San Francisco’s Chinatown has been replicated in ‘Minecraft’

The creators used Google Maps and Google Images to get the details right.

Minecraft tour of Chinatown screenshot with a map in the lower left corner
Chinatown Alleyway Tours/CNET

Lunar New Year began on February 11, and Bay Area residents are missing the festivities in San Francisco’s iconic Chinatown thanks to COVID-19 restrictions.

Long before the celebration’s onset, members of Chinatown Community Development Center’s (CCDC) youth groups were hard at work at a virtual solution where they could still show off this historical neighborhood. The mix of students and new graduates recreated the area using Minecraft and there are even some festive touches to celebrate Lunar New Year, according to CNET.

A struggling neighborhood — Businesses in Chinatown have been hit hard by the coronavirus, largely by lockdown restrictions but in no small part thanks to racism fueled by the former president.

One of the businesses hit by the downturn in local and tourist-driven revenue is CCDC’s alleyway tour. This youth program offered a comprehensive look at the neighborhood’s twists and turns, highlighting many local businesses in the process.

History, but gamify it — In order to capture the magic of these tours, many youths took to Minecraft to create a virtual Chinatown. Despite their ages, however, the task wasn’t easy out of the gate.

"The first issue was some people didn't want to actually get on Minecraft," 18-year-old Brandon Stites, one of the group’s few Minecraft devotees, told CNET. "A lot of people didn't really know how to move or where they're looking or anything like that. So we resorted to talking about a specific location and then teleporting them to the next location and then talking about that location and teleporting them to the next location.”

Through this process, the group — with the leadership of community organizer Lisa Yu and program manager Judy Kuang — recreated the oldest Chinatown in North America. They were also able to add floats and stalls for a recent Lunar New Year-themed virtual tour.

Eventually, the in-person tours will resume, but now there’s a modern snapshot of this cultural landmark that we can look back on for years to come... by which time, the places it's captured could themselves look very different, depending how the rest of the pandemic plays out.