Last weekend, I had a little revelation. It’s probably something I’d kind of understood for a while but I’d never actually seen its practical application.
I visit my nephews a couple of times a month and last time I’d been talking to them the eldest, who is almost 9, was telling me all about LittleBigPlanet 2. He’d played it at a friend’s house and was extremely enthusiastic about it. He was particularly keen on the notion that you could download user-created levels based on just about anything. “You can make it be any game you want, just by searching for that game!” he exclaimed with untethered enthusiasm.
I try to do everything I can to encourage kids to play videogames so when I went to visit this past weekend, I took my copy down and gave it to him. He was overjoyed. Super excited. Like it was the best thing to happen to anyone in living memory. Kids are great for their passionate reaction to just about everything.
Despite owning a PlayStation 3, the family had used it mostly for media streaming from a home server, rarely playing games on it. My nephew’s experience with videogames so far has been largely confined to the Wii, DS handhelds and his parents’ iPhones. This was to be his first serious foray into playing games on a PlayStation 3. Except he’d have to wait.[drop]The console had recently been moved and hadn’t been reconnected to the internet yet (my sister-in-law’s concerns about that might make for another article…) so the first hurdle to overcome was to get it plugged back in and logged in to the PSN account on the machine.
That’s no problem, his dad is fairly tech-savvy and I was there too so making his console go online wasn’t an issue – for other kids in other households, it might be a little less of a smooth process. What followed was unavoidable and threatened to be quite heartbreaking.
First up, the PlayStation 3 needed a firmware update before it would allow online access to LittleBigPlanet.
Now, I know that the common defence for Sony from its hardcore fans usually goes along the lines of “if you used it more often, you wouldn’t find the regular updates so frustrating.” I get where that argument comes from and, despite it missing the entire point by quite a wide margin, I can kind of see an odd logic behind it. But the point of a consumer electronic device is that it’s there for your entertainment. It’s not an ongoing project. You shouldn’t have to keep on top of updates, it should just work as you expect it.
Of course, PlayStation Plus would also have fixed this specific problem (as well as all the other benefits that fantastic service brings) but for light users or – as in this case – a family altering the way they use their machine, Plus isn’t really a viable option yet either. Hopefully it will be, as my nephew’s attachment to his PlayStation grows and he uses it more and more but this was almost a first-use situation and it wasn’t going well.
The firmware update downloaded and installed in about half an hour, with my nephew watching it creep up through the percentages on its progress bar. The closer it got to completion, the more excited he got about playing. But there was a way to go just yet: restarting LBP2 showed that 17 updates were needed to the game before its online side would function. He was defeated. It was already past his usual bedtime and he was being allowed to stay up a little while because he had been so keen to play. He couldn’t hide the disappointment and I couldn’t help but feel responsible for it. Should I have quietly given the disc to his dad so he could go through the update and patching process before telling my nephew?[drop2]While we waited, he played with his mum’s iPhone. He was playing Minecraft Pocket Edition and he was really, scarily good at it. All that talk about games needing buttons and touchscreen overlays feeling “unnatural” will amount to exactly nothing in another few years when kids this age are the bulk of a console’s “core” audience. He’d grown up with touchscreen devices and is more comfortable controlling Minecraft with taps and swipes than he would be with a 360 controller.
I was amazed at how competently he controlled the game and also how well he could build and mine and create within it. I was even more amazed when his six-year-old brother borrowed his dad’s iPhone and hopped into the same Minecraft world. He was just as comfortable and competent. Then their four-year-old cousin also wanted to play. I took my iPhone out, on to the Wi-Fi network in ten seconds, into the AppStore and downloaded the free “Lite” version of the game. They all switched out of the paid-for app and into the Lite version and within two minutes they were all involved again.
Three of them, aged four to nine, cooperating via touchscreen handheld devices on the same Minecraft constructions. Then my two-year-old nephew borrowed my wife’s iPhone and he joined in too. He wasn’t able to take part in the game so well but he was perfectly comfortable with the control system. Perhaps all this local Wi-Fi activity was slowing down the PS3’s download speed because it would take another hour or so before LittleBigPlanet 2 was patched and ready to play.
By that time, though, nobody remembered and it sat for another thirty minutes before it saw any controller input. Oh, and the first thing my nephew wanted to search for in the user created levels on LittleBigPlanet 2? Terraria.
It’s a changing world.