FAIRMONT — When East Fairmont High School senior Justin Hardwick started playing the video game Minecraft four years ago, he didn’t think his hobby would turn into anything more than just that.

However, after entering a statewide competition to re-create the state’s Capitol with Minecraft earlier this summer, Hardwick used his love of the game to become one of the contest’s two winners.

Minecraft is a video game in which players can explore, fight monsters and build structures in a randomly generated world. One of the biggest uses of the game in its online community has been building just about anything one’s mind can conjure up and sharing it with everyone else.

In that spirit, the State Capitol Minecraft Design/Build contest saw students from around the state compete to remake the West Virginia State Capitol Complex in the video game.

While one group competed to make the closest replica of the Capitol, Hardwick joined the other group, in which he was able to redesign the Capitol from scratch and make it his own vision.

“I chose to design a new model just because I’m not very good at intricacies and details and stuff,” Hardwick said. “I definitely knew I wanted to do gold domes and marble because that’s similar to what’s there now. … but I didn’t want it to be so stereotypical as to all the Capitol buildings that look kind of the same. I wanted to make it more modern.”

While the contest took place over the summer, the winners were only announced Wednesday. Hardwick, the only winner from Marion County, traveled to Charleston to meet Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin.

Tomblin said in a press release that using educational methods and applying them to areas that the students can connect with and enjoy is one of the best ways to grow skills and experience.

“I applaud each student who took the time to create their own versions of our state Capitol,” Tomblin said. “More than once this summer, I saw students exploring the Capitol grounds, taking notes and preparing for the hours they would spend creating their submissions. Their efforts certainly paid off. It’s important that we encourage our students to develop the skills and interests that build a foundation for future success in STEM fields — into college, training programs and careers.”

Hardwick, who is also a member of the school’s champion soccer team, started playing Minecraft to unleash his creative side and has been playing the game for several years.

Upon graduation, Hardwick hopes to go to nursing school, all while playing the game that propelled him to the governor’s office.

EFHS student wins Minecraft competition, Hardwick: ‘It’s my artistic form of expression'