‘Minecraft’: Small Story of a Big Game

That’s a whole lot of blocks.

Markus “Notch” Persson is the famous indie-game developer behind Minecraft, which is also the name of the new book about his life and work by Daniel Goldberg and Linus Larsson. (The effect is slightly odd, like naming a Steve Jobs biography “iPhone.”)

Minecraft traces Persson’s development from an isolated young man building simple PC games in his bedroom, to a frustrated game developer who feels the software conglomerates are stifling his creativity, to a multimillionaire who’s had some trouble coming to grips with his gamer-land fame. The Persson described in the book is an introvert’s introvert, far more interested in coding than partying, although he does display flashes of entrepreneurial aggression that would make Steve Jobs or Jeff Bezos proud: at one point, he confesses that he wants to build a gaming behemoth on the scale of Valve.

He certainly has the money to make many of his empire dreams come true, as Minecraft remains a strong seller more than four years after its Alpha debut. The game features a “survival” mode, in which the blocky hero attempts to survive against hordes of enemies, as well as a “creative” mode where players can mine blocks and use them to build pretty much any structure. The latter mode has unleashed some spectacular displays of creativity, including enormous replicas of the Egyptian Pyramids and the Empire State Building.

While the authors clearly had some access to Persson, they didn’t use that face-to-face time to plunge deeply into his character: there’s precious little insight into how his occasionally messy childhood informed his worldview, for example, or the duality that clearly exists between his more insular self and his ambition to build a massive company that, at its heart, rests on interactions between millions of people. On the other hand, by avoiding the plunge into that psychological thicket, they also prevent their work from falling into the tedious armchair-psychiatry that’s doomed many a biography.

The book is at its best when describing the Swedish gaming industry (from its giants down to the indie studios), and how Minecraft went from bedroom-developer project to worldwide phenomenon. That’s almost enough to overlook how much of a cipher Persson remains, even in the final pages.

“Minecraft: The Unlikely Tale of Markus ‘Notch’ Persson and the Game that Changed Everything”

Daniel Goldberg and Linus Larsson (translated by Jennifer Hawkins)

Seven Stories Press

256 pages

1609805372 (ISBN-10); 978-1609805371 (ISBN-13)

Rating: 7/10

Image: Mojang