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The Resurgence of Minecraft—And The Controversy Surrounding Its Most Popular Figure

Imagine you grow a lemon tree. It towers over your garden. It’s beautiful. You love it. Now imagine your friend comes over and burns it to the ground. You don’t stand for terrorism. You need to make a statement, so you grow a second lemon tree. It’s just as beautiful and twice as big as the first. It’s a beast. Now imagine the same friend comes over and burns this tree down, too. You’d be pretty upset, right?

This is how Dream SMP started. Pseudonymous Minecraft streamer and speedrunner Dream created the whitelisted server in April 2020—and slowly filled it with some of the community’s best content creators. It was meant to be an idyllic world, where creators from all walks of life could coexist, build things, and share a moment in cyberspace as the real world fell apart. This—for better or worse—is not what happened.

Petty feuds like “The Burning of Ponk’s Lemon Tree” sparked what would eventually become an interminable war for the fate of humanity. Simply put, the entire history of Dream SMP is shaped something like a Game of Thrones story arc. Fans have even constructed elaborate timelines to catalog the unfolding of the server’s events—carefully distinguishing specific political movements and eras into well-defined epochs.

 

In the year since Dream SMP went online, Minecraft videos on YouTube have been watched over 200 billion times. In the same period, the site’s next most popular game, Roblox, had only 70 billion views. Minecraft hasn’t been this popular…ever. In 2020, the game sold more copies and had more active users than it has at any point in its history. Dream, meanwhile, recently surpassed 20 million subscribers on YouTube—and currently has 4 million followers on Twitch. The concurrence between Minecraft’s resurgence and Dream’s ascent to internet stardom is no coincidence.

Online, millions of fans have been following the saga. And, like all fandoms in the digital age, the Dream fandom has slowly but surely taken on a life of its own. At its best, the fandom is known for some of the web’s most inspired fanart and fanfiction. Dream SMP is represented on Archive of Our Own by hundreds of thousands of stories. Unfortunately, however, fandoms often aren’t remembered for their brightest members or moments.

Dream first courted controversy last year after failing to respond to backlash over a small fraction of fans who were creating lewd fanfiction featuring some of the server’s underage streamers. 16-year-old TommyInnit, one of Minecraft’s most popular creators, broke the story:

“Boys, any of this NSFW, like sex-rated fan-fic, whatever that is on the Wattpad or on Twitter, I am not comfortable with that and I do not endorse it. I thought it would have been obvious because I’m a child but I thought I’d just let you all know.”

Fans showed immediate support for TommyInnit’s point of view—and some of them attacked Dream directly for failing to address the situation. Dream’s boilerplate response to any comment that criticizes his inability to control his fanbase is consistently deflective. “Dream has refused to condemn murder after one of his fans turned out to be a murderer. Will he finally be held accountable? Tune in at six,” Dream tweeted, inspiring further criticism. #DreamIsWrong and other similar hashtags were (and still are) a common trend on Twitter.

Putting Dream on the chopping block for failing to denounce inappropriate fanfiction inspired by his community is the right of every social justice warrior—but it’s a loose moral argument. The substance here isn’t in the argument itself but in Dream’s reaction to it— which hasn’t changed in the last year, even as the streamer finds himself at the center of yet another spat between dueling fandoms. 

This time, the Twitter ticker was #DreamIsOverParty. It started last month when Twitch streamer Kaceytron addressed the caustic tendencies of Minecraft superfans on stream. She specifically calls out Dream stans, a minority of whom have displayed a history of toxic behavior. After facing backlash of her own, Kaceytron claimed in a since-deleted tweet that her audience is sick of Dream “queerbaiting” his followers.

Whether Kacey’s critique is fair or not—a significant percentage of Dream’s fans responded in a fashion that legitimized her complaint in real-time (hate mail, death threats, doxxing, etc.). Assaulting someone for complaining about your anger-management problem is a weird way to prove them wrong. Initially, Dream again dismissed his own role, distancing himself from the world that he helped create: “The community has gone way too far,” he said sarcastically. “A bunch of mostly teenagers enjoying watching content creators and making friends with each other? I have never seen anything quite as disgusting.”

The toxic side of “stan culture” is not a new area of study. The word itself has unhealthy origins. Whether a portmanteau of “stalker” and “fan” or a direct lift from an Eminem track that describes a fan that takes things way too far, being a “stan” was codified as a problem from the start. But the “stans” aren’t the issue at all. As Dream side-steps all accountability, his community takes the hit. But the influencer and the influenced aren’t as easily disentangled as Dream seems to believe.

By failing to immediately denounce the community’s sordid behavior—and by deciding to make jokes about it, instead—Dream is cultivating an environment where anonymous internet trolls and superfans have the license to respond to open discussions with vicious, personal attacks and doxxing campaigns. Only after a clip of Dream himself surfaced, in which the streamer can allegedly be heard using racial slurs, did Dream directly address his fandom’s behavior.

When a fandom is small, even major disturbances do little to disrupt the way of life outside community borders. When a fandom reaches critical mass, however, even a slight disturbance can be enough to tip the scale—unleashing a tidal wave of vitriol that wipes out everything in its path. No one is foolish enough to willingly put themselves between a tsunami and an empty floodplain. But the victims of stan culture don’t have a choice.

As a result, those with sizable followings wield considerable power. Defectors and critics can be crushed and silenced by the wave of a hand or a single tweet. It’s up to the community leaders—the content creators—to check their own power and to hold themselves accountable.

Dream may not be a bad guy. He may not have cheated on a speedrun or used bigoted language. He may not be a queerbaiter. But what he represents is worse. What he represents is a world where someone who is all of those things has a weapon of mass destruction in the palm of their hand. All they have to do is break the glass and watch from a distance as the world burns—and it will never be their fault. They weren’t the ones who pushed the button.

Next: Fallout 1’s Speech Is So Strong, You Could Use It To Defeat The Final Boss

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Nathan is a writer who currently resides in Brooklyn, NY. He enjoys long walks down Knickerbocker Avenue, cold Burger King chicken nuggets, and being stuck on the Soul of Cinder for close to two years.

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