Max Brooks says Minecraft could be 'the greatest educational tool since Gutenberg’s press'
World War Z author's new book Minecraft: The Mountain will be out March 2.
In Max Brooks' novel Minecraft: The Mountain (out March 2) the protagonist from the writer's 2017 book Minecraft: The Island continues to try and survive in the world of the titular video game, this time in the company of a new friend. "Our character from The Island lands on a new continent and he meets another castaway," the World War Z author tells EW. "While the first book is about learning to live with yourself, the second book is about learning to live with someone else."
The audiobook edition of Minecraft: The Mountain is read by Lord of the Rings star Sean Astin, with whom Brooks has a couple of personal connections.
"Sean and I went to high school together," says Brooks. "Sean was always really cool. He was a couple of years above me. I was intimidated — oh my god, there's Sean, he's the guy from The Goonies!" Also? "Sean's mother (actress Patty Duke) and my mother (Oscar-winner Anne Bancroft), they were in The Miracle Worker together," he says. "His mom was Helen Keller, my mom was Annie Sullivan, so it's crazy to have this second generation working together."
Below, Brooks talks about the educational possibilities of the Minecraft universe, and why it's a bad idea to tell kids they should punch people in the face.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Why did you start writing Minecraft books?
MAX BROOKS: For me, this is a burning passion, to write these books. I am not exaggerating when I tell you that I think Minecraft has the potential to be the greatest educational tool since Gutenberg's printing press. The education system that you and I had, it is the Prussian model of education, right? It is standardization, rote memorization, regurgitation, under a ticking clock. That was the perfect education model for the industrial revolution. But that doesn't work anymore. We're in a whole new economy — the gig economy, the digital economy, whatever you want to call it.
The mental skills that young people need now in order to thrive in the 21st entry are creativity, resilience, problem-solving, independence, none of which the Prussian model teaches, but Minecraft does. Minecraft teaches you that if there is a problem to solve, there are many ways to solve it, and you can come to the solution your own individual way, which is exactly what kids need in an entrepreneurial economy. When I was playing the game with my son for the first time, I realized, oh my god, this is it, this is brain training. A few years later, the folks at Minecraft reached out to me and said, "We're launching a series of Minecraft books, do you have an idea?" And I thought, oh my god, do I!
Minecraft: The Mountain is aimed at younger readers, but there are times when you are reminded that the author also wrote World War Z.
There are some very tense moments. When I play Minecraft, I imagine, what if this was real? What if I was really in it? Because there are some pretty scary moments. I remember the very first time I played Minecraft, and the sun went down and the creatures came out, that was pretty scary. I had to dig a hole and hide. So, yeah, the game is not without tension and the book should mirror the game.
What kind of feedback did you get from readers of Minecraft: The Island?
Oh, the best feedback I could have ever gotten. I'm a kid who struggled with dyslexia, had a real problem with reading, books were my enemy 'til I was about sixteen. The best compliment that I could ever get in my whole life is to have parents come up to me and say, "My child never read a book before, and suddenly picked up your book and is now reading everything." What more could I ask for?
And these are kids who picked up the book because they played Minecraft?
Yeah. And that's how reading should be taught. Most of the English teachers I had were natural readers. They cannot understand why some kids don't naturally take to books. So, instead of finding what a child's natural interest is, and then pairing them with a book, they load these kids down, myself included, with classic literature that we have no interest in to begin with. I remember when I was young my eighth grade friend asked our teacher if he could do his book report on Stephen King and the guy said, "No, no, no, no. That's not literature. Stephen King's not real writing. You're not allowed to read Stephen King." Well, congratulations, buddy, you've just annihilated a child's interest in reading. Young people come to the Minecraft books because they love Minecraft and they want a Minecraft adventure, which I saw as an in.
Does it feel different writing for younger readers?
You know what it is? I have to be mindful always of the game. The game is my boss and, as with all my books, I'm meticulous about my research. I'm always, in the writing process, running back to the game, wondering if I'm obeying the rules of the game. As far as a younger audience? The writing process is no different. When it comes to the marketing, sometimes I've got to be careful. There was one time with the very first book, I think I was at Comic-Con in New York, some very young person asked me about the creative process. I said, "The creative process takes a lot of work, there's draft after draft." I said, "Nothing infuriates me more than when I hear other writers talk about how it just flows, as if god tapped you on the shoulder." I said, "Believe me, if you run into someone in the future and they tell you that writing just flowed out of them, feel free to punch them in the face." And, of course, my editor grabbed the microphone and said, "Please do not punch them in the face."
Minecraft: The Mountain is published March 2.