Few games offer the kind of freedom that Minecraft does. Whether you’re building gigantic fantasy structures, making your own games, or just exploring random Minecraft seeds, Mojang’s iconic sandbox game is still brimming with possibilities over a decade after its initial launch. One player has been pushing one such possibility to its literal limit by hiking through blocky hills and square valleys in search of the Far Lands, a location so far away from your spawn point that Minecraft’s procedural generation begins to fail. After ten years, and over $450,000 raised for charity, his lonesome journey has gathered a considerable following, even if he still has a long way to go.
“I was just looking to make something a little bit different,” Kurt ‘KurtJMac’ Mac says. “At the time, I hadn’t done any research into how far away the Far Lands actually were. It was just a spur of the moment decision: ‘Oh yeah, I can do that, let’s try to walk to the edge of the map, that sounds interesting’. I didn’t fully grasp the sheer distance, time, and effort that would be required.”
The Far Lands isn’t so much a place as it is a glitch that overloads the world, warping the terrain, and causing massive rifts to appear. The glitch is only present in older versions of the game (Mac plays on Beta version 1.7.3) and occurs 12,550,821 blocks away from any seed’s given start position. At the time of writing, Kurt is roughly 4,857,000 blocks into his journey; about 39%.
He uploaded the first episode of his journey to YouTube on March 7, 2011, right when Let’s Plays were starting to dominate the platform, with channels like Smosh and The YogsCast at the forefront. The mix of a rising format, a popular game, and a unique angle meant it wasn’t long before Kurt had a big audience.
“It was May, or so, when I started to notice the view numbers going up,” Kurt explains. “I was a big fan of Zeldathon and Desert Bus for Hope, so I figured this is pretty much a walk-a-thon, and I might as well turn it into a charity thing. I started with a very simple goal of raising $820, but I didn’t realise the impact of the audience: we raised that in five days. So I’m like ‘Let’s go for something a little bit bigger, like $8,200’, and I just kept adding and adding to it.”
Charity work has remained a part of the series ever since, starting with Child’s Play for a number of years, before including the Equal Justice Foundation, and most recently, the CDC Foundation’s COVID relief fund. Switching who people can donate to is perhaps the most substantial change Kurt has made to the series. From the early episodes to now, the formula, right down to a median length of 40 minutes, has stayed remarkably consistent over the years, and that’s very much by design.
“I’m a creature of habit,” Kurt says. “There have been times where I’ve thought about switching it up and having guests on every episode, but any time I’ve delved into that it just hasn’t felt right. It just hasn’t been the same, or it’s been like a barrier to keeping the consistency going. It’s my own personality, sticking with what I feel is comfortable, and what I feel is working.”
Though a longform adventure like this has obvious appeal for Minecraft fans, much of the audience show up for Kurt. Episodes have a podcast version, that’s just his audio track. Unlike many other Let’s Play creators, Kurt doesn’t play up to the camera, instead treating it like a long trek with friends, filling the air with personal insights and general conversation.
People often drift in and out, myself included, having stumbled onto Far Lands or Bust several times over the years. A decade is a long time, and it’s always a relief to find not much has changed, except the file size on Kurt’s save. “It puts it in perspective sometimes,” Kurt reminisces. “I even had some viewers who would watch with their kids, and now their kids have graduated from high school. It’s like ‘Oh, that’s neat’, however, I feel very old.”
Far Lands or Bust and its surrounding community is typical of how Minecraft has become a genre unto itself. When someone says they enjoy the game, they could mean anything. Do they like the construction? Or are they all about the foraging and survival game elements? Or one of the many Minecraft-centric YouTube channels? There are countless options, and if what you’re looking for doesn’t exist then you can just make it yourself.
“I’ve always likened Minecraft to being a stage where you can make whatever production you want,” Kurt says. “You can make scripted stuff, you can do adventure stuff, you can do comedy, one-person shows. I think that’s still very much true.”
Between 2014 and 2015, the show gained some mainstream attention via The New Yorker, followed by certification from Guinness World Records for the longest journey in Minecraft. Kurt has made convention appearances, mostly at PAX, but he doesn’t much enjoy the attention. Lowkey fan meet-ups, arranged by viewers, are more his speed for engaging in the real world.
“My fans got a kick out of the [Guinness World Record], and that’s the positive spin of all my awkwardness and discomfort around that situation,” Kurt laughs. “People sent me pictures of when the books first came out, and in bookstores they had those cardboard standees advertising it, and my picture was on it. They asked, ‘You want to have one of these for your house?’, and I responded ‘Thank you for the picture, but I’m not seeking a cardboard cutout of myself.’”
Kurt’s been full-time on YouTube since the end of summer 2011, and has also taken up streaming on Twitch. Far Lands or Bust is broken up into seasons, currently on a break until May, and he plays other games that interest him in the meantime, like PUBG or Kerbal Space Program.
Kurt’s not the only player to undertake this challenge and others have already completed the pilgrimage. For Kurt, the expedition is an ongoing reminder to everyone that not everything needs to be drastic or immediate. “Yes, you could sit down for eight hours a day and walk to the Far Lands in two months, but you won’t enjoy the journey,” Kurt says. “You won’t have stopped to look at anything, or build a monument, or you wouldn’t have adopted a Minecraft wolf to bring with you the entire time.
“It’s the opposite of a speedrun. Slow down. Life is long, you can take it easy, and enjoy the journey. You can still make it interesting, even if you are taking the slower path.”