The family that plays together
Wise conversation

Creative planet

In this last of three posts, I'm trying to describe the experience of playing Little Big Planet, rather than applying a systematic analysis (graphics, gameplay, level design, replay value, etc.). You can read more about what I'm up to here.

The great challenge which faces us is to assure that, in our society of big-ness, we do not strangle the voice of creativity, that the rules of the game do not come to overshadow its purpose. --Hubert Humphrey, 1966.

Creativity Above all, Little Big Planet is about creativity. More than any game I can think of, LBP communicates creativity as a kind of dialectic between player and game designers. It's a conversation in which ideas are transmitted from designer to player, and vice versa. The experience of playing the game is punctuated by a series of "stop and admire" moments. I described several of these in my previous post, and I could have listed many more.

But we might also think of these as "stop and store" moments, because as you play the game, you are also gathering ideas and materials for your own later use, presumably infused with your own creativity. This, it seems to me, is a fairly remarkable thing.

Little Big Planet makes you feel connected to a creative process: the designers of the game, whose presence in the world of LBP is palpable; your own customization of your avatar (Sackboy); your individual creativity expressed through the level designer; and other creators around the world - all contribute to an awareness of creativity that I find exciting and appealing. A commenter on a previous post called it a "collective consciousness," and I think that's an apt description.

I'm obviously not suggesting LBP is the first game to enable players to behave creatively. Other games have done so in all sorts of ways, and plenty of powerful toolsets exist to modify games or create brand new games from scratch. LBP is different, in my view, because it communicates creativity as a collective human aesthetic. It presents an organic and accessible world that feels like it was built by human hands.

And so our minds begin to conceive of personal creations fusing gameplay with meaningful messages: a tribute world to a retiring teacher, full of imagery and gameplay conditions that reflect the accomplishments, the milestones, the setbacks, the passage of time that characterize his or her individual journey. Or a social statement world. Or a tailor-made playground. Or a love letter. Little Big Planet suggests all these are possible if you're willing to learn its tools. It's the first game that's enticed me, a non-designer with no programming skills, to give it a try. We'll see how it goes.

I realize I've been rather gushy in my praise of Little Big Planet, and I'm aware not everyone shares my enthusiasm. I've tried to explain in this short series why I admire the game so much, but, as always, your mileage may vary. I want to say "Run out and buy it; try it for yourself," but I find myself growing increasingly sensitive to the financial reality of such a cavalier suggestion. Lots of us don't have $460 to spend on a sleek new console and one game these days. If you do, I encourage you to try Little Big Planet and share it with friends. As Jennifer and I discovered, it's a whole lot more fun that way.