How I Peaked
(in Minecraft)

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

Part Four

I. A Modest Return

By the time I returned, it was already October. Many players on the server, including us, were back in school, and overall activity correspondingly declined. I kept logging into the server and playing a little bit every day, but I didn’t really do much. I wasn’t really sure where to take ICI after Chest Aid, which had solidified us as indisputably the most powerful group on the server. The chest inspection schtick felt like it was starting to get old, and I feared we were falling into another rut. That’s exactly what it was like back in the rut, logging in every day and not really doing anything, just because you felt like you had to. As a result, I started to hold off on performing chest inspections (in fact, they started to even feel obsolete, as now the legend of ICI had grown to such an extent that players who had never even seen us dutifully despised the ICI), and ICI went dormant until late November.

In the meantime, a new nation was rising to fill the power gap left by ICI’s inactivity and the collapse of Allegiant. That nation was called Hyperion, led by Paddywiggle. He had been a dedicated player since the start of the new map and had established his town and nation very early on, but deliberately kept a low profile. One reason he may have been laying low is because on the previous map, he had been demoted from trial moderator for getting caught hacking. I don’t remember exactly what it had been, but I want to say it had something to do with automatically grinding Endermen. It might just be me confusing it with all the other bans people caught for that, since it seems that if somebody was cheating and got banned, it was always that. The recent example of PrinceRqd comes to mind, but funnily enough, Lytei (who reported PrinceRqd) had been banned for it as well in the past. The main reason for Paddy’s low profile, however, was because he was first and foremost a builder, and did not want the aesthetics of his town ruined by ugly grief right outside its borders. As such, he instructed his town/nation members not to antagonize ICI or anyone else, and took care to do the same himself. To this end, he had also established his town far out in the End dimension, where it would be difficult to get to. This also made it very difficult to grief its borders, since it was situated wholly on a huge End island, floating in the void. His strategy ended up working out exactly as he’d hoped, and ICI largely left him alone since his town was an absolute pain to get to (as non-donors, our transportation options were sometimes a bit limited). He also didn’t react much to ICI’s antics, and the general rule with ICI was that you got out what you put in. This is not to say, however, that Paddy approved of what ICI was doing. In fact, he hated ICI as much as anybody, but ultimately cared more about his town’s aesthetics than trying to stand up to the ICI.

Ironically, the true threat to Paddy’s town came not from ICI, but from within. In his town in the End, Opportunity, he was co-mayors and worked together with another player passionate about building, and who had a similar building style to him. Somehow, Paddy had managed to alienate his co-mayor/builder, and she decided one day to both part ways with him, and get revenge. While everyone was distracted with the festivities at Chest Aid, she struck and left a wave of destruction across Opportunity, using her privileged access to the town as co-mayor to leave no part unscathed. Oddly, she was assisted in this endeavor by the server owner, in one of his rare visits to the server. Maybe he was mad that Paddy had betrayed his trust by hacking while being part of the staff team, since before that incident, the server owner had really liked Paddy. Either way, after that Paddy became even more paranoid than we were, which made him a lot more dangerous than our trusting old friends at Allegiant.

Over the months, Paddy slowly built out Hyperion by going out and recruiting promising builders from across the server. He had also absorbed many dedicated players from the collapse of Allegiant. Before long, he found himself with the server’s new largest nation, and the only one which could potentially challenge ICI’s power. At some point, he realized that he had gathered enough wealth and power that he no longer had to hide from the ICI, and could start pushing back against them. In secret, as the building projects in his town neared completion, Paddy began to shift his focus from building to combat. He trained his combat mcMMO skills, started amassing armor and weapons, and strategized with his nation’s top fighters. Hyperion’s rise, however, did not escape ICI’s notice. During those relatively-inactive days of October and November, as tensions increased, we spend our modest time on the server sparring in chat with Paddy and other Hyperion members, along with occasionally getting into minor skirmishes.

At some point during this period, I decided that it was time to make ICI truly Lawful Evil, and codify the “ICI Regulations” that we had been pretending to reference during chest inspections for months. The only consistent part was always the 1.68 chests per player, which I had made up during that very quip, with everything else being made up more or less on the spot. That was actually starting to become tiresome, since people would constantly ask us what the regulations were, or would get into extended arguments with us about them. With the regulations actually written down, we could hand them out when people asked, and easily resolve any arguments by appealing to them. I also realized that this was a good chance to extend ICI’s satire of the server staff, and parody the server rules as well. The ICI regulations would be carefully written to appear fair, but contain ambiguities and exceptions that we could use to continue all of our activities (going after players who opposed us but followed the chest regulations, having a massive number of chests in our base) while still following the regulations. I also leaned on our experiences with chest inspections to write regulations that people who hadn’t read them would easily break inadvertently (or give them ideas for resisting us) thereby justifying “punishment” from ICI, such as making burning fine books against the regulations. One of the regulations gave the exact location of the warehouse in Karakorum and forbid players from trespassing, with the hopes that instead they’d come to us and get killed, or at the very least see all of the chests inside the warehouse.

II. New Karakorum Rises

As the holidays and the promise of more time to play approached, I suddenly found myself inspired once again. One day while somewhat drunk, I had a vision of what to do next: it was time to start building again. On all the other maps, I had always had my huge, unfinished skyscraper projects, but this time they had fallen by the wayside with all of the ICI chest inspections and whatnot. Our town of Karakorum, the capital of the strongest nation on the server, was an absolute mess. All we had was the huge warehouse at the center that I’d finished even before my brief ban, the abandoned Chest Aid stage in the back (with the pit converted into a cactus farm), and a bunch of random farms and traps surrounding it. There was also a “Doofenshmirtz Evil Inc.” tower that Utonium had built, during his days of being almost comically evil. The real elephant carcass in the town, though, was the unfinished building project of one of the town’s minor members. He had been building a replica of some big building he liked from an old adventure map, but at some point he’d lost interest, and so nearly half the town was taken up by this massive, ugly, half-finished structure. Now, we were competing with Hyperion and Paddy, and what was he known for? Building, of course. ICI had proved itself in combat, but now we’d meet Paddy in his arena. It was time for New Karakorum, as we called it, to rise.

Karakorum just before the start of the reconstruction. The big unfinished build is in the foreground, with most of it behind the camera

New Karakorum had to be a city befitting of ICI. It would be the antithesis of Paddy’s quaint, small-scaled medieval building style. The scale was going to be monumental, but at the same time oppressive. Lots of sharp edges, corners, boxes, and triangles. The color palette would be entirely shades of gray and black. Individual buildings were inspired by a variety of sources, but my main sources of inspiration for the city’s general aesthetic were Terry Gilliam’s film Brazil and tsukumizu’s 「少女終末旅行」: monolithic, industrial, incomprehensible, severe, austere. Above all, it would give a feeling of domination, control, and enforced order, the kind of place you get trapped in. The city is a prison, but the prison is a city. The representation of ICI’s grasp over the server within its capital would be as heavy handed as the grasp itself.

I was absolutely consumed by this new building project. Aware of how I’d never finished my previous building projects by constantly getting distracted and just chatting or “hanging out” on the server, I resolved to actually make my time on the server “productive” and work on them with consistency that I’d never been able to achieve before. This time, I’d have something to show for my hours upon hours of playtime. When Thanksgiving break came and was then shortly followed by Winter break, there I could be found for nearly the whole day, slaving away at my enormous buildings. By eschewing all distractions, the city grew at a rate faster than I’d ever thought was possible. My enthusiasm was infectious, and Utonium joined me on many of the building projects. He was not quite comfortable with the new style building to begin with, so he’d leave the initial design of the building to me, and then finish it based off my pattern. Soon, though, he started designing his own buildings, and the city grew all the faster.

We started off the renovations by deciding what parts of the town to keep and what parts to get rid of. The first thing we demolished was the giant abandoned build that had been taking up a good portion of the town. We had to keep the warehouse, since it was practically a historic building at that point, and luckily it would fit in pretty well with the rest of the town thanks to its industrial aesthetic. It had also pretty much been our main base and the nerve center for our entire operation, so it would’ve been a real pain moving everything and getting used to a new base. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. We decided to keep the tall (but ugly) bamboo/sugar cane farms, and just put a façade over them to make them fit in. I also envisioned that in the future, we could connect the farms to some sort of “central collection” building with pipes, which would add another interesting element to the town. Finally, we went around and expanded the town borders in some places to give ourselves more room to work with, and cleaned up some of the grief that was now within the new town boundaries.

Next, it was time to start building. The first part of the town was built raised up three to six blocks from the normal ground level in the area, as I thought it would be cool to introduce some artificial verticality to the town (recall that we had chosen a large, extremely flat plain for our town). This also meant we didn’t have to bother completely demolishing many of our old farms, and if you went down to the big space under the city, you could still see many of them there, like ancient ruins that had been built over. The large grassy “basement” area of the city also came in handy later on, when I filled it with hundreds of cows that I was breeding for leather. After establishing the elevated, stone “ground” of the city, we got to work on the first building. Inspired mostly by Blade Runner, it was going to be an ominous black pyramid. I had noticed in the past that despite the black nether brick block being one of the few blocks with a stair variant, I had never really seen anyone use them to build pyramid. Finally, I could correct that unfortunate omission, though it also helped that pyramids are quite easy to build (in Minecraft, though it can’t be that hard in real life too if people were making them five thousand years ago). In all honesty, I wasn’t even all that good at building, but I wasn’t about to let that stop me. Many of the buildings ended up just being simple patterns, repeated on a massive scale, but the collective effect what I set out to achieve. In comparison to the kind of stuff modern architects are crapping out these days, a lot of them don’t even look that bad, and in fact some of the buildings were even inspired by architecture I saw out and around. People would certainly come away impressed with our town; however the awe would come not from little stylistic details and flourishes, but from the sheer number and variety of buildings, their massive scale, and the overarching theme.

The beginnings of New Karakorum

The next building I conceived of was a kind of “Money Bin”-type deal. People had always asked us during chest inspections where all the chest fine money went, so I thought it would be funny to build a giant vault filled with gold and tell them that’s where it went. People visiting the town could also stroll in and gaze upon the vast wealth of ICI. Naturally it was all for decoration (similar to the room full of chests at the ICI HQ), since going in there every time we needed some money and mining a few of the gold blocks would have been far too inconvenient. The same goes for placing gold blocks in there after we collected chest fines (some people did actually pay them, though never the full exponential amount). Inflation on the server (for a variety of reasons, including the fact that people could donate and get outrageous amounts of server currency for cheap) had grown quite bad, so the eight or so stacks of gold blocks we put in the treasury weren’t even worth that much anymore, but certainly looked impressive when you actually placed it all down. The eventual size of the building, and its rectangular footprint, also made it the perfect size for a huge ICI logo on the roof, which would appear on any in-game maps made of the town, in addition to the online server map.

The interior of the ICI Treasury

During the most intensive phase of construction, which lasted through December, several other notable events occurred. The last moderator on the staff team who wasn’t allied with us got demoted (most likely for his inactivity), and along with PrinceRqd’s earlier demotion, the moderation team had gotten rather short-staffed. Utonium decided to put in an application (with some material carried over from his application to become Allegiant’s Secretary of Defense, funnily enough) as something of a dark horse candidate, considering his sordid past with the ICI. However, by this point, the worst of it had been months ago (nearly a century in server-time), and Utonium had quite a bit of prior moderation experience on another server. As a result, it wasn’t a huge surprise to us when he actually got the “job” (especially considering how many of the staff members were our friends at this point), but the rest of the server was aghast that one of the highest-ranking members of ICI had actually been promoted to moderator. To many, it seemed to finally prove that the staff were in league with ICI. Although it was certainly true to some extent, I fanned the flames and overstated how much sway ICI had with the staff team. However, in order to balance out Utonium’s promotion (we were told this by a staff member at one point in a candid moment), a member of Hyperion who had applied was promoted to moderator as well. He played a lot, but didn’t interact much and just focused on grinding and building most of the time. I just remember that he was almost excessively professional when he was forced to speak in chat and to carry out his moderator duties. It would always take a while for him to reply to chat messages, as he spent time formulating an appropriately formal and detached response. I always joked that he was the staff team’s PR department. In any case, Utonium’s promotion was a HUGE boost for ICI. The staff members we had been friendly with had always been careful not to talk too much about their secret deliberations, but Utonium was one of us before he was one of them, so he spilled the beans to us about everything that occurred in the staff team. He was also a big help within the staff team decision-making process, as a tireless advocate for whatever we thought would be best for us. A more minor benefit was that now he could check who placed blocks, so whenever somebody anonymously griefed around our base, we could now get them back for it.

Around the same time, I had also decided that it was time to see if we could infiltrate Hyperion, if only to get a little bit more information. Paddy’s paranoia would make an Allegiant-level play impossible, but even just reading their nation chat could potentially give us a lot of actionable intel. With prior knowledge of what Paddy was like, it was very easy to get on another account, go for the “grand tour” of his town Opportunity that he gave to any noob he could convince, and then sold myself as an aspiring builder who would be interested in joining a Hyperion town. I mostly came on just to spy on their chat (it was always funny to send incisive chat messages on my main account, and then see their private reactions), but also worked on a modest house in their town for myself to allay suspicions.

Paddy has an outburst in the Hyperion private nation chat, unaware that I was reading it all

December was also the month in which we started work on our series of history books, oft quoted in the early parts of this work. By this point, the map had been up for almost six months, practically eons in Minecraft time. Countless players had joined, nations and towns big and small had risen and fallen, and the map felt especially old since usually there were resets every six months or so. ICI alone had easily instigated enough events to merit a history book or two. Recalling the old adage that “history is written by the victors”, I thought that it would be fitting (and funny) for us to write an “official” server history with an obvious ICI bias. We started by having Utonium write down the “factual” version of events as he could reconstruct them, and then I would go through and lard it with adjectives glorifying ICI plus digs at our enemies, along with my own recollections. As a result, though the writing style itself contained bias, everything else was more or less accurate, which is why I felt some excerpts were appropriate to include in here as well. Due to my (admittedly well-earned) shifty reputation on the server, Utonium undertook the final publication and sale of all the history books, since otherwise people probably wouldn’t even touch them. Utonium was mod at this point, though, so he had to be careful and would sometimes cut out portions of the text where he thought I’d gone too far. A lot of great jabs were tragically lost, such as where I’d written “Some also say that [Paddy] is heartless, but that is not entirely true: while Paddy does not have his original human heart, he does still have the heart of a baboon that was implanted after a tragic accident at the tender age of 17.”

III. New Year, New Schemes

New Karakorum in early January, one month after the previous picture of the city

As Winter Break came to a close in the New Year, the New Karakorum building project began losing steam. To be entirely fair, we had achieved quite a bit in that month. The entire half of the town to the east of the warehouse had been completely transformed, with somewhere over a dozen distinct, towering buildings. Pipes ran from across the city and funneled items from various farms into an imposing pointy tower at the center. A small network of elevated walkways and water elevators connected the ground and the upper levels of the city. The interior of the pyramid now contained a cavernous and sufficiently somber meeting chamber for the ICI High Council. To complete the aesthetic, the city was now completely contained within a towering gray wall, which we raised whenever we didn’t have anything else to do, with the (rather unrealistic) goal of having it eventually reach the height limit. Things looked grim outside the city walls, where we gradually extended the sea until it surrounded most of the town. There was also a lot of random grief, but thanks to the walls, as long as we stayed in the city, we might never know. Within the city, ICI’s control was absolute.

The view looking towards the warehouse
The central collection tower, with the item pipes leading into it
The ICI High Council chamber, inside the pyramid
New Karakorum's skyline, seen over the warehouse roof
New Karakorum from the outside, the city walls looming out of the artifical bay

Part of the reason for the slowdown in building was that I had been running out of ideas for new buildings, with many of my initial ones now realized. Then, while writing the next volume of our history book series, I realized that we could build a museum to go along with it. It would be a legitimate collection of historical server artifacts, but would also show off the horde of rare and valuable items ICI had managed to acquire in its time, from months of killing and looting in the name of reducing chest usage. The crown jewel would of course be the Dragon Egg, which we had wanted to display in public ever since we had gotten it. Talking with Utonium and looking through our warehouse, ideas for different exhibits and sections immediately began taking shape. We had amassed a massive collection of heads from all of our fighting, so of course we were going to have a Hall of Heads. In the same manner, we had also acquired dozens of renamed items and armor, which could be displayed in item frames (with the names visible) in another room. I also got the idea that we could go around the server to abandoned towns, pull out small intact builds, and rebuild them in the museum for display as “artifacts”. Abandoned towns were usually thoroughly destroyed by grief and looting, so oftentimes to find any intact builds, we had to actually act like archaeologists. This meant exploring and probing for hidden underground bases like tombs, and once we even got lucky enough to find a cavern with a huge “ancient” statue a player had built. Once all the artifacts were collected, it was time to start work on the museum proper.

Exterior of the museum, complete with stone lions at the entrance

For lack of better inspiration, I decided to make the museum look like a classic neoclassical museum, but done in the style of the rest of the town. I think that’s what they call an “interpretation”. This mostly meant making it extremely tall, and with the same all-gray blocks I had used for the rest of the town. The interior was cozier, with dark wood floors and white clay walls (inspired by actual museums), in order to keep the focus on the exhibits. The height of the building meant that we easily fit even the largest builds in it, with plenty of space left for various exhibit rooms and even potential expansions. One exhibit room I added, for example, showed all of the twenty or so unique paintings of varying sizes that were in the game, with signs interpreting them as representing various ICI-related subjects. The Dragon Egg exhibit went at the very top, and the Head Hall ended up in the basement since we just had too many heads (later on, we even had to dig a second basement floor to expand the head hall). We solicited heads and other items from our allies in Guantanamo for the museum as well, all of which ended up with a “Bequest of [Playername]” sign next to them, just like in a real museum.

A statue that we discovered in an old town, on display in the museum
One corridor of the Hall of Heads. If we also had items that we knew had belonged to a certain player, we displayed them alongside their heads
The historic item exhibit

I started dreaming, though, of getting back to some of the old schemes. Many still involved building, but in a way that would be more likely to get other players involved. This would require claiming and building in new outposts (players were largely too scared to come to Karakorum so we’d have to come to them), however our town size had been at its limit for quite a while. The amount of land a town could claim was based on the number of residents, and we pretty much never brought in any actual new residents for security reasons. The respectable claim size we’d manage to amass so far had been thanks to adding lots of alternate accounts to the town, or friends from real life who never played. But, eventually they would be kicked for inactivity, and we’d actually find ourselves with a claims deficit (luckily this didn’t actually do anything other than prevent us from claiming more).

One day in early January, I stumbled upon a shady website that let you buy Minecraft accounts for crypto. For a mere five dollars, you could purchase limited access to 70 (!) individual accounts, which at 8 chunks per resident, would let you claim 560 more chunks. In contrast, you could purchase more town claims in the server’s donation store, but 500 would set you back $100 (which a few players had in fact done, including our old friend Hqvox and the newly-minted mod in Hyperion). The account information had clearly been stolen, but since these were so-called “non-full access” accounts, the owners could take back control of them at any time by changing the passwords and whatnot. It was really more like unilaterally borrowing the accounts to use them briefly on a server that the account owners would likely never play on, or at least that’s how I justified it to myself. All I had to do was log in to the accounts, join the server, invite them to the town, accept the invitation, and then leave. I could have done it late at night, when no one was on, and kicked all the accounts after making all my new claims so that nobody would ever know, but instead I decided to be cheeky and do it in the evening when two of our staff friends were online. Within an hour, it was done: I had manually logged into almost 30 accounts and added them to the town, meaning we now had town claims for days. Even though I had more accounts, I left it at that because it was enough to make Karakorum the server’s most populous town and give me the town claims I had wanted. I flew across the server gleefully claiming new outposts in interesting locations or outside the bases of our enemies, imagining what builds and shenanigans we could now get involved in. We also beefed up the claims around the main town and brought it to what would become its final size, getting rid of awkward claim gaps we had been forced to make on account of not having enough claims in the past.

Karakorum tops the town size leaderboard

When someone happened to notice that Karakorum had multiplied its number of residents by a factor of ten overnight, there was immediate outrage (mostly among the Hyperionites). Funnily enough, our position at the top of the town size leaderboard didn’t last long, as the former top town conveniently managed to add another fifteen or so residents in the next few days, unprecedented numbers considering the activity that the server got and the rate at which new players tended to accept town invitations. That town had also acquired its large size through some shenanigans, wherein the mayor had added bunch of spam bot accounts that had joined the server en masse one day. He was very proud of his town’s size despite being pretty much the only active resident (everyone on the server was well aware of this), and went around using up all of his claims on worthless swathes of desert that he never ended up using for anything. This ended up making him perpetually destitute, since you had to pay daily upkeep on every claim that was part of your town. In any case, it was a bit suspicious that just as he had been overtaken on the town size leaderboard, he acquired another windfall of new residents thanks to yet another spam bot incursion. I did have to give him some credit, though, since part of my initial inspiration had come from seeing his town balloon after the initial spam bot incident, and thinking about how I could do that myself.

The other town had plausible deniability since the mayor was new and didn’t have much of a reputation, but in my case, everyone smelled a rat (I suppose they weren’t wrong). As soon as the owner and the rest of the staff had found out what had happened, I was handed a ban. I knew this was a likely outcome despite the fact that nothing I had done was explicitly against the rules. This is mainly because I had found a way to subvert the server’s donation system, and get a 95% off discount on 500 extra town claims, with the money I paid not even going to the server to boot. As a joke, I had recently started talking on the server about the unwritten (but most important) “Rule 0”, which I said was “don’t get in the way of the server owner’s paycheck/lambo fund”. My ban seemed to prove me completely right, but thanks to our sway with the staff team, it was not to be a lengthy one. After a discussion with the rest of the staff team, the owner reluctantly agreed to unban me since what I had done was unprecedented and technically not against the rules, with the condition that I unclaimed all the claims I had made and removed the accounts from my town. I assented, and after getting unbanned, I made a tour of the new claims with Utonium and we unclaimed most of them. It was difficult to keep track of claims and I had made a crazy amount of them, so we decided to be sneaky and unclaim the obvious ones, keeping a few here and there. The claims we kept included all of the extra claims around the main town, which was a big win for us. To try and bring the whole affair to a close, the staff team announced that players were now limited to having only four additional accounts on the server. The Hyperionites, many of whom were donors, were unsatisfied. Soon after my unban, I logged into my account in Hyperion (now one of my three legal alternate accounts) to see that I was indeed the talk of the nation there. They were absolutely furious and were determined to bring “justice” to the situation by submitting a group report to try and get me re-banned. I suspect that they mainly saw this as a good opportunity to try and get rid of me. Ultimately, the owner stonewalled them, and the whole effort was given up. I would live on to scheme another day.