[23 November 2008]
Tim Berners-Lee has been quoted as saying that Web 2.0 is “a piece of jargon”, noting that, essentially, even if the tangible differences between Web 1.0 and 2.0 have something to do with Web 2.0’s focus on collaboration, creativity, and the connection of people, that such things were “what the Web was supposed to be all along.” Basically, the argument boils down to the fact that nothing was stopping people from collaborating and interacting via the web before MySpace and Flickr. Indeed, one of the major criticisms of the concept of Web 2.0 is that it is not only predicated on, but explicitly built using so-called Web 1.0 technologies. At a fundamental level, there is no distinction. Really, the difference, and subsequent innovation, have to do with both the perception by and the tools available to the lay end user.
It is possible that no release this year, with the exception of perhaps Grand Theft Auto IV, has received as much hype as LittleBigPlanet. Certainly, it’s one of the most anticipated games exclusive to a single console in quite some time. Frankly, this is something the PS3 can certainly use. Given the near ubiquitous characterization of LittleBigPlanet as the prime example of Sony’s push to develop Web 2.0 style content (along with properties like Home and Singstar), the previously mentioned notions about what Web 2.0 even means have some bearing here.
Certainly, LittleBigPlanet is not the first game to feature robust level editing and creation features. Even as far as console gaming goes, Halo 3‘s “Forge” system, itself with roots in the same system for Marathon, was remarkably robust. Rather, what LittleBigPlanet attempts to do is to make the processes of creating and sharing so fun, particularly in collaboration, that these activities actually become the game. To a large degree, LittleBigPlanet succeeds at achieving these goals.
The attention paid to LittleBigPlanet and the way in which it is clearly a game about the concept of games makes the actual subject matter rather interesting. Beyond the homage levels that have appeared, there are clear comparisons to be made between LittleBigPlanet and Super Mario Bros. While Mario has been an icon for many years, the simple design of Sackboy, in the context of a game this popular, has already him (along with Sackgirl) an icon as well. More importantly, for many console gamers, Super Mario Bros. is the first they seriously played. As such, the meta-game of LittleBigPlanet benefits from its presentation as a largely 2d, sidescrolling platformer. The creation aspect might have been too daunting if it were presented in an entirely new gaming paradigm. Rather, Media Molecule has chosen to present these tools in the context of an established and deeply ingrained gaming style. This is somewhat ironic given the relative dearth of 2d side-scrolling games on the current generation systems.
However, in the wake of overwhelmingly positive reaction to the game, Sony has been facing something of a public relations nightmare with respect to its moderation of user created content, specifically since much of it is occurring both suddenly, and without explicit reason given to the creator. While most of the deleted levels appear to have been selected because of some perceived intellectual property concern, the rationale behind the actual removal of these levels is difficult to understand. Playthrough videos and homages haven’t been mass-deleted from YouTube. Cosplay pictures have not been censored from Flickr. It is even difficult to argue that this level of moderation is stemming from the perception that some LittleBigPlanet levels serve as tributes to properties within the same medium.
The cult Michel Gondry film “Be Kind Rewind” introduced the concept of movie “sweding”, making one’s own short version of a film on a shoestring budget. Numerous “sweded” films can be found on Youtube, and it hasn’t been a problem, presumably because there’s no possible way that they can be confused for the original material. Similarly, though the toolset available in LittleBigPlanet affords an exceptional degree of creativity, the core physical mechanics and look and feel of the original games as a whole will always prohibit LittleBigPlanet levels from being interpreted as the real thing. Rather, they serve as interactive Lego sets, and policing of public content for such things should remain limited to offensive material, as opposed to tributary content.
Although there are some minor complaints to be found with LittleBigPlanet if one looks hard enough (even after many hours of play, the jump physics can seem a shade unforgiving to platforming veterans), by and large the experience is very enjoyable. It seems reasonable to expect that user-created content will continue to be released at a steady pace, and similar to the way professional game developers are able to make more technically impressive titles farther into a console’s lifespan as the tricks of the hardware are understood, it seems likely that increasingly complicated and deep levels will be created for LittleBigPlanet as time goes on. There have recently been indications that a PSP iteration of the inevitable franchise is in the works as well, presumably with some level of interaction with the PS3. While it is difficult, then, to argue that LittleBigPlanet is singularly unique with respect to content creation in general, its implementation of the concepts of collaboration, creation, and sharing is unmatched in the current console marketplace. In this respect, it accomplishes what Web 2.0 does. It packages existing technologies into a toolset that make creation and collaboration, no matter how possible they were before, accessible enough to actually be experienced by a critical mass.