The Release of Disney Infinity 3.0 Begins the Season of Star Wars Mania

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When Disney purchased Lucasfilm and the rights to the Star Wars franchise for $4 billion dollars in 2012, many assumed Disney would focus on reviving the Star Wars franchise by producing another round of movies. But this was only part of the plan. What Disney really wanted was the characters and the stories. For characters and stories have always put the magic in Disney.

Disney’s first cultural icon, Mickey Mouse, became the template upon which all future characters would be built. In 1928 he starred in Steamboat Willie, the first animated film to use synchronized music and sound effects. As the movie captured the imagination of popular culture, Walt Disney did what he did best — he teamed up with merchandisers to put Mickey Mouse in every house in America. Along with stuffed animals, Mickey appeared on pencils, in books, on children’s clothes, pillows, and sheets. Soon he had his own syndicated cartoon in the newspaper. But nothing said he had arrived better than the release of the iconic Mickey Mouse Watch, which sold over 11,000 units on its first day, a record for its time. But that was just the start. By the 1950s Mickey had his own television show, the Mickey Mouse Club, and a starting role in his own theme park, Disneyland, in California.

So when Disney purchased Star Wars, the production of movies was only one piece of the franchise pie. From now till the release of Star Wars VII The Force Awakens on December 18, 2015, a whole series of video games, animated TV shows, and books will be released to build momentum toward the opening of the movie.

Disney has even created a slogan and website called “Star Wars A Force For Change,” which promises to harness “the strength of Star Wars and its global fandom to empower people to come together to make a positive impact on the world around them.”

With the release of the video game Disney Infinity 3.0 Star Wars, Disney takes its popular toy-to-life video game to another level.  Included in the starter pack is the first of three Star Wars play sets that capture the breadth of the Star Wars story.  The starter pack comes with Twilight of the Republic, in which Anakin Skywalker and Ahsoka Tano battle during the latter years of the Clone Wars (episodes 1 – 3). The intergalactic adventure takes the characters to four planets, during which they battle droids as they try to save the republic from the separatists.

At the end of September the next play set, The Rise Against the Empire, will be released. Here gamers will be immersed in the original Star Wars movie universe (episodes  4-6) as they get to be Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia fighting against the Galactic Empire.  Then in December, in conjunction with the release of the newest movie, The Force Awakens play set will feature two new characters, Finn and Rey, that will allow gamers to play the in world of episode 7.

But this is only part of the story.  More than 100 playable characters will be included in the series, which at $14.99 a pop is quite an investment, along with the $64.99 starter pack and the $35.99 you pay for each additional play set.  Disney knows it will hard to resist the desire to play as Darth Vader, Yoda, Chewbacca, and Han Solo in a Star Wars experience that puts the gamer in the midst of the action.

Beyond the play sets, Disney Infinity also includes the groundbreaking Toy Box that allows gamers to create their own worlds using Star Wars images.  But more than that, in the Toy Box, Yoda can also hang out with Elsa from Frozen or Woody from Toy Story or Hulkbuster from Marvel’s universe of characters.

While it’s easy to see this as an attempt to separate parents from their hard-earned money, not to be lost is Disney’s profound understanding of the appeal of Star Wars to grandparents, parents, and children alike.  For Stars Wars is not only an intergalactic adventure, it also is an intergenerational cultural experience that started in 1977.

People in their fifties and sixties can easily remember their first experience of the release of episodes 4 – 6, when “let the force be with you” became part of the cultural lexicon of the late 1970s and early 1980s.  Those in their thirties and forties became immersed in the story in the 1980s and 1990s with the advent of Video Tapes and DVDs that allowed them as kids to watch the movies over and over again in their home theaters.  In 1999, the series got new life with the release of episodes 1 – 3, which introduced the series to a whole new generation.  Now with Disney Infinity 3.0, the grandchildren and children of Star Wars fans have the opportunity to be caught up in the story in a totally new way.  Not only will they be able to watch the movies, toy-to-life video gaming allows them to become the characters as they interact in the Star Wars universe.

With the release of Disney Infinity 3.0, Disney has redefined the Star Wars experience.  Rather than buying a particular game, it becomes its own game system, which can be played on any gaming platform from the Wii U to the PS4, from the Xbox One to the PC.  If you have a grandchild or child, don’t be surprised if you find yourself investing in Disney Infinity 3.0, because deep down, you know if you have it, you’ll get to play it too.

Questions for church leaders:

  • How do Bible stories and characters become an intergenerational experience?
  • How will you handle the cultural phenomenon of all things Star Wars that will reach its zenith right before Christmas?
  • Will you ignore it?  Reference it in your preaching? Create a study?

 

Jurassic World Is Not About the Dinosaurs

With the release of the new movie, Jurassic World this week, I decided to read the original book by Michael Crichton which he wrote in 1990. As I got into the story I realized the book’s real focus was not dinosaurs. Instead, it is a riveting critique of the idea that science has the final authority on truth.

Crichton, who died in 2008, was a prolific writer who wrote a series of books that expressed an ongoing theme, he believed scientists had become more concerned about profits than discoveries that furthered the health and welfare of humanity.

In Jurassic Park, Crichton’s voice is heard in the words of Ian Malcom, a maverick mathematical genius. He was hired as a consultant to advise John Hammond, the rich entrepreneur who wanted to advance the field of genetic engineering, no matter the cost. Rather than be burdened by government red tape, he bought an island where he was free to do what ever he wanted in the name of science. His goal was to create a controlled environment where he could show the world the amazing things that could be done, even bringing dinosaurs back to life.

Throughout the book Malcom utters a series of remarks that skews the notion that scientists can control their creations. Malcom (i.e. Crichton) makes the case that the idea the physical universe follows a predictable, observable pattern has been overturned by mathematical discoveries like chaos theory and fractals. He also believed you can’t control nature. Living things will do anything to survive. Here are two quotes that sums up the theme that runs through the book:

“You decide you’ll control nature, and from that moment on you’re in deep trouble, because you can’t do it…Don’t confuse things. You can make a boat, but you can’t make an ocean. You can make an airplane, but you can’t make the air. Your powers are much less than your dreams of reason would have you believe.”                                                                                           (p. 351, Jurassic Park, paperback, 1990).

“My point is that life on earth can take care of itself. In the thinking of a human being, a hundred years is a long time. A hundred years ago, we didn’t have cars and airplanes and computers and vaccines…it was a whole different world. But to the earth, a hundred years is nothing. A million years is nothing…Let’s be clear. The planet is not in jeopardy. We are in jeopardy. We haven’t got the power to destroy the planet – or to save it. But we might have the power to save ourselves.”
(p. 369 Jurassic Park, paperback, 1990)

So if you happen to go to the theater this week to watch dinosaurs break free of their constraints and eat some humans, be well advised that Crichton’s ideas have far larger implications. For him the dinosaurs of Jurassic Park are a metaphor for how science without ethics and boundaries has the potential to unleash environmental catastrophes that in the long run won’t bother the planet one iota. The real problem is not what we are doing to the planet. Its what we are doing to ourselves.

If you take your iKid (the generation born since 2000) to the movie, here are a couple of questions for reflection:

  1. Why did the scientists create the dinosaurs?
  2. What scientific advances do you think are creating a better future?
  3. Which ones do you think are dangerous?
  4. Do you think we should use genetics to create new creatures? (Like combining the DNA of a monkey and a jelly fish so the monkey glows in the dark)
  5. How do we decide which discoveries are good and which ones are bad?

Craig Kennet Miller is the author of iKids: Parenting in the Digital Age

Who is Tending to the Minds of Our Boys?

”An intelligent mind acquires knowledge, and the ear of the wise seeks knowledge.”

Proverbs 18:15

As I entered the local Barnes & Noble bookstore the other day I was greeted by a beautiful table covered with books with and an inspirational sign that said, “Inspiring Stories for Unstoppable Girls.”   Try as I might, I could not find a similar display for boys.

I first encountered this bias in our publishing and book world when my daughter, who is now in her twenties, got her first American Girl book back in the late 1990s.   Started by the Pleasant Company, American Girl books tell the stories of characters like Kirsten Larson, born in 1854, a Swedish immigrant who settles in the Minnesota Territory, and Josefina Montoya, a young Mexican girl living in New Mexico who was born in 1824.  The books come in a set of six books with colorful pictures, whose historical fiction is designed for 8-to-11 year-old girls. But the books are just the start. Girls can also buy dolls based on the books as well as furniture, clothes, and accessories. Bought by Mattel in 1998, the brand has expanded to include American Girl Stores, where girls can buy the books, dolls, and costumes as well as dine with their dolls in a specially themed restaurant.

As you might expect, American Girl has become a very profitable enterprise and has done a great job introducing girls to the world of books as a fun and lively experience, especially for those whose parents or grandparents can foot the bill for the dolls that cost over $100.00 each.

But you will not find an American Boy series of books or stores that help capture the imagination of boys. Somehow because they are boys, they are supposed to figure this out on their own without the encouragement of the book world. My son who is in his young teens has found some series to be interesting like the Percy Jackson books and 39 Clues. But other than that, few books capture his attention.

He and his friends would much rather play video games and talk about the characters in the games than discuss anything they would find in a book. It seems as a culture we have ceded the minds of our boys and young men to the influence of the creators of video games, whose most popular titles such as Call to Duty, Assassin’s Creed, and Bloodborne invite them into a world of violence and mayhem.

As parents, we see an ongoing battle for our boys’ minds. How do we get them to read when the publishing market is all too content to cater to girls? How do we balance boys’ desire to play video games, whose online interactive features encourage them to connect with one another, with the importance of reading for the development of their imaginations and learning to focus? Why is it when I Google “Books for Girls,” I find sites that talk about empowering girls, but when I Google “Books for Boys” I find sites that merely recommend good books or “great” books?

I don’t have a ready answer for this except to say that our boys need to be empowered as well. They need to feel they will be able to offer something positive to the world in the future. Just like today’s iKids girls, our iKids boys need to be encouraged to read during the most important period of brain development a human ever goes through, from ages eight to fifteen, when the brain develops its ability to think, to make decisions, to discern what is good and evil, to value relationships, and to make choices about faith and belief.

Craig Kennet Miller is the author of iKids: Parenting in the Digital Age.  For more info go to http://iKidsgen.com

9 Acres of Guns. Really?

Signs around Nashville are proclaiming “9 Acres of Guns” as the ardent members of the National Rifle Association descend upon the city. Some 70,000 strong will boldly brandish their right to carry their guns – no matter where they want to go.

So enthralled are the city leaders to have them as our guests, that the newly opened Nashville Convention Center will allow people to carry their guns inside the Convention Center.  In breathless anticipation, I share will you their excitement as found on their webpage:

“With over 550 exhibitors covering 450,000 square feet of interior and exterior exhibit hall space, educational seminars, celebrities, and fun filled special events, bring the whole family- there will be something for everyone! Spend the day exploring the products from every major firearm company in the country, book the hunt of a lifetime in our exclusive outfitter section, and view priceless collections of firearms in our gun collector area. You’ll also see knives, wildlife art, shooting accessories, hunting gear, ATV’s, and much more!”

At the center of it all is the “NRA Freedom Festival” where NRA members can celebrate their fun filled pursuit which has resulted in:

In an attempt by TN politicians to curry favor with the NRA, the Tennessee legislature has been trying to perfect its “Guns in Parks” law, which would allow gun toting hikers and picnickers to carry their guns into parks, even when local governments have banned them. One version that got passed even gave allowance for people to carry guns into the halls of the TN state capital. After thinking it over, they took that provision out.

Williamson County, which is in the suburbs of Nashville, passed its own resolution in response.  They plan to post signs in its parks that tells gun owners not to bring guns into their parks when children are playing in sports leagues and in organized school outings.

While few would dispute the right for people to have a gun, the NRA and its adherents have taken this right to an extreme that daily puts our children in danger. With over  8,000,000 guns being sold a year in the United States, no reasonable person can say that people don’t have access to lethal firearms.  But whose talking about reason? So as the NRA revels in all things guns, I invite the rest of us to pray for our children and support those who say enough is enough.

iKids on Flipboard’s New Website

Today Flipboard has launched a new website that allows you to collect and keep track of your favorite topics on the web. Developed first for the iPad and later for smartphones, Flipboard is a great app for keeping track of the ideas that are most important for to you and your work.

I have used it to create some of my own magazines where I have been collecting articles around topics that are of importance to me. If you haven’t tried it, I invite you to take a look.   If you are new to Flipboard, when you find a magazine you like, click on “follow” and it will be added to your collection of sites.  You also can add Flipboard to your tablet and/or smartphone.

Here are three Flipboard Magazines I have developed.  I invite you to try these out and create your own collection of ideas that matter to you.

iKids
http://flip.it/vvxXM
Learn about the digital life of children and teens, those born from 2000 – 2017
With over 1,500 articles, you will find articles on gaming, digital technology, brain development, health, and spirituality.

Innovative Leadership Project
http://flip.it/TFjno
Creating innovative leaders at the heart of local churches – churchleaderUMC.com
With a focus on work and productivity, this collection of articles delves into issues of work/balance, creating healthy habits, organization, running meetings, and tips for being a creative leader.

Millennials Trending
http://flip.it/Wqrxi
Urban Life and the Spirituality of Young Adults
My newest collection looks at the newest research on young adulthood, especially as it relates to Second Generation Americans, social media, education, and financial issues related to this generation.

The Diverse iKids of CA

 A significant change is taking place in California that signals a remarkable shift in its population. In times past, California’s population growth came from outside the state. After WWII, huge numbers of people drove west on Highway 66 from Michigan, Ohio, Iowa, and other mid-western states to move to the golden state. “California here I come”, was a popular line for a song extolling the benefits of its weather, jobs, and an opportunity to reinvent yourself.

Starting in the 1980s a new wave of people arrived from outside the state, this time from countries like Mexico, China, the Philippines, Tonga, and El Salvador. These first generation immigrants brought with them their rich cultures, foods, traditions, and languages that have transformed California into a creative tapestry that makes it a hub of innovation, diversity, and change.

But since 2000, the inflow of new residents has plateaued. This is most clearly seen in the population of its youngest generation. Since 2000 of 90% of the iKids Generation, those born since 2000, were born in California. Dowell Myers, in a USC Price report on “California’s Diminishing Resource: Children,” says, “Almost all CA children are born and raised in the state, unlike in past decades when many migrated from other states or nations. As these children grow into adulthood, they are beginning to remake the state. The historic transition to a “homegrown” majority is so recent, that its significance is not yet appreciated.”

While over 29% of California iKids have a least one parent who was born outside the United States, over 90% of them are Second Generation Americans. When looking at ethnicity some surprising information emerges. 91% of Whites, 94% of Blacks, 95% of Latinos, and 85% of Asians and Pacific Islanders iKids were born in California.

What does this mean for the future?

  1. In the past California’s growth was based on the inflow of new people from outside the state. Now is growth will be determined by the success of its own homegrown children. Economic success in the future will be based on how well California educates, trains, and equips its own children.
  2. While 52% are of Latino descent and 11% are of Asian descent, these Second Generation Americans see the world much differently from their parent’s generation. Churches, businesses, and educational institutions should realize the young Latinos and Asians of California are different than their parents. For most of them their primary language is English, they resonate with the American popular culture, and they share an American worldview.
  3. Because there are less people coming from outside the state, the percentage of children to the overall population is going down. This will be most clearly seen in the coming decades as the older adult population will skyrocket. In 2010 there were 22 senior adults per 100 people age 25 to 64. By 2050, when this generation will be in their prime earning years, there will be 46 older adults over 65 per 100 people who are 25 to 64.

Another study from the Pop Dynamics Research Group at the University of Southern California focused on the importance of developing intentional strategies for Second Generation Americans as they enter what they call the “Training Age” from age 18 to 24. This is when young adults go to college, trade schools, and have their first experience of work. From 2010 to 2030, 98% of the job growth in California will be attributed to Second Generation Americans. The study says, “This underscores how vital the second generation will be both as a source of labor forces and as the major source for replenishing the work force that would otherwise be depleted through increasing numbers of retirements.”

One of the primary places this information impacts is on California’s churches whose primary strategy over the years has been to reach newcomers to the state.  In the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s the focus was on welcoming people from other states who carried with them mid-western worldviews and  were primarily white and black.  In the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s, the focus was on reaching new immigrant populations by offering ministries in their native languages and who reflected the cultural heritage of the country from where they came.

Today’s generation of young people under the age of 30 in California are Second Generation, homegrown residents. They are the ones who are finding it difficult to find a place in California’s overcrowded colleges, who carry with them huge student dept, and will find it difficult to find housing in an expensive and competitive real estate market.  The future of the church will depend on its ability to connect with its homegrown population.  To reach this generation churches will need to pivot their approach to focus on the cultural norms and expectations of a diverse young adult and youth population whose main identity is Californian.  Not the California of the past, but a new California whose values and worldview is being re-imaged by a Second Generation whose cultural diversity defines them.

The Legend of Zelda Symphony, a Spiritual Experience

Little did I know when I bought tickets to Zelda for my son for Christmas, that we would be at the world premier of The Legend of Zelda: Symphony of the Goddesses – Master Quest. When we walked into the Schermerhorn Concert Hall where the Nashville Symphony plays, I realized this was a different experience. First, there was a giant LCD Monitor hanging in the concert hall with images on the screen from the popular Zelda video game series created by Nintendo. Second, this was not your usual symphony crowd. It was made up of twenty-somethings and teenagers.  Many were wearing Zelda costumes. Third, the orchestra was not in tuxes, but dressed in black with open collars.

And then the concert started. As images from the Zelda video game series flashed on the screen the orchestra provided the live background music that greatly enhanced the experience. On top of that the Nashville Symphony Chorus added to the mix when they vocalized sounds that created a tapestry of moods from anger to love, from war to peace.

If the goal of Jason Michael Paul, the producer of the event was to capture the imagination, he was quite successful. My son and his fellow concertgoers were on the edges of their seats as scenarios from the 30-year history of the Zelda series unfolded through sight and sound. When we think of video games, we tend to focus on the visual elements, the puzzles that need to be solved, and the quests that need to be completed. What this concert brought to the forefront was the essential role music plays to create the atmosphere of the game.

This was most clearly seen in The Symphony: Movement IV – Time of the Falling Rain. The music was from The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, a game released in 1992. The graphics were what you expect from a game created in the early nineties, nothing compared to the images we see in today’s games. But as the music played, it didn’t matter. On the original game the music is rendered on a synthesizer with limited musical intonation. But when played by a full orchestra with the accompanying voices of the chorus, it became an immersive experience that pulled you into the heroic efforts of Link to rescue Zelda who is imprisoned in Hyrule Castle. As Link moves between the Light World to the Dark World, the music matched its intensity. And when Link finally conquers his foes, he touches the Triforce to restore the world to what it was before evil tried to destroy it.

As I left the concert hall I was impressed by the quality of the event and how meshing the new with the old, the video game with the symphony, created a spiritual experience that captured the story that is as old as time. The hero who conquers evil in the name of good. The spiritual power that gives guidance and hope in the midst of adversity. The desire to be part of something that is bigger than oneself.

As we were riding home from the concert I could hear a lot of pinging sounds in the backseat. I asked my son what was going on. He had taken his Nintendo DS Game system with him and left it on during the concert. Silently it had connected with over 100 other gamers who had attended with their devices. He was capturing their avatars and replying to them.   In many ways he was taking the experience home with him and I was briefly connected with a world much different from my own, a world full of experience, meaning, and connection that goes beyond our physical limitations.