Students use online platforms to socialize amid coronavirus social distancing orders

Trinady Joslin

In the middle of March in Texas, Andres Aguilar went sled racing with a group of friends.

At the same time, Andrea Luna and Jan Carlos Rubio spent six hours building the Tower, brick by brick. 

They all did it without leaving the house.

Aguilar, Luna and Rubio are logging onto childhood favorites: Club Penguin and Minecraft. They say they’re trying to pass the time and connect with friends while away from UT through the online platforms.

Undeclared business freshman Luna created a Minecraft realm after the announcement came that spring break would be extended. Alone at her home in Houston, Luna said she tweeted to see if anyone wanted to join.

“(Jan and I) got together. And then I was like, I don't know what to build,” Luna said. “He suggested, ‘Let's just build UT.’ He said it jokingly, and I was like, ‘Bet.’” 

From there, the two created the Tower and The Main Building. Rubio, an electrical and computer engineering freshman, posted a photo of their creation on Twitter, and other UT students started asking to join. 

The group now has around 40 people involved and plans to build as much of UT as they can. 

For each building, Luna said they use Google Earth to look at details they may not remember and leave the inside of halls they’re not familiar with hollow. 

Luna said she talks to other players on the Discord server they created specifically for the Minecraft realm. 

“Talking to them on Discord also really helps because instead of being by yourself only listening to music, you have peers with you,” Luna said. “We all have the one goal: to build UT. Time passes really, really quickly when we're all together online.”

Computer science sophomore Garrett Gu decided to go a different route over spring break to fill his time. After realizing Club Penguin was a big part of his childhood, he created and is maintaining a Club Penguin server specifically for UT students.

While Gu said using Club Penguin may be a silly way to meet up online, he said it’s helpful to create organic meetups that don’t happen on platforms like Zoom.

“I hang around (on campus) and hope I bump into people,” Gu said. “It would be really great if there were a platform where you could just roam around on the website for a while and bump into some fellow UT students, sort of like on campus.”

Government freshman Aguilar said he uses the site to meet up with friends he made at UT so he doesn’t lose touch. 

Aguilar said FaceTiming while they play helps them talk in real time and have more to talk about.

“If you have something like the Club Penguin server, like the Minecraft server, where you're  exploring or constantly doing little things in between, then you have more things to talk about,” Aguilar said. 

Gu said there is also a Discord channel for students who play Club Penguin. While self-isolating, Gu said getting on and talking to others has helped him not feel so alone.

“Whether or not this helps (people) depends entirely on how many people end up being on the server, and that's just not something I can control,” Gu said. “I've certainly felt a little less lonely browsing on Club Penguin than I would be just sitting in my room and playing Tetris all day.”