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Minecraft isn’t just a game. It’s an art form.

Minecraft is famous for being a game. But it’s also become an artistic medium with its own possibilities and risks.

Minecraft: game and art form.
Phil Edwards is a senior producer for the Vox video team.

Minecraft’s status as a hit game is well-known — but its massive success has made it more than just a game. As the above video shows, it’s also an art and business for creators who’ve embraced Minecraft’s unique, blocky world.

That’s exactly what James Delaney and Blockworks, a design company he co-founded, have done. The group made distinctive maps for Minecraft that have educated players and risen to the level of art — all while occasionally making a nice profit too. Their works are collected in the coffee table book Beautiful Minecraft, which features works ranging from surreal landscapes to surprisingly affecting “human” structures, all crafted using Minecraft’s blocks.

The artistic opportunities flow from Minecraft’s open structure. Though players can participate in the classically video-game-like “Survival Mode,” they can also do whatever they want in the game’s “Creative Mode,” which removes any threats and turns Minecraft into a blank canvas. For designers like those at Blockworks, Creative Mode gives them an opportunity to collaborate on new worlds, or “maps,” that are incredibly intricate, despite the limited “cubist” nature of their materials.

The creativity “Creative Mode” enables is obvious in the work that talented designers produce. Sometimes Minecraft artists will create interactive worlds that replicate historic events; other times, Minecraft’s many cubes coalesce into a sculptural image, the same way pointillism’s dots disappear to form a picture. These images and worlds can be eerie, magical, and surprisingly beautiful.

But perhaps most surprising of all, Minecraft worlds can also be a business. Companies like Blockworks make maps for private Minecraft servers (computer networks that host Minecraft games), and they also occasionally design maps in collaboration with institutions and companies like Minecraft owner Microsoft. That’s allowed the group to make some cash from its far-flung syndicate of talented designers.

Of course, this is a game, so there are still risks. Even in a seemingly open world like Minecraft, Microsoft can shut down lucrative collaborations between designers and big brands that want to commission in-game advertising. That adds one more complication to the intersection of gaming and art — there are business interests too, and they can’t be moved as easily as a couple of Minecraft blocks.