The latest book inspired by the hit game Minecraft is more than just a cheap tie-in. Block City: How to Build Incredible Worlds in Minecraft is a celebration of the amazing things players around the world have built. But it also serves as a guide, a kind of Rosetta stone for both parents and children.
The games press was surprised to learn late last year that Telltale is making a narrative game based on Minecraft. But it's actually a savvy move, since Minecraft-inspired fiction is flying off the shelves at retail. So when Abrams Books offered to send Polygon an advanced copy of their latest Minecraft-themed book, I wasn't expecting much; a me-too title perhaps, a way to exploit the fad and squeeze more revenue out of the print industry's dwindling shelf space.
Turns out, I was wrong.
Block City is well crafted, thoughtful and valuable for both veterans of the game and those coming to it for the first time. While not explicitly written for kids, Block City represents an opportunity to bridge the gap between generations by starting conversations.
By discussing what is possible in the game, Block City has the potential to help young players talk to their parents about their virtual lives — and vice versa.
Kirsten Kearney, with the help of Yazur Strovoz, has structured Block City to begin with an idiot's guide. What is Minecraft? Where did it come from? How do you play it? It's delightfully approachable and not at all condescending to the reader. It even goes so far as to discuss the various platforms the game is available on.
For the lay person, this early section of the book is invaluable for simply getting your head around the game.
The rest of the book is divided into four sections, each lavishly illustrated. There's a chapter on urban metropolises, one on fantasy kingdoms, another for futuristic settings and finally historical realms. In its pages you'll find examples of Minecraft builds that sites like Polygon have covered before, but then it goes a step further.
What Kearney has done is spent time interviewing the creators, and getting their tips and tricks on how to build better and more interesting structures. She's then taken these narratives and used them to connect the game world with the real world.
Scattered throughout the book are investigations of classical architecture, design, team building, programming, history, geography and travel. It is a textbook hidden inside a travel guide to a virtual world.
With Block City, Minecraft becomes more than a game. It is raised up as a vehicle through which to explore the world around us. It is a catalyst for engagement, both for players and those who love them.
The vast majority of parents simply cannot understand why their children enjoy Minecraft so much. I've been to more than one cocktail party where they spontaneously begin to share their confusion over the game. Usually, it's in the context of simply how much time junior is spending in front of the screen, and alternately veers towards dismissal of the hobby or hand-wringing over gaming's ills.
But are most parents likely to go home and sit down and play Minecraft with their kids? Probably not.
Perhaps Block City can help change that. The 256-page book, with over 400 color illustrations, goes on sale tomorrow.
Update: Abrams has reached out to say the book will now be going on sale May 12, rather than May 5.