PORTLAND, Ore. — The pandemic has thrown a wrench into so many school-related activities from graduation to senior prom.
But one high school senior decided he's wasn't going to let himself or his classmates miss out on prom, which started at 6 p.m. on Saturday.
Ryan Iness, a senior at Westview High School, said he and his friends spent hours creating a virtual prom using the game Minecraft.
Minecraft is a virtual world where users have the freedom to create what they want. Iness said they recreated their school.
“A few of my friends and I, we got together and decided that we wanted to try creating a prom. That would be pretty cool,” said Iness.
The virtual prom was open to anyone with access to Minecraft, though it was geared toward high school seniors. It was so popular, that the server crashed and Iness said he had to purchase more capacity and restart the server.
"In the beginning 100 people joined at once and it was all at one time, so it overloaded our server," he said.
While people were interacting in the virtual prom through Minecraft, many also spoke to each other using a piece of software called Discord, and at the same time also listened to a fellow student who acted as DJ playing music through a YouTube live stream.
People ended up joining from the Portland area and across the United States. Someone from Romania even got up early to log on.
"They had graduated from Westview I think last year," said Iness.
He said people, especially alumni, commented on how much they enjoyed being able to walk through classrooms.
By the end of the night, Iness said about 500 people had stopped by to check out the virtual prom.
He and his friends aren't the only ones who have hosted one. Kaed Dodge, a senior at Oregon City High School hosted a virtual prom last month with help from his brother, Max.
"You can transform it into anything you can imagine," said Max Dodge.
"It made me feel good despite what I was missing out on in terms of experiences in my senior year, I was gaining this much more unique experience I guess," said Kaed.
The virtual prom idea has become a popular one during the pandemic. It's not surprising. Minecraft is a hit with teens. A quick Google search and you'll see other students across the country have done something similar.
"It’s cool to see everyone coming together and trying to figure out new things," Kaed said.
As for whether a virtual prom is a replacement for a real-life prom? Iness said it doesn't exactly replace a real prom. But he's glad he and his friends created something his community can enjoy.
He said it's possible he'll consider replicating the event for graduation.
"We’ll see. We’re still working out some of the kinks," said Iness.
The plan is for the virtual world Iness and his friends created to remain accessible for at least another couple of weeks so anyone who didn't get a chance to experience it can explore. He created a website where people can get the information they need to access the virtual prom.