October 20, 2014

How Minecraft Mixes with Fiction

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 Librarian and gamer Erin Daly weighs in on Gift, the first multimedia novel to incorporate the popular sandbox game

A view within the Gift Minecraft map

 

Andrea Buchanan’s young adult novel Gift was the first to incorporate Minecraft. What’s that you say? The creative game, in which users build stuff out of cubes within a 3-D environment, deserves a closer look. Here, Erin Daly, young adult librarian at Chicopee Public Library, MA, offers an expert’s view of the Minecraft element in Gift and how well the sandbox game worked in its first integration within a novel.

Andrea Buchanan’s recent multimedia novel Gift is an ebook with a soundtrack, illustrations, and text that moves and fades as you read it. The novel, narrated by Daisy, a high school sophomore with power over electricity, tells the story of four friends who encounter a dangerous ghost and must solve a mystery from the past to defeat it. Daisy’s friends add their versions of the story with a graphic novel, journal, and music, most of which appear at the end of the book, with little bits interspersed throughout the text. In her recent review on Touch and Go, Danielle Fairnacci laments that these multimedia elements weren’t better integrated into the story.

Gift also has its own Minecraft map. Minecraft, the sandbox game from Mojang released in 2011 after various beta versions, has been capturing the hearts of gamers of all ages with its pixelated landscapes and open-ended gameplay. In Minecraft, you can create just about anything by gathering resources from the landscape. The game easily lends itself to creating representations of fictional settings. Players can also share in-game worlds or maps.

The Gift map was designed by Vechs, creator of the “Super Hostile” Minecraft map series, who’s known in the Minecraft community as a trickster with an eye for design. The “Super Hostile” maps bring new challenges and a different style to the familiar version of Minecraft. The maps share a basic gameplay structure where the player must find chests of colored wool hidden throughout the map. Vechs’s maps demand creative solutions and often have multiple ways to solve a problem. The Gift map follows this structure, without being much more hostile than the regular version of Minecraft. (There is a more difficult map version available called GiftWarped, that mirrors more of the “Super Hostile” sensibility.)

When you load the map, you find yourself standing on a suburban street with low rectangular houses surrounded by palm trees. It does not immediately look or feel like Minecraft. Rare materials are used in interesting ways, streets made of obsidian and glowstone lamps. The first thing you do to survive in a new game of Minecraft is gather wood by punching trees, but when you punch these palms, you find they are made of fence posts instead. The first moments of gameplay were both fascinating and disorienting, but my familiarity with Minecraft eventually reasserted itself.

The map provides hours of gameplay and faithfully depicts locations from the book, which vary in importance to the game. Danielle’s ultra-pink bedroom, a source of much embarrassment in the story, was the perfect place in the game to find the chest of pink wool. But the Castle Creek High School girls’ bathroom, where Daisy first finds Vivi in the opening chapter, contains nothing more than toilets made of pistons and trapdoors. Perhaps the game would be too easy if the wool chests were all located in places that were important to the story.

The Gift map is a compelling companion piece to the novel. But, like the other multimedia pieces of the book, it presents the same events from a different point of view, rather than being instrumental to the storytelling. A closer integration of story and game would mean that each informs the other. Perhaps the different elements would be experienced more synchronously. Once you read a certain amount of text, a section of the game would be unlocked, or vice versa, advancing the plot and difficulty of gameplay simultaneously. The Gift and its associated Minecraft map are certainly a foray into interesting territory.

Minecraft resources:

Minecraft  Purchase and download the game via the homepage.

Mineraft wiki  A community resource for learning the ropes.

Minecraftedu.com  Considering using Minecraft in a school or library? You can purchase discounted licenses and teacher tools here.

Miners Need Cool Shoes  Begin with the basics of customizing your Minecraft experience by designing your own character skin

SLJ’s Touch and Go Review of Gift 

 

Erin Daly (edaly@chicopeelibrary.org) is young adult librarian at Chicopee Public Library, MA. Daly penned “Minecraft in the Classroom and Library” for SLJ.

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