Culture //

The Dream SMP and storytelling

How a Minecraft server crafts narrative.

I’ve been into some really strange and niche things. Not in a weird way, but more like things that you wouldn’t expect to have a following. Regular readers may be familiar with my fixation with Pixar’s Cars (2006), however, as of late I’ve found myself delving into something arguably even stranger. I’ve become obsessed with Minecraft roleplay. Let me elaborate on that. 

The Dream SMP is a Survival Multiplayer Minecraft server created in May 2020 by content creator DreamWasTaken (more commonly known as Dream). The server started off as any regular Minecraft server would, a place where Dream and his friends could mess around and play Minecraft together. Sessions on the server would be streamed live on Twitch and usually involved the construction of farms and landmarks, you know, your run-of-the-mill Minecraft gameplay. 

In the beginning, the Dream SMP had very little narrative, it was mostly just a group of friends playing Minecraft, and besides a few griefings (a term used to describe when one player destroys or damages another player’s build or property) there was also very little conflict. However, everything changed on July 4 2020, when popular Minecraft creator ‘TommyInnit’ was added to the server. The addition of Tommy marked a drastic change in the server, it marked the beginning of what is now known as ‘lore’. ‘Lore’ in the context of the Dream SMP is essentially the canonical storylines that play out on the server. From their inception, these storylines have indelibly shaped the server and its many inhabitants, all of which have distinct characters separate from their creators. 

So what makes the Dream SMP so special, then? Is it excellent writing? Stellar acting? A range of complex and diverse characters? Well, yes, and no. While the Dream SMP does have, in my humble opinion, all of those things, what makes it special is the unique and often revolutionary storytelling it employs. The livestreaming aspect of the SMP affords content creators incredible individual creative liberty, the way lore is made is completely up to them. At first, most lore was made in the form of casual, improvised roleplay between players, with many integral plot-points starting or occurring in this form. The first and arguably most far-reaching major conflict on the server (later on known as the ‘Disc Saga’) was started this way. Additionally, as previously mentioned, the creators play unique characters separate from themselves, fitting several important archetypes and experiencing clear character development. In many ways, it’s like live-theatre or improv, except much better and in Minecraft instead of on a stage. 

Over time, as the lore became more and more complex, so did the ways in which content creators presented it. The landscape of the SMP was forever transformed with the premiere of creator Quackity’s stream on March 16 2021, which marked the first ever instance of pre-recorded lore in the SMP. This lore was presented in the form of what was essentially a Minecraft short film, with slick transitions and fully scripted sequences. Needless to say, this drove the fans wild. It was like when television first arrived in Australia back in the 60s, practically a historical event. 

As is the nature of live-streaming, audiences can witness all the lore happening in real time, being able to communicate in-chat so that even in the comfort of their own homes they’re still reacting and interacting with their fellow fans in a shared media experience. It creates a wonderful sense of community and an experience unlike other traditional forms of theatre or media, where this sort of discussion and speculation doesn’t occur during the performance. Those who miss the live-streams are then also still able to watch back VODs (Video on Demand), recorded versions of streams that are saved immediately after it ends. This doesn’t even touch on the dedicated third-party YouTube channels that cut and piece together streams so that the story can be watched like a scripted drama, skipping non-narrative content altogether. This creative freedom also extends well into the fandom. A wide range of fan-content can be found, from simple fanart to fully produced concept albums and animations. 

What truly makes all of this so amazing to see is remembering that all this comes from what is simply a Minecraft roleplay server. Through this seemingly unassuming form of media that could easily be discounted as mindless drivel, we’ve been given incredibly rich and complex storytelling, a thriving creative community, and a completely new, untraditional form of content creation. And to be honest, I think that’s pretty poggers.