The computer game has spawned a bestselling series of guidebooks – proving that children have an appetite for the tangible.
Who could have predicted a few years ago that a computer game would spawn a series of guidebooks to take the bestseller lists by storm?
Which gamer would buy such a thing, when you can find all you need to know to hone your skills in online forums, or downloadable applications? And we're not talking about basic guides, either, but hardback, self–consciously retro gift editions, with marbleised endpapers reminiscent of a first edition of Bleak House.
But this is exactly what happened with the authorised companion volumes to the Minecraft computer game, which have to date sold 8.2 million copies in 21 languages, and which became the children's present of choice last Christmas. And there is a fifth book on the horizon, Egmont announced this week; Blockopedia, published in early December, is a lavish encyclopedia in hexagonal form, and will sell for a hefty £30. Despite this price tag, it looks set to be a Christmas winner.
The Minecraft phenomenon is remarkable. Unlike many games, it appeals to adults and to children as young as six, and parents welcome it as an alternative to the high–speed action games they spend their weekends trying to prise their children away from. In fact, they view it (with a little self–delusion) as educational – or almost. The games are based on the simple but addictive idea of building 3D constructions out of blocks, then defending them – so you can imagine it as a kind of architecture masterclass for your child.
Though it may seem a new trend, repackaging online titbits in book form is a continuation of a successful tradition in children's non–fiction. Since the beginnings of the internet two decades ago, publishers have offered collations of facts of one kind or another, all of which would be available easily enough online, but which have none the less been turned into commercially successful books. Think of Dorling Kindersley or Usborne's lists.
And now Egmont has gone there too. The Combat Handbook takes you through the basics of weapon– and trap–making; The Construction Handbook shows you how to put structures together, whether a house, a garden or a suspension bridge, and it presents the best examples of these structures in Minecraft play.
These books confirm the trend across the industry for digital innovation combined with beautifully made physical books, especially at the luxury end. They are a rebuke to the revolutionaries who would have us tear up books in physical form and look instead at online information. Online enthusiasts, not least children, would seem to have a tangible appetite for books, too, especially those like these that are cleverly designed.
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