirks many players were unaware of. Non-combat-tagged players inside safe zones who hit combat-tagged players inside safe zones would become combat-tagged and thus attackable as well. So, two of us would go outside town boundaries, hit each other to get a combat tag, and then run into town and start playfully punching players. This wouldn’t do any damage to them, since the other players were in a safe zone and not combat tagged. But, if they reciprocated and punched back, they would unexpectedly find themselves combat- tagged and then could be attacked. This worked mainly because there was no way to tell if someone was combat-tagged, because the list of combat-tagged players would only display if you were yourself combat-tagged.

ICI inquisitors set fire to a town violating chest restrictions

We preferred to get into combat, but sometimes, players played it so safe that they gave us no openings. In those cases, we had to take other opportunities for “enforcement” if they presented themselves. Mostly, these relied around players screwing up their town protection configurations, and giving us an opening that would allow us to somehow mess with their towns. The most common was players leaving the “Firespread” property on, which meant that fires in towns would spread and consume flammable blocks. This would usually not be an issue, since the “Item Use” property would often be off, and so flammable blocks in the town could not be directly set on fire in the usual manner, using the “Flint and Steel” item. But, you could place dispensers right outside towns, and shoot fireballs at flammable blocks in order to indirectly start fires inside towns. The fireballs were relatively inaccurate, and we often had to fire them at large distances since we would have to be outside the town in order to build, but once the fires were lit, they would easily consume even the largest wooden buildings. Probably the most devastating property to leave on, though, was the “Explosion” property (more on that later). As a last resort, even if “Explosion” wasn’t on, we could use the classic “border grief” strategy and detonate TNT right outside town boundaries, making the outskirts of towns look extremely ugly. This had varying effectiveness, depending on how much the targeted players cared about appearances. It was usually ineffective against those who cared most, as they would take action to prevent such attacks, including claiming enormous town boundaries, building huge walls, or building in places where the town boundaries would not be susceptible to explosions, such as on islands.

Now that was ICI in practice, but what of in theory? The stated mission of ICI, to reduce lag across the server by reducing the number of chests, was of course not the true goal of ICI. Probably my most direct motivation was getting back at the server staff, who had just dealt me yet another unjust ban. After all, I had had the idea for the ICI only an hour after coming back from said ban, in the shadow cast by the lag and the staff’s absurd forum post about using fewer chests. It seemed like a bit of poetic justice: if the server staff didn’t want to back up their words because they knew players would get mad, then I’d back up their words for them. When players got mad at me, I could blame the staff by directing them to the staff’s forum post as the justification for ICI. The kicker was that everything the ICI did was fully within the bounds of the server rules (as we weren’t insulting anyone or anything), but players would still get riled up and complain to the server staff. The server staff couldn’t do anything as we weren’t breaking rules, plus they would have to take responsibility for the forum post, so players would end up mad at the server staff. The cherry on top was that the ICI also functioned as a satire of the server staff. Just like the server staff, we went around enforcing vague, sometimes stupid rules “for the good of the server". Just like the server staff, we weren’t actually solving the server’s lag problem. Just like the server staff, we had double standards for ourselves and people we liked.

The interior of our base, which was probably the largest concentration of chests on the server. We only actually used about a third of them. When people called us out, we said that we needed them to "do our job effectively" and that we would remove them once "all the other chests on the server have been removed"

Another one of the goals of the ICI came from the dynamics I had noticed from many years of playing on Towny servers. As I have discussed before, after each reset the activity of the server would gradually decline, until it got so low that the server staff decided to reset again. Eventually, players would accomplish (or give up on) all their goals and get bored. What I observed, however, is that winning conflicts also served as a goal, and a particularly long-lived one at that. As long as the conflicts remained unresolved (by neither side giving up), the goal of winning them could provide an almost indefinite source of motivation for players. This is where the ICI comes in: we would be the enemies of everyone on the server, and our deliberately-unachievable goal of removing all chests could keep us in that position forever.

Over time, we gradually established an ICI “lore” that supported our role on the server. The motivations and actions of the ICI “in-universe” (that is to say, from the perspective of those who weren’t in on it) were those of the classic villain. The best villains never think they’re the villains, they believe they’re the good guys, and what makes them villains is their refusal to acknowledge the harm they do with their misguided attempts to help. This is exactly the story behind the ICI – they have the noble goal of helping everyone by reducing lag on the server, but their brutal methods and extremism are tearing the server apart, not to mention removing chests is probably of questionable efficacy anyways when it comes to reducing lag. (Incidentally, this same analysis is still true on a meta-level. I see myself as the “good guy” for creating the ICI to keep the server fun and interesting for everyone by having some conflict, but instead the ICI goes too far with the conflicts and causes players to quit, thereby making me the villain.)

Finally, the last reason was more personal – I thought all of it would be fun, for myself and the boys. As I’ve said before, we liked to fight, but an issue we had is that as our reputations spread on each map, players would become too scared or otherwise unwilling to fight us. The ICI was an attempt to solve this problem, by making players and even the server as a whole so mad at us that they feel they have no choice but to stand up to us. The promise of bountiful fighting, with potentially the whole server against us, was enough to persuade the crew, but I had some even deeper motivations as well. I had always been a trickster, and ICI had potential to be a masterpiece of a prank: I would get the entire server embroiled in a brutal conflict over chests. It would not just be a simple, one-note joke, no, ICI would be an institution, the greatest LARP of our generation. Minecraft most obviously is a sandbox for building, but when extended multiplayer, it can also become a social sandbox, a sandbox for relationships and collective storytelling. It was the perfect combination of wide-open enough, yet still structured with robust, inviolable mechanics that everyone had to work within (akin to the real-world laws of physics). ICI would thus be a creation impossible in many other games: it would consist of in-game buildings, yes, but also a history, lore, symbols, players, processes, interactions, personalities, relationships, all possible only within the multi-dimensional canvas of Minecraft servers. The joke at the heart of it is a classic: taking something trivial (Multiplayer Block Game) far, far too seriously.

III. The Rise of ICI

The ICI HQ, with the ICI logo near the top. The ICI logo's "C" is brown to represent a chest, boxed in and impaled by the red I's

After the first few days of chest inspections, I decided it was time to give the ICI a physical footprint and build an ICI headquarters building. At the server spawn, about twenty 16x16 plots were being sold by the staff for use by players as shops. Though small, they were easily accessible by all players, and in a neutral safe zone (not even combat tags allowed PvP in the spawn area), which made it a natural choice for the HQ of what I insistently called the server’s “leading humanitarian organization”. I came up with a logo for the ICI that could be easily reproduced in-game, and built a small white skyscraper (of course) at spawn, in a prime location right at the front that we managed to snag. The building’s white exterior was done rather ominously with bone blocks, which I thought was a nice touch. According to the rules, though, we had to sell at least five different goods (as these were supposed to be player shops), so we sold several “approved chest alternatives” in the lobby such as barrels (the main and cheapest one) and some more exotic ones like shulker boxes, which actually were in demand due to their rarity and usefulness. The other floors were sparsely filled with a few rooms as I came up with ideas. One of the floors was the “ICI Chest Impound”, a barred room filled with chests along with an “ICI Chest Incinerator 5000” and some “ICI Chestbuster” axes.

People would often bring up the fact that we had a bunch of chests in our HQ as a “gotcha”, but I would always deflect by saying that those were chests we had “confiscated from across the server” and that “were awaiting destruction”. Of course, we never actually destroyed or swapped out any of the chests in there, it was all for show. Besides that, the headquarters also had a meeting room, for occasional negotiations that required neutral-ish ground, since combat was hard-disabled in the spawn area. Naturally, we were still able to come up with a few ways to subvert those protections. There was this server plugin that allowed donors to create a sort of water-portal to teleport players who entered the water between any two locations, which you could use to get players out of safe zones if you could get them into the portal. If I recall correctly, one time we built a portal underneath the conference room, and tried to drop someone sitting in the conference room into it, but I’m pretty sure the attempt ended unsuccessfully. At some point, MadeHistory trapped a horse in the ICI building, and then realized that the horse could swim in a water portal without being teleported. However, if a player were to try and ride the horse, they would end up going through the portal, which ended up at our town where we could kill them. I recall killing at least one person with that trick, but the server staff did not look too kindly upon the teleportation trickery, and so after that we had to remove the portal.

As ICI’s infamy grew with each successive chest inspection and the establishment of its headquarters at the spawn, we sat inside our base at Karakorum, tenting our fingers and cackling. Everything was going according to plan. However, not all players scorned the ICI. Some of the older players, familiar with my reputation and sense of humor, saw through the facade, despite my unyielding dedication to the bit that fooled many a newer player. They even joined the ICI briefly, although they eventually left as ICI’s reputation got too toxic for them to be associated with, or let go as we ramped up our operation security. One of the reasons for ICI’s early domination was that everyone in ICI was a part of our Minecraft crew, who could be trusted to be absolutely loyal. This is because we had met and become friends on other servers years before, so on this server we had no ties to anyone except each other. It also helped that many of us had met in person as well. This meant that while our enemies had constant issues with trust and betrayals, it was unheard of for the ICI.

The original squad with some of the new recruits, whom we later parted ways with

Despite our wariness, we did make one vital ally: the city of Guantanamo, located in Cuba (as one would expect). They were essentially an enduring clique of staff (the staff on many servers tend to be cliquish) and staff-adjacent players who had been together almost since we had joined the server ourselves. This was an unprecedented development, since we had almost always feuded with the server staff. But, perhaps tired of the perceived stupidity of normal players after years of dealing with all their petty quarrels and rule infractions, they sought our more “mature” and aloof companionship. Their motivations seemed genuine, and we had known each other for quite a while at this point, so I said “What the hell” and let them join us, much to the chagrin of our rivals who had wanted to ally with the staff instead. It proved to be a very fruitful relationship, not just because two of their number were among the best fighters on the server, but also because the scales in all staff decisions were now tipped slightly in our favor for the first time ever. It helped that we stuck rigidly to the server rules in our ICI activities (as previously discussed), but this didn’t matter to the players angered by the ICI, who began to hate the staff for what seemed to be (and sometimes was) bias towards ICI. >

Meanwhile, it wasn’t long before some of the established players got fed up with the ICI’s antics and mounted an offensive on our home turf, as we’d hoped might happen. As recorded in the history books:

This battle would occur in the shadow of the nascent ProfCo warehouse, at the center of Karakorum still scattered with chests and various work-stations. Four brave and relatively ill-equipped defenders of Karakorum faced off against a ferocious assault by a vicious coalition of Invaders. By holding their ground through superior teamwork and coordination, the courageous defenders of Karakorum held off the Invaders by slaying two of their number to bring the enemies down to a more manageable size. The remaining Invaders would eventually scatter and beat a cowardly retreat as their advantage in numbers proved to be insufficient against the skill and the might of the defenders. Thus marks the end of perhaps the first major conflict between towns on the server.

EARTH, A History, Vol I: The Early Days and First Civilizations

Besides our “superior teamwork and coordination”, another factor that helped us win was the home turf advantage. For example, one enemy player ended up falling into a pit, which they couldn’t get out of because it was within our town and they could not build or destroy blocks. After the battle, this gave MadeHistory the idea to build a bunch of traps all over our base, just in case we faced yet another lopsided fight. Nearly all of them were just massive pitfalls, with buttons or levers that dropped or pushed players into them, though some were just cleverly hidden and relied on players not looking carefully and accidentally falling in. There were also a few that when triggered, used pistons to push up blocks and trap players in small areas where they’d be easy to take out. Unfortunately, from the on fights rarely occurred in our town, since players were generally too scared of us to fight on our home turf. One time, a huge battle did occur just south of the town borders, and there was much rejoicing at the end, when we managed to lure someone into the town and push him into a pit using pistons in one of the traps.

Our base/town after about two months, with most of the scattered builds outside the warehouse concealing traps

Open defiance of ICI started to die down as we slowly subdued all of the smaller towns and nations that opposed us. Our main rivals (mostly consisting of donors), the server’s largest nation of Allegiant, played it smart and was outwardly compliant with the ICI chest regulations. Their size made them vulnerable, with many potential points of attack. In Allegiant’s (and the server’s) largest town (80 or so residents) of Kanaloa, the town staff enforced ICI regulations and distributed barrels for all residents, but in their private channels, the leadership of Kanaloa and Allegiant fumed and plotted ICI’s downfall. For my part, I was also disappointed with the state of the opposition to ICI, since there could be no conflict if everyone was united not against ICI, but under ICI’s thumb. If there was no more opposition to ICI, then it would be necessary to invent it. So, I sat down with a book and quill, and began writing the first (and as it turns out, only) ICI press release.

I did have some legitimate ICI news items in mind for the ICI press release (how Guantanamo joined us, the battle at our town, the banning of Lytei’s alternate account), but I dedicated the first part and majority of it to a screed against the rising threat of “chestism”. I introduced myself as lead inquisitor of ICI, “a leading humanitarian organization dedicated to stopping the spread of lag by stopping the spread of chests”. I wrote that we had “recently identified a disturbing new phenomenon sweeping through the server called ‘chestism’”, and that believers in it known as “chestists” were “ruthlessly” placing chests “simply for the sake of placing chests, not even with the intent of using them to store items”. As a result, ICI was now going to be “conducting investigations to root out dangerous chestiest agents hiding in towns across the server” and already had “a list of 57 confirmed or suspected chestiest agents” (reference to Sen. McCarthy’s famous list, though I doubt anyone on the server caught it). It was perhaps the most significant expansion of the ICI lore yet, and I eagerly awaited the fruits as I distributed the completed press release across the server.