Survival Instincts

Image: Penguin Books

Max Brooks has made a career of delving into the human experience during disaster and calamity. Where his bestseller World War Z looked primarily at how nations correctly or incorrectly respond to crises, Minecraft: The Island provides valuable lessons on individual adaptation, creativity, and survival couched in a sometimes-quirky story with peculiar game-derived rules and (of course) zombies.

In writing Minecraft: The Island, Brooks, who is a non-resident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, immerses his readers into the fictional world of the blockbuster video game Minecraft. He tells the a survival story of a person (nameless, raceless, and genderless) in the cubic world of the Minecraft video game. Survival has always been a recurring theme in Brooks’ work, and Minecraft: The Island is no exception. The protagonist has to learn new rules, dealing with the unique physics of the world of the game, while learning to build himself up from nothing.

The novel in many ways explores these themes. Minecraft as a game in many ways allows for a simple demonstration of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs in the context of a disaster or survival situation. The first priority is to food (lest you start taking damage from starvation). Once food is secure, a player, or the protagonist of the novel can begin constructing shelter, working all the way up to friendship (Brooks’ protagonist befriends a number of animals on the island most adorably a cow who he gives the moniker “Moo”). In many ways, his novel provides a first-person orientation of how to survive a disaster than his books such as World War Z. Like World War Z’s realistic depiction of zombie warfare, his Minecraft novel also seeks to hew to the rules of this particular world. As Brooks recently told The New York Times in an interview, “I war-gamed out everything. My biggest fear was that somebody tries to play out my book and finds out it won’t work.”

Although the novel is undeniably targeted at a younger audience, and will be appreciated far more by those familiar with the game, the lessons it conveys and the themes it covers will be easily recognized by those familiar with Brooks’ other work. Perhaps it will encourage an influx of new players looking to explore the creative possibilities and open ended survival strategies available in the game.