Minecraft book is ‘Crusoe for the digital age’

Block party: “At the end of it all I wrote it for me. I’m a fan first,” said author Max Brooks.

The latest novel by Max Brooks is a Robinson Crusoe-like tale of survival, zombies, and building an entire world from cuboid blocks. Yep — it is about Minecraft. Why is the game so popular?

“My biggest fear was that somebody tries to play out my book and finds out it won’t work,” Max Brooks told The New York Times this week.

The author of World War Z — a bestseller adapted into a film starring Brad Pitt — was discussing his newest novel, Minecraft: The Island.

The protagonist is a Robinson Crusoe figure with no name or gender, who wakes up helpless on a strange island — the twist being that it is made entirely of cubes. Although the hero is human, they must learn to survive in the Minecraft world. That includes learning new laws of physics, building shelters, and surviving attacks by zombies and giant spiders.

For Minecraft fans, these are all recognisable features of their favourite video game.

For outsiders, it is an exciting — if bizarre — adventure story.

For the Times, however, the book is “a strange new entertainment category” which “blurs the line between fiction and gaming”. The story is set inside a video game; readers can use that video game to “play along” with the story. It “hovers somewhere between fan fiction, role-playing games and literature”.

This is not the first time that Minecraft has broken new ground. The game’s concept is surprisingly simple: to mine materials, build things from them, and avoid the night-time zombie attacks.

But the “blank canvas” that it gives players has been used to dazzling effect — including a 1:1 scale model of the entire country of Denmark; interactive logic puzzles; even as an education tool for classrooms.

In the six years since it was released, Minecraft has sold more than 100m copies. That makes it the second most popular game ever made, trailing only behind Tetris. In 2014, it was sold to Microsoft for $2.5 billion. Its annual convention, MineCon, is the largest of any single video game; a record 10,000 people attended in 2015.

But why, when video game graphics are more advanced than ever, is this blocky world so popular?

Mine-blowing

The simplicity is exactly what makes it so appealing, say some. It is accessible to all ages, genders and abilities. It encourages creativity over competition. There is no way to ever win or even complete Minecraft; the only limit, as fans like to say, is your imagination. That joyful attitude is refreshing in an industry so often characterised by violence and sexism.

It is more than that, say others. Minecraft has sparked an entire community in a new and imaginative way. Like Twitter, or perhaps the Harry Potter series, its vast world has taken on a life of its own. It can seem inexplicable to outsiders — but it inspires amazing creativity and loyalty from the millions who are in the know. Brooks’s novel is the next logical expansion of that world.

You Decide

  1. What makes Minecraft so popular?
  2. Will Max Brooks’s new book inspire a new genre of video game literature?

Activities

  1. Design your own simple video game, inspired by the principles of Minecraft.
  2. Write a short story set inside a video game of your choice.

Some People Say...

“Minecraft creations should be considered art.”

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
Minecraft: The Island was published by Del Rey on July 18th. Last year, according to Motherboard, 40m people were regularly playing Minecraft at least once a month. For comparison, World of Warcraft had 12m at its peak, and Candy Crush Saga had 550m regular players.
What do we not know?
Like many games, films, or books which unexpectedly find huge success, it is impossible to know exactly what makes Minecraft so special. Part of it is the ease with which players can adapt the game to their own interests — while some indulge architectural fantasies, others experiment with engineering, others create and solve puzzles, others try to replicate historical landmarks. Another thing that is not known is how long the popularity will last.

Word Watch

Max Brooks
The son of the actor Mel Brooks and actress Anne Bancroft. Max has written for the comedy show Saturday Night Live, and has written several books — mostly about zombies.
Minecraft: The Island
The book was published this month by the science fiction and fantasy publisher Del Rey. It was commissioned by Mojang, the company behind Minecraft, as the game’s fist official novel. Mojang has hinted that it may be the first in a series.
Robinson Crusoe
A novel by Daniel Defoe, first published in 1719. It is the story of a man, Crusoe, who must learn to survive on a desert island. It was one of the first truly popular novels written in English, and has become a template for the countless “castaway” stories that have been written since.
Released
The game was created by Markus Persson. The beta version was released in 2009, and the full version in 2011.
100m
According to figures released by Mojang last year.
Microsoft
Another remarkable aspect of Minecraft’s success is that, until Microsoft came along, it was produced by an entirely independent company.