Interview From the Overworld: Talking Minecraft With Danica Davidson
The cultural impact Minecraft has had for an entire generation isn't just limited to the game itself. There are countless YouTube channels devoted to talking about and playing Minecraft, an entire line of action figures and stuffed collectibles, and even a line of Lego sets. Most surprisingly, there are a number of Minecraft novelizations featuring original stories based in the world of Creepers, Endermen and all manner of voxel-based creatures.
One such set of stories focuses on the adventures of Stevie, the son of Minecraft's original player character Steve, and a young girl named Maison, who must overcome an invasion from the Minecraft world into our own. We spoke with author Danica Davidson about her novels, why Minecraft was an appealing setting, and what to expect from further adventures with Stevie and Maison.
One of the game version of Minecraft's greatest strengths is how it's an open adventure with no narrative, allowing anyone to play to come up with their own story. Why do you think people are so interested in Minecraft fiction outside of the game world?
I think you just answered that in the question! Minecraft is so huge and lends itself to so many different narratives. If you love Minecraft, why not read books about it and branch off? It can take Minecraft adventures to an exciting new place.
How did your experiences with Minecraft shape your own story?
Well, when I first got introduced to it, it was with friends who’d been playing it for a while and knew it really well. I was a newbie stumbling into it, and it didn’t take long for me to get killed by a zombie. And get killed by another one.
Everyone starts out there, so I started thinking about what it’d be like if you’re a Minecraft character and this is your world but you’re struggling with building and fighting. I put those fears into my character Stevie, because at the beginning of the book he’s trying to build a tree house to impress his dad, who is a master builder known as The Steve. But all Stevie does is lose track of time, try to run home after dark, get his tree house blown up by a creeper and get attacked by zombies. We’ve all been there. Stevie gets down and out on himself, but as the book goes on he gets better at fighting and building because he needs to in order to save lives.
Minecraft's audience is incredibly diverse, from kids and parents who play together, to adults who spend hours creating impossible worlds. What were some of the challenges in creating a narrative that could appeal to such a wide range of readers?
I didn’t sit down thinking, I need to create a narrative for a wide range of readers. I came up with a story about an eleven-year-old Minecraft boy named Stevie who has real fears and insecurities — but, yeah, happens to be a Minecraft character who gets to fight mobs with swords. So I mixed both real issues and totally-Minecraft issues with him.
In the book, Stevie finds a portal to our world, and there he meets Maison, a really smart, talented girl who’s adjusting to middle school and being harassed by older kids there. Her computer works as a portal to the Overworld because of a special, mysterious portal she set up while playing Minecraft. Maison is the misunderstood outsider who’s really super cool but no one around her sees it. I think a lot of us can relate to feeling misunderstood or being outside of what is cool. Stevie and Maison become friends, but then they also have to save the school, because the portal also allowed out zombies and they’re attacking the middle school. You know, Minecraft issues.
Your books aren't the first Minecraft adventures released by your publisher. Is there a connected universe at play, or are does everyone have their own sandbox to play in?
No, I think we all have our own sandbox, as long as it’s Minecraft. I had actually just sold a book on how to draw manga to my publisher, because I’m a big manga fan and have done various work in the manga world for years, like reviewing manga or even writing the English adaptation for publishers. The publisher I sold the manga book to knew I also wrote novels and basically asked, “Hey, do you have any Minecraft ideas?” No guarantee they’d take them, but they were willing to hear me out. I took a look at the other books they had already published on Minecraft, but all I did was read the backs and the first few pages. I wanted an idea of what they were about without having them influence me too much, because I wanted it to be my take on Minecraft. The next thing I knew, Stevie and Maison had taken over my head and I turned in my pitch. The publisher jumped on it.
There's an increasing number of unofficial Minecraft books on the market. How did you add your own voice to the Minecraft lore?
I just go with my voice. Since the book’s primarily aimed for kids, I got out stuff I wrote in sixth grade to remind myself of the voice and feelings for it. But I did also want it so adults could enjoy it, too. The books are simple, but they’re not dumbed down. I get emails from parents who say they really enjoyed the book while reading it to their kids, or that their kids don’t like to read and they couldn’t put the book down. Those emails mean so much to me.
Your next novel follows up on the adventures of Maison and Stevie, who are now an even bigger target thanks to their heroics in the first book. What challenges lie ahead for the duo and how do you raise the stakes from how much they've already overcome?
Yeah, I’m really excited about the next book! In the first book almost every chapter ends with a cliffhanger, and readers were really responding to the action. So the second book has even more action. Some cyberbullies hack into Maison’s computer and they find the portal. They let themselves in, use codes to turn the Overworld into eternal night and let loose zombies on the village. So Stevie and Maison don’t have daylight to protect them and the cyberbullies are always one step ahead with their codes. I wanted to make a book with nonstop action that can also open a door to discussions on the seriousness of cyberbullying.
Minecraft is such an incredible creative tool. What are some of your favorite Minecraft creations or re-creations, and have you built your own adventures with Maison and Stevie at home?
Ha, I wish I was good enough to build all of Maison’s and Stevie’s worlds in Minecraft! I just create their worlds on paper. But I love going on YouTube and seeing all the creations people make. The Simpsons has been my favorite show since I was seven, and now I can go through a virtual Springfield online. Minecraft is amazing with what it lets you do.