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Author Max Brooks on how the world of Minecraft helps prepare kids for our world

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

A new kids book out today tackles big, serious themes about war, liberty, security, even the purpose of a nation. It's called "Minecraft: The Village." That's right, Minecraft, as in the extremely popular video game. It's the third book in a trilogy written by Max Brooks, an author also known for his meticulously researched books on Bigfoot and zombies. His work has led to a position at the Modern War Institute at West Point, where he speaks to the military about preparedness. He talked to NPR's Andrew Limbong about how the world of Minecraft helps prepare kids for discussions about our world.

ANDREW LIMBONG, BYLINE: "Minecraft: The Village" is a fun book for kids. You know, there's adventures and jokes and references for the real Minecraft-heads. But even before the book starts, the dedication reads - to the children of war, may your children know peace.

MAX BROOKS: Yeah, yeah, we get very intense.

LIMBONG: Here's author Max Brooks.

BROOKS: And its heavy stuff, but it's told through a language that kids - or a lot of kids - understand, which is Minecraft.

LIMBONG: I should say, we talked before Hamas invaded Israel. But as he was writing this book, a different war was ramping up.

BROOKS: Ukraine was a big one. When I first started writing the book, I honestly thought that maybe I was going a little bit too intense because, in the book, the village has to go to war. They don't want it. They didn't ask for it, but it comes to them. And I know that that's an important lesson to impart because that's the story of human history. But I thought, am I going to get a lot of pushback for going there? And then the Ukraine war happened, and then it became a necessity.

LIMBONG: In the past two books, we met our heroes, Guy and Summer, who used to be of our world, then got transported into the blocky world of Minecraft. In this new book, they discover a little town and are living in it - trading, farming, building. When the war comes, so does a whole new set of questions Guy and Summer have to debate over. Here's a bit from the audiobook read by actor Sean Astin.

(SOUNDBITE OF AUDIOBOOK, "MINECRAFT: THE VILLAGE")

SEAN ASTIN: (Reading) There's got to be, like, a compromise - right? - a line somewhere between freedom and safety. I couldn't agree more, conceded Summer. And for a moment, I thought I had her. But then she sucker-punched me with, but who gets to decide where that line is - you? Me?

LIMBONG: Minecraft is an open-world game. You can go pretty much anywhere and do anything, but you can also run into anything - bad guys, of course, but also extreme climates, unknown terrains. It's not just about immediate dangers. You got to do the grunt work and think ahead - you know, manage your resources to make sure you're ready for whatever. For Brooks, that openness makes Minecraft the perfect vehicle to teach kids about adapting as they enter a world where, well, who knows what it'll look like.

BROOKS: When I was coming up, big revolutionary changes in technology or in economics or politics - that happened maybe once in a generation. As a Gen Xer, the movie that sort of - that was our "Easy Rider" was "Reality Bites." And Ethan Hawke goes off on this rant about, like, what am I supposed to do - get a job at a factory like my dad for 20 years? And now we think, like, no, dude, you'd be lucky to get that job.

LIMBONG: Yeah, that's the dream (laughter). Yeah.

BROOKS: Right. Yo (ph), yeah, that's not the nightmare, buddy.

LIMBONG: Yeah.

BROOKS: So no, change is going to be the constant. So literally, nowadays, life is a video game that's constantly updating, and you're going to have to update with it.

LIMBONG: Growing up, Brooks had a hard time getting through school. He is dyslexic, and being forced to read out loud in front of his class scared him. It made him anxious. His mom, the famous actor Anne Bancroft, quit acting to help him get through school. She taught him that problems are a lot less scary if you are prepared - true both in our world and in Minecraft.

Andrew Limbong, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF LOLA YOUNG SONG, "CONCEITED") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Andrew Limbong is a reporter for NPR's Arts Desk, where he does pieces on anything remotely related to arts or culture, from streamers looking for mental health on Twitch to Britney Spears' fight over her conservatorship. He's also covered the near collapse of the live music industry during the coronavirus pandemic. He's the host of NPR's Book of the Day podcast and a frequent host on Life Kit.