Before the University of Pennsylvania moved classes online last month due to the coronavirus, junior Andrew Guo had a feeling the pandemic would have a major impact on the rest of the school year. So he and his friends started to toss around the idea of using the video game Minecraft to re-create the West Philadelphia campus.

By the end of the month, most of the campus should be complete on Minecraft, a creative video game on which users can build their own structures and communities. With in-person graduation ceremonies delayed, Guo said, he hopes to hold a different kind of commencement at a virtual Franklin Field next month.

“I think a virtual one would be a nice farewell to the seniors," he said.

A view of Penn's Minecraft campus, showing a statue of the emblem that was "built" by student Andrew Roberts.
Courtesy Makarios Chung
A view of Penn's Minecraft campus, showing a statue of the emblem that was "built" by student Andrew Roberts.

Guo, 21, a mathematics major from Chicago, said his group set up the Minecraft servers in mid-March and began meticulously reconstructing campus facilities, using Google to check dimensions and make sure their campus was to scale.

The project took off quickly, he said, after it was shared on several Penn social media pages and featured in Business Insider.

Now at least a dozen students are helping, he said. They use a spreadsheet to break up the work and figure out who is building which building. Faculty members have reached out, providing blueprints. Someone even suggested they conduct virtual admissions tours, Guo said.

A view of Locust Walk on Penn's Minecraft campus
Courtesy Makarios Chung
A view of Locust Walk on Penn's Minecraft campus

Along with graduation, Guo wants students to be able to remotely enjoy other spring traditions, including Hey Day, when juniors walk down Locust Walk on the last day of classes to mark the transition to senior year. There are preliminary plans for some kind of virtual Penn Relays this month, he said.

With other college students undertaking similar re-creations of their own campuses, he said, groups from different Ivy League schools may soon compete against each other in contests on Minecraft.

The Penn group hopes to finish the exterior of the campus by the end of the month, he said, but the building interiors will take longer to perfect.

Amid all the uncertainty and anxiety, Guo said, the Penn community has embraced the online space, adding, “People really enjoy coming back to campus."

An interior view of the Fisher Fine Arts Library, "built" by student Michael Willhoit, on Penn's Minecraft campus.
Courtesy Makarios Chung
An interior view of the Fisher Fine Arts Library, "built" by student Michael Willhoit, on Penn's Minecraft campus.