While reading the past few
articles, I could not help thinking about one of my favorite games to play,
Little Big Planet. In Little Big Planet, the player navigates through the
avant-garde style world by collection prize bubbles, overcoming obstacles, and
beating challenges. Some of the greatest aspects of this make it a very gender
neutral game. The design team at Media Molecule have found a way to fuse the girl
and boy worlds to create an extremely entertaining game while not alienating
One of the most identifiable aspects of the game Little big Planet is the little sackperson. The designers purposefully made the silhouette of the sack person extremely identifiable since they planned on allowing the players to customize their sackperson as the game progresses. From the ground level it would appear that the designers of Little Big Planet had the intent of designing a unisex game, one that girls would appreciate and boys could dominate. It would seem that the designers understood that play is an innate human practice and function and that belongs to everyone (Fron). The concepts in the game are neither female or male centric. Even though dressing the sackperson up and changing its looks may seem like a girls job, since dolls and dress up are for girls and all, but it allows the player to use their imagination more than anything. There is nothing girly about making your sackperson look like Gordon Freeman! It allows every unique player a chance to imaginatively represent themselves in the game world.
As Henry Jenkins wrote, "we need to design digital play spaces which allow girls to do something more than stitch doll clothes, mother nature, or heal their friend's sufferings..." Little big Planet has done just that, girls can spend all their time customizing their sackperson, but the designers added perks to draw the girls out in to the world. The more the player explores the world the more prizes they can find to adorn their POD or accessories for their sackperson. The designers of LBP have drawn the girls out to the far ends of the playground, not only allowing them to exist in the boyland game world but they can also define their own play. Girls are not simply, "allowed to play in boys' spaces, by boys rules"(Fullerton) they are invited to play how they want. The goals in LBP are very relaxed the player does not have to drudge through the level searching for every single prize bubble or adhere to some time limit or even battle for a high score. The only requirement in each level is that the player makes it to the end. While it might not be as deep or enlightening as the Purple Moon games, I think it follows along their ideas. The players can work solo to make it across a level or they can invite a friend, they can talk to one another directly through the game. Since the levels are all deeply interactive they can explore the level and find different paths to complete the levels.
So far the game seems like a dream for the girls, if that's the case then why would boys want to play it? It is definitely not to find their own little secret garden hidden within the immersive levels. The game offers boys the same goals as the girls, which means the boys can compete against the level, they can find every single prize bubble or beat their friends best time if they want. With the use of the soft goals, the designers managed to create a space that can be extremely competitive or not competitive at all. Henry Jenkins wrote that "children are not so much addicted to video games as they are unwilling to quit before they have met their goals." It is the desire of the male to seek out these goals whether they be imagined or real and force themselves to fight towards them. It is not only the goals that piques the interest of the boys, the fact that they can manipulate the environment is very attractive as well. The same interactivity of the dream world that appeals girls, also appeals to the boys, for slightly different reasons, of course. The levels in LBP are much akin to the obstacle course created by traditional first person shooter games in which boys are able to move through in a very masculine fashion(Fullerton).
The gameplay is not the thing the designers did right, they also included a level editor. They gave the player the ability to create their own levels and contraptions, yet another creative outlet for the players. This gives girls not only the change to venture out into boyland, but they can also stay within their own secret space, their own creation. As Frances Downing was quoted in A Game of one's Own, "the unfinished nature provided a sense of ownership through an ability to complete the place with one's presence." The girl can build her own safe space in which she can play and be creative, she can also choose to share her secret space with her friends through the Playstation Network. Boys can utilize the level editor as a way to conquer land, or to create something from nothing. The level editor gives boys the opportunity to go out on their own and survive off the land, and create something with their bare hands. Something Jenkins argues that is one of the goals of games today, to allow a release for the players.
Media Molecule has found a way to make the "little house" and the "prairie" exist on the same plane for both boys and girls. They utilized soft goals, forgiving losses, and very imaginative outlets to make a game that is universally appealing. With the unique set up of the game and the extra tools offered through the game, the designers have come very close to bridging the gap between traditional board games and video games. The player has the option to play the game by their own kind of house rules and even develop their own games out of the tools provided in the box. Maybe the union between the boys and girls world is achieved by returning to a time when games were not as gendered, a time when women's opinions counted in the game industry. Little Big Planet comes very close, I believe, to achieving that unity.
Fron, J., Fullerton, T., Morie, J. & Pearce, C. (2007). The Hegemony of Play. In Situated Play: Proceedings of Digital Games Research Association 2007 Conference. Tokyo, Japan. 1-10.
Fullerton, T., Morie, J. & Pearce, C. (2007). A Game Of Ones Own: Towards a New Gendered Poetics of Game Space. In Proceedings, Digital Arts & Culture 2007, Perth, Australia. 1-11.
Jenkins, H. (2004). Game design as narrative architecture. The Game Design Reader, 670-686.
Laurel, B. (2001). Utopian Entrepreneur. Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press.