Time moves differently in Minecraft. A day lasts 20 minutes. A night lasts only seven. With the right conditions, Rome can be built in a day. And with the right supplies, a troll can burn it to ashes in minutes.

2b2t, a malevolent form of Minecraft, is full of such ruins: It’s a place of beauty and terror.

Ranked among the world’s most popular video games, Minecraft is often praised for fostering creativity and constructive play. It is the parent-approved successor of Lego, even used as an educational tool in schools. In addition to the usual gameplay modes, multiplayer servers turn the game into a social activity. These communal worlds are subject to rules: start a fight or destroy property, and a moderator will usually ban you.

2b2t is an “anarchy server,” the oldest and most infamous of its kind. It offers a world without rules, where aggression is encouraged and survival is rarely assured. 2b2t plays out like a Cormac McCarthy novel built with thousands of 1×1 digital bricks.

While Minecraft is the terrain of the imagination, 2b2t gives free rein to your darkest impulses. And now, 2b2t is being ravaged by war.

Anarchy servers are a dark tradition within Minecraft. In a standard game, you are dropped into a randomly generated world, where you mine for resources and build structures, one block at a time. There’s a survival mode – players have to scrounge for food and fight off zombies at night – and a more free-form creative mode, where players have unlimited health and resources. Players can join friends and strangers to play in servers online, though they are discouraged from attacking others, laying waste to buildings or using pornographic terms to describe someone’s mother.

There are no such rules on the anarchy servers. They are by nature inhospitable – in general, players are advised to bury their supplies, arm themselves to the teeth and be prepared to die many times over. 2b2t – “2builders2tools” – was created in 2010 by a user named Hausemaster and is known as “the worst place in Minecraft”. It has its own subreddit, a webcomic and a “2b2t Press” news site, where pseudonymous players post updates on the ongoing war’s latest atrocities. One writer exploring it found it to be littered with Isis flags.

Its first colonisers were users of the Facepunch forum, hence 2b2t’s seminal “Facepunch Era”. Members began to map and establish bases. The first factions were formed as rival forums signed up to the server and began to launch raids to destroy each other’s work.

Today, the server is more chaotic still. Players are divided into two camps. “Rushers” are disorganised players that are new to the game, seeking to infiltrate 2b2t’s settlements and claim them as their own. They battle the “veterans”, more experienced residents who have rigged the “spawn” (the point at which players arrive in the game) with traps to kill off new players.

The wave of new players was triggered by TheCampingRusher, a YouTuber whose video exploring the server was posted on 1 June and already has over two million views. In the video, his elation is palpable as he enters this previously hidden world. Almost immediately after it was posted, new players began to flood into 2b2t, throwing the server deeper into chaos.

Since then, the battle lines have become more ambiguous: 2b2t’s oldest users have retreated to edges of the map to preserve their settlements and sit out the siege in peace, leaving the new players to attack each other.

Much of the appeal of 2b2t is about learning what is possible – a world with few limits other than one’s will to power and survival. In the server, cuddly Minecraft becomes a horror game, one that demands a zen-like sense of self-effacement as you die repeatedly and re-spawn back to where you started. In the chat window, a stream of insults blends in with server updates. No arrival goes unannounced. No death goes unsung. While playing, I’m informed that a player called Dr Funky Pepper has just “become lava”. Two others get “slashed by a zombie pigman” and reduced to “a bloody meat pile with just fists.”

To traverse 2b2t is to feel lost and overwhelmed, and to play is to accept this pain and confusion as a condition of existence. The ordeal begins even before you enter: The queue to join the server is over 1,000 players long. A very slow-moving countdown appears on screen; when it reaches zero, you’re allowed in.

It took me three tries and over four hours to join 2b2t. It was worth the wait. I spawned before an abyss – I was standing looking at a heady drop into sea and stone and lava. After I overcame my virtual vertigo, I edged my way up a gigantic craggy mountain.

Hidden across the landscape are some especially cruel traps: fake sanctuaries that explode in flames, pits that drop you into a river of lava and false floors that open into prisons built from obsidian, with no way to dig out. (Players entombed there have no choice but to log out and sit through the queue all over again.)

To navigate this land requires an arsenal of hacked clients – altered versions of the game with enhancements, similar to cheats, like X-ray vision or teleporting. Popular cheats include the power to see through walls to find supplies and victims and one to improve aim. (This might explain how a figure in the far distance was able to shoot me down with a crossbow. In the dark.)

As I played, alerts in my chat window listed the deaths occurring by the second; the calming, ambient Minecraft theme song played as body after body hit the floor.

Nazi propaganda, racist slurs and a succession of death threats pour into the chat window with mechanical efficiency. Their sheer volume negates the effect, and they become part of the background. I want to beat this. I want to feel at home in chaos.

I too am cursing now, shouting very loudly at my screen. I fall. I re-spawn. I fall again.

Players are cueing up for four hours to play the elicit version of the game

For several years now, Devi Ever has been known on 2b2t as something of a pirate and a griefer (those who terrorise other players for their own amusement). She says the best sights in 2b2t are far out from spawn, logged by players on interactive maps where the distance is measured in bricks – one brick is roughly equal to a cubic metre. “The million [brick] mark, that’s where all the cool stuff is,” she says. “The thing I enjoyed the most wasn’t destroying, it was exploring.”

She adds, “Exploring 2b2t is like archaeology, there’s so much that it says about the nature of Minecraft itself and about the design of the game. 2b2t deserves a book.”

As a seasoned player, Ever has access to the priority queue, which allows her to skip the four-hour wait (some fans believe this is an artificial barrier, one thrown up to slow anyone who joined since June. Players have approached her asking to buy her old accounts for their quick access privileges. Sometimes they’re looking to trade inteligence for espionage or offering payments of hundreds of dollars. Information is currency in 2b2t: Ever traded a spare account for the location of 2b2t’s fabled Jesus statue, built in homage to the Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro.

The server’s massive size and ephemeral nature make it difficult to track its history. Still, there are attempts to organise its past into a coherent narrative. Reddit user ArchCrono, known in-game as ArchQuantum, authored a series of posts detailing 2b2t’s history, which eventually made it to the site’s front page. Their popularity is why he was asked to lead a faction into 2b2t, a challenge he reluctantly accepted.

Why do players queue for hours just to spawn and be killed off in seconds? “Minecraft notoriously lacks a standard story mode,” ArchCrono theorises. “This is a very real void the developers have not chosen to directly address.”

2b2t provides a meta-narrative beyond the game, similar to the half-time show during American sports broadcasts. Players post about the server on YouTube and Reddit, like amateur sports analysts. “If you are on 2b2t, what you do matters more than what you do on a single player or local setting, because it is available to so many people,” ArchCrono says. “The YouTube channels that cover 2b2t, particularly TheCampingRusher and FitMC, are providing commentary that crafts the plot of a story mode. When I posted on Imgur, I basically added an entire new section of plot.”

The rushers, then, are queuing up to play a role in Minecraft history.

A full version of the official game for schools will be available from November

Hausemaster, the founder of 2b2t, is a quasi-mythical figure both praised and trolled. He says he set up the server in 2011, when Minecraft Multiplayer was first released. Players flooded in, forming settlements and communities. He picked 2b2t’s final setting, “anarchy” mode without moderation. “I wanted to see what destruction would be made, but also whether there would be connections between players in such a chaotic, rule-free environment.”

I assumed Hausemaster would disapprove of the current influx of rushers, but he’s happy to see the server getting attention, even if the world he helped create erupted in violence. “2b2t is definitely not ruined – in my opinion it’s how it should be: absolutely chaotic.”

2b2t gives players free rein to abuse, destroy and self-destruct. It is essentially nihilistic, as players thrash against the walls of their virtual cage, taking out their disaffection on the same technology they are addicted to. Their behaviour is more than not safe for work: it is not safe for life itself.

Perhaps enduring this noxious landscape is ultimately 2b2t’s true appeal. “2b2 is about pride,” says Ever. “Pride in being able to flourish in what is considered the most notorious environment you can play in.”

Nobody survives very long in 2b2t – the pride comes from having died there.

There’s an alternative Minecraft server without any rules