When Lydia Winters started posting on YouTube under the name MinecraftChick back in 2010, she wouldn’t have called herself a gamer. But she was passionate about making videos and was looking for a niche, so when friends suggested that she try posting Minecraft gameplay from a novice’s POV, she went for it — and found a gaming community that she fell in love with in the process. Winters never could have predicted that over 12 years later, she’d be working at the sandbox and survival game’s developer, Mojang Studios, as its chief storyteller.
But that’s exactly what ended up happening, thanks to a lot of manifestation, force of will, adaptability, and being at the right place at the right time, she told Refinery29 Entertainment Director and Twitch host Melissah Yang during Thursday’s stream. About a year into publicly playing Minecraft, Winters discovered that the small and mighty Sweden-based Mojang team would be attending blockbuster industry event E3 and knew she had to be there. A friend gifted her their frequent flier miles, and she figured out how to get into the event — which technically wasn’t supposed to be open to just anyone at the time. Winters also decided to cold email the Mojang CEO, introducing herself and offering any help while he was in the US. Unexpectedly, he replied pretty quickly, telling her that a person who was supposed to be managing a Minecraft booth had dropped out and asked her if she could step in.
“I was like, ‘Yes, obviously I’ll do that,’ and then I met the team,” says Winters, who lived in Florida at the time. “I made a joke about moving to Sweden when introducing the CEO to someone else, and he was like, ‘Oh come back with us and work with the community.’” Two weeks later, she moved across the world and became the company’s seventh — and first woman — employee.
Winters’ original title was director of fun — someone who worked directly with the already robust community of Minecraft players — but there was no clear path or set duties, really. “It was kind of whatever needed to be done,” she says, explaining that the company was so small that it was always all hands on deck, which provided her with more opportunities and potential for growth. Over time, she started working more directly on the brand, consumer products, and its annual event Minecraft Live. She received her most recent title, chief storyteller, just before the pandemic as a role meant for her to talk about the game around the world. “Every single thing has just been learning as I go, a can-do attitude, and let me learn that,” she says. “To me, that's always been the part that’s felt so fun: being able to actually grow and continue to learn as I grow. Because Minecraft also is always evolving and behind updated, it feels very similar to my journey. I’m like, ‘What’s the next Lydia update?’”
It’s fitting that Winters makes this analogy now, the day after Minecraft’s Trails and Tales update debuted, marking a new stage for the ever-popular game. As Winters tells it, the Mojang team is constantly trying to keep players — new, old, and returning — engaged with the game through purposeful changes that the community can make its own. That’s exactly what Trails and Tails aims to do through new features like rideable camels, long asked for cherry groves, an adorable gentle giant called a Sniffer, and more flexibility to shape the story all types of gamers are telling through their play.
“The team was thinking about how you can tell your own story, and by adding things that represent our global community, people are able to see the region of the world they’re in. It’s like parts of Minecraft can represent the way that they are,” Winters says. “We have players in every country around the world, so we can never stop on working to make the game more representative of our community.”
If both Winters and Minecraft are constantly evolving, so too is the video game industry itself. Winters has seen this first hand, starting back when she was an early 2010s YouTuber receiving a flux of hateful comments, even as her viewers tried to drown out that noise with their own positivity and support. And, as Mojang has grown over the years, more women and people of color have joined the team. There’s still much more to do — Winters says she wants to see more women in gaming working on the engineering side of things, in particular — but she’s happy with the progress she has experienced and hopes to help create even more.
“Conversations change the more diverse the group is, and that’s something I’ve noticed more. It’s just so different from what it was when there were only men in the office … it’s so much nicer now because you can really just find people you identify with and that understand you, and it doesn’t feel like I have to try and fit in,” she says. “I really hope that no amazing woman who enters into gaming or development has to have that again. There are still lots of gaps in gaming, but I hope it’s getting better.”