August 19, 2021

Pioneering Women of Early Minecraft YouTube

For the first few years of Minecraft’s existence, all players began the game as Steve—an iconic blue-shirted avatar about whom little is known. In 2015, the game introduced Alex, the first playable character in Minecraft who was a woman. Owen Jones, director of creative communications at the game’s developer, Mojang Studios, told The Verge at the time that “Jolly old Steve doesn't really represent the diversity of our playerbase.”

While that diversity wasn’t always visible in the game, it was already visible on YouTube, where female creators have played a significant role in the community since its earliest days.

Aphmau, for instance, began uploading videos in 2012, and she now has 11 million subscribers. Her videos—which established roleplay as one of the most popular content formats—made her the most-viewed creator of Minecraft videos in 2020, a position she retained in 2021. iHasCupquake builds new worlds and improvises in-depth stories with friends—she’s even credited with hosting the first version of “The Hunger Games,” an early iteration of the battle royale game format, inside Minecraft. She began her series “Minecraft With Cupquake” in 2011, a year before Aphmau began uploading.

Preceding both of them, however, was Lydia Winters, who was among the 50 most-viewed Minecraft creators in 2010.

In 2010, when the game was still in beta, Lydia began making YouTube videos featuring her gameplay under the name MinecraftChick. Drawing on her background as a teacher, she spent her early days on YouTube experimenting with new formats that showcased her willingness to learn in front of an audience and laugh at her mistakes. She set out to make content that felt welcoming and inviting, videos that weren’t just engaging but encouraged others to try their hands at gameplay, too. “My viewers were amazing, and it felt like this awesome group cheering me on with my content,” she says. “The Minecraft community overall feels more inclusive than other online communities, and it’s something I’ve always loved and appreciated about it.”

Lydia’s work was instrumental in expanding the possibilities within Minecraft. Springboarding to her role as chief storyteller at Mojang, she now shapes how the whole world sees and experiences Minecraft. Below, Winters reflects on her early days on YouTube, as well as her ongoing role in making Minecraft a rich well for all the players exploring its many worlds.

How did you get into Minecraft content creation?

In 2010, I started making videos about my life and posting them on YouTube. Each day, I would try to think of a new idea but realized I wanted the videos to be about one subject. My friend recommended this newly popular game called Minecraft. The game was still in beta and I hadn’t played many games, but my friend suggested I play with the perspective of someone who just started gaming. I wore a hot pink wig because I had shaved my head to raise money for breast cancer research. I figured out how to shoot videos of my screen and also myself, and I opened Minecraft and hit record on November 15, 2010. At the time, most of the creators were men and no one was showing their faces or editing their videos. I wanted to create my videos like a show where I played the game but also did little vignettes in black-and-white talking about my [gameplay]. I didn’t watch videos of other people playing because I wanted to learn myself and with tips from my viewers. Soon my videos became known as “The Misadventures of MinecraftChick” because I was quite terrible at playing but having a lot of fun learning.

Online content can feel like such a male-dominated creative space; tell us about your experience coming into it as a woman.

At the time, I was one of the first women—or the first woman—to make Minecraft content, and it was hard. I wanted to be myself and create things I would want to watch. I got a lot of hate at first for showing my face with gameplay “for attention,” but now that’s commonplace throughout gaming videos. I'm one of the pioneers in that space for gaming. Early on in my channel, I did a video with a male creator for his channel, and the comments were so terrible he took the video down. He had never experienced those types of messages.

As women, online harassment and horrible comments are so commonplace, you try not to dwell on them too much. Now I speak up about it more because it’s good for male creators to understand how different it is to be a woman online. I kept going because the viewers and other creators who supported me made it all worthwhile. It’s still incredible to me to think about how many people have viewed my videos, and I still get messages 11 years later about how much people love my content or the connection they still have to it after all this time.

What is unique about the Minecraft YouTube community that you couldn't get elsewhere? What is your fanbase like?

The community around my channel was always incredibly dedicated. They supported me with all their comments and the excitement they had for what I created. I remember iHasCupquake reaching out to collaborate. At the time she had a small channel and I had a larger one, and 10 years later, she is still creating incredible content. She’s still a friend and that’s a super special part of the community—creating friendships that last.

What is it like working at Mojang? Where do you see intersections between development work and content creation?

Many people within our company, like me, were the first part of the community—so there’s a lot of intersections between development and content creation. For example, when I plan our content for Minecraft Live, I use many of the skills I learned being a content creator on YouTube. Also, as I host Minecraft Live, I use all that I learned from being in front of the camera on my channel. Minecraft and YouTube grew up together in a way, both gaining popularity and relying on each other. I love having been part of both of those histories.