A brilliant build that highlights an important conservation issue
Usually, these features are about Minecraft builds that are themed around nature, or man-made architecture. They often have one thing in common, and that is that they celebrate the beauty in the world: the symmetry and craftsmanship of human creations, and the exquisite colours and shapes that can be found in the wild.
Sometimes, people use Minecraft not to celebrate, but to tell a darker story - to warn us that if we’re not careful, we could lose that said beauty in our world.
The Effects of Poaching is a build that, at first glance, might look like any other: two rhinos patrolling across the African savannah at dusk, one little and one large. It’s a touching scene, the kind that you might see in a documentary, with David Attenborough telling you all about their eating habits in a softly spoken British accent.
But all is not as calm and peaceful as it seems. Half-hidden in the grasses is a man - a camouflaged hunter - who is pointing his rifle right at the rhino family. In the real world, the last male white rhino in the world sadly died recently, and it was this tragedy that inspired builder xxMineSheepxx to create this piece to raise awareness of the endangered species at risk.
“It shocks me to no end that there's so much poaching going on that an entire species has been almost completely wiped out,” says xxMineSheepxx. Rhinos are being hunted to near-extinction for several reasons: ivory from their horns, used to make ornaments, and traditional medicinal uses, where the rhino horn is ground up and used to treat many illnesses.
There are details within the build that make the story even more heartbreaking. The adult rhino is cocking his ears and turning towards the sound of the poacher’s rifle, meaning that the poacher has probably already loaded and cocked the gun. In other words, he’s about to fire, and about to take the life of this adult rhino, and leave its young offspring to fend for itself, since it’s unlikely that the child’s horn would have matured enough to be worth harvesting. “It’s a very natural and candid instinct,” says xxMineSheepxx. “They have no idea what they just got into.”
The piece is done in muted grassland colours - browns, beige, and grey - because xxMineSheepxx wanted players to be able to experience it on old servers with fewer block options. “I was never really satisfied with the colouring,” xxMineSheepxx admits, “but it turned out great in the end, because due to the limited range of grey blocks, it allowed for the tusks to stand out, further accentuating on the ivory trade issue.”
Surprisingly, xxMineSheepxx doesn’t actually plan out their pieces before building. “It's a terrible habit,” xxMineSheepxx admits, “but I often get frustrated when I'm planning, as I am wasting time outlining what I am going to do when I can just begin already. I usually wing projects like these with a rough idea in my head, adding on as I go.” They do admit to using reference photos to get them started and give a vague idea of proportions - and if you’ve ever tried to draw an animal from memory, you’ll understand why!
xxMineSheepxx, like a lot of builders, uses a plugin - a program designed to make building much easier than manually placing each individual block. The plugin they used is called VoxelSniper, which allows builders to “mold the shape through the use of two brushes - ball, which creates a ball, and blendball, which smooths things out.” They also used WorldEdit, which was used mostly for getting the colouring right, and a friend (who is not a plugin) who helped with a technique to make the grass look like it was growing randomly, so it didn’t look too repetitive. The result is a build that looks as natural as a photograph: a snapshot of a brief moment of life that tells a story.
Though xxMineSheepxx says that most people are unable to do anything about the poaching crisis, pieces like this that raise awareness can still help .”Minecraft has a large playerbase,” they say. “Through communicating this issue here, I am hopefully able to make some impact, and influence some people, as long as it is able to help make even the tiniest dent in this issue.”