There are not very many things that get me on this blog anymore, but Little Big Planet 2 has set off some kind of crazy thoughtengine in my brain, and I can’t stop thinking about it. I am about to unleash a critical mass of comments, and they are critical, but I want to stress that I enjoyed this game more than any other game in the past couple years. It is clever, the design is great, and the emotions that I got from playing the game were warm and fuzzy and everything good–and maybe that’s a problem.
You see, you play Sack Thing, a little person who is unsexed and genderless–you can actually dress it however you want–and the game starts by showing you how to do some very basic things with your little Sack Thing. You learn to jump, grab, grapple, hop, shoot…you do everything that a Sack Thing could possibly do. Throughout the game, you are given new items to dress and customize your Sack Thing with. You make it yours, and in part, you make it you.
Now, there are two parts to LBP2. There is the main storyline, which I’ll talk about in a moment, and there is the game-outside-the-game–the custom levels. The metanarrative of the game is that your Sack Thing lives in a world of pure creation. It is Craftworld, and everything in it is to be used to create things with. Stickers make the world prettier. Objects can be used and appropriated for higher purposes (for instance, in several levels you pilot animals that have animal-specific “superpowers”). Everything is used to build toward something that is wholly you and yet owned by everyone–a community level.
Does this sound familiar to anyone? It sounds like neoliberalism to me. There’s a beauty of value that can be shared by everyone in the very ethic of how LBP2 looks at the world. It is not a world-that-exists, but rather a world-that-can-be-crafted. When I say everyone here, I mean everyone. The LBP franchise loves to point out the multiethnic component of the crafted world and the crafters of the worlds themselves. The opening videos to both the original game and the sequel make sure to show every ethnicity, race, nationality, and class enjoying the fun of creating something (read: enjoying participating in the market.) The first game pandered to this even more, making sure that each level was reflective of a different area of the world (though it still ended up feeling a little racist; India is all bellydancers and fireeaters, Asia is ninjas and kami, Africa is lions, etc.)
The Story mode of the game leads even further inward. The story begins by showing a great big monster, the Negativitron, destroying parts of Craftworld. You, Sack Thing, meet a man named Larry DaVinci who is part of an organization called The Alliance. The Alliance has come together to destroy the Negativitron, and you have to go through each level, collecting new members and trying to outpace the destruction that the Negativitron creates with your own creativity.
Come on now. Alliance? Team members who are: inventors, benevolent factory owners, benevolent asylum owners, benevolent weapons development scientists, and a little Sack Thing that has no voice, but smiles and dances anytime that another character speaks to it.
It’s a neoliberal wet dream. All of the productive forces in the universe working together to save the world in its current form. This is “capitalism with a face” better than it’s even been done before; it’s capitalism with your face, one you customized, and it’s capitalism that we all own together.
To sum this up, I think we need to take some of the Negativitron’s final words to heart. Speaking to all the characters, it says:
You can never truly defeat me. I am in all of you…I am all of you. (. . .) You created me. If you destroy me, you destroy yourselves. (o)
It is correct. The only way to stop the Negativitron would be to stop creating things; the only way to stop decay and violence and destruction is to stop the expansion of the market. And we can’t have that.
So I jumped on its head repeatedly until it died.
I just worry about how we intake video game information, and while I used to think that scholarship about games was stupid, I’m not so sure anymore. Just like the idea of closure in comic books, I think we need to be aware of what we are complicit with when it comes to media. Film shows you things; comic books make you fill in the gaps. Video games fill in the gaps with real visual data that you direct in a specific way, and more than that, the spaces where you have control and where you don’t are blurred–is a quicktime event controlled? What about cinematics?
I worry all the time about everything.