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?

 

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.

When Trying to Win it All Fails the iKids: The Little League Fiasco

Tim Corbin, the coach of the Vanderbilt Baseball team, whose team won the college world series last year, made a very interesting comment in an interview he did on 104.5 The Zone. When asked why a high school baseball player should choose to go to college rather than to sign a professional contract and play in the minor leagues, he replied “in college kids can make mistakes, grow from them, and learn from them.”   He went on to add that once you enter professional baseball, if you have a bad year, your career could be over quickly. In college you have a second chance.

Corbin’s comments are worth considering when we look at the world of iKids sports. Today, it was announced that because of cheating, the Chicago Jackie Robinson West Little League Team  has to give up its 2014 national title. It seems the leaders of the league expanded their boundaries to allow them to include more top tier ten, eleven, and twelve year-olds on the team from neighboring leagues.

The real losers in this story are the little leaguers who have now lost their innocence and their pride because of the scheme hatched by the adult leaders of the league to increase their chances at winning. So who’s to blame for this fiasco? Let’s zero on three contributors to this situation.

  • First, goes to ESPN who broadcasts the series and produces a show that at once celebrates the accomplishments of preteens but also exposes them to fame and ridicule in the national spotlight. Rather than playing for fun, today’s little leagues are more focused on making it to the big ball game and developing elite players.
  • Second, goes to the increase of the professionalization of youth sports. Carol Mithers, in an article on “Are Kids’ Sports Too Competitive?’ reports that 30 to 45 million iKids participate in sports each year. As organized sports leagues have become big business she says, youth sports “has changed in troubling ways. Not only are players joining competitive leagues at very young ages, more and more of them are choosing to specialize, focus, and train intensively in only one sport.”
  • Third, goes to parents whom in their desire to help their children succeed, pressure their children to become the next stars. And its not just the parents, throw in coaches who are eager to prove themselves on the ball field and you have an unhealthy pressure to succeed at all costs.

As registration starts for spring sports parents around the country will be signing up their children for baseball, softball, and soccer.   Millions of iKids will hit the fields with youthful enthusiasm and a heartfelt desire to make their parents proud. Its up to the parents, the coaches, and the organizers of these experiences to focus on what is most important, the physical, mental, and spiritual development of the iKids that are under their care.

While winning is an objective that all would like to achieve, learning how to play the game, staying within the bounds of rules, and sportsmanship is something everyone needs to learn. More importantly, Corbin gives us a template to emulate, creating an atmosphere where its okay to make mistakes because those around you – your teammates, your coaches, and your parents are there to pick you up so you can try it again.

iKids Presentations Ready to View

Six 30-minute presentations on iKids: Parenting in the Digital Age are now available for your viewing.  Each prerecorded webinar takes you through a series of slides and images that will allow you to go deeper into the iKids material as you think about the implications of digital technology in the lives of those born since 2000.

Led by Craig Kennet Miller, the author of iKids, the presentations are based on the iKids book and the Six Values for the Digital Age PDF, a free downloadable study guide designed for use with small groups, Sunday School classes, and group meetings.

Go to https://ikidsgen.com/ikids-webinars/ 

Or click on the “iKids Presentations” Tab at the top of this page to access the material.

iKids Group Study Update

An updated version Six Values for the Digital Age: A Group Study based on iKids: Parenting in the Digital Age is now available.  Its been great getting feedback from those who have used it and those who are planning to use it in a variety of ways.  Some will be doing a series on Wednesday evenings, others are using it as a blueprint for a sermon series, and some are using it with small groups and Sunday School classes with parents.

What is Six Values? It is a free PDF download designed for use by parents and adults in church small groups and Sunday School classes who want to discuss the ideas found in iKids: Parenting in the Digital Age. The study is sure to produce lively discussions about the use of techgear (smartphones and tablets), how digital media influences family life, and how to balance the spiritual and digital lives of iKids in our homes and congregations.  It includes highlights from the iKids book and biblical passages for reflection.

Go to https://ikidsgen.com/small-group-studyteaching-helps/ or click on the iKids Study/Download tab and scroll down to Six Values for the Digital Age to download the PDF.

Give the Gift of Privacy to your iKids this Year

Christmas day is now the biggest day for downloads of gaming apps and signing up for social media sites. Just like previous years, as soon as the iKids Generation unwrap their smartphones and tablets they will be ready to go online and load up their devices with game apps and social media sites. If they are first-time users of social media sites like Facebook or Instagram, they will be eager to post their first selfies and search madly for friends who can “Like” them.

As fun as this all is, it would be well for parents and grandparents to put on the brakes long enough to give some old-fashioned advice and to prepare them as they create their online identities. Just like you wouldn’t let a 16-year-old drive a car without getting a learner’s permit, you shouldn’t let your iKids jump on the World Wide Web without the basic rules of the road.

The current Sony hacking scandal in which hackers revealed the private emails of corporate executives and released the social security numbers of thousands of employees is an important reminder that everything we post in the digital world is free game.

A newly released report from Pew on “The Future of Privacy” points to the eroding notion of privacy. By 2025, as companies and nations hone their data mining skills by tapping the personal data of online users, individuals will be hard pressed to find privacy. The study says:

“We have seen the emergence of publicly as the default modality, with privacy declining. In order to ‘exist’ online, you have to publish things to be share, and that has to be done in open, public spaces.”

What does this mean for the iKids, those born since 2000? As they head into their teenage years and as they make their first forays into digital life their ideas, emotions, and opinions will be feasted upon by major corporations like Disney, Amazon, Netflix, Samsung, Apple, Microsoft, and Google to discover the newest emerging trends and to develop sophisticated marketing campaigns to sell their products.

Later in life, as they apply for college and for jobs, their online identity will be just as important as grade point averages, test scores, or essays. When they look for a life partner, a digital identity will reveal to a potential loved one their interests and desires.

Unlike previous generations, the iKids live in a digitalized world where every thought, image, and personal stuff that is put online is public domain. They don’t have the luxury of second chances. If they make a mistake, the world as they know it will know. So before you set them free, give them the gift of some important rules to keep them safe and to lower the risk of totally embarrassing themselves before family and friends.

So what are the basics you should cover?

  1. Assume everything you put online is public
    If you make a bad remark about a friend, assume he or she will see it
    If you post a funny picture, assume it will be shared with everyone
  2. Ask permission before downloading a new game or social media site
  3. Do not share personal information like:
    Name
    Phone number
    School name
    Address of your house
  4. When signing up on social media sites use privacy settings
    Say no to giving out your location
    Say no to linking to other social media sites

For more guidelines go to:
Common Sense Media

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

iKids Gamers: Here comes the Amiibos!

With the release of the Amiibo figurines, Nintendo is entering into the lucrative toys-to-life category pioneered by Activision’s Skylanders and emulated by Disney Infinity. Today, Nintendo fans will be able to get their hands on their favorite characters. Mario, Link, Kirby, Princess Peach, Yoshi, and Donkey Kong are among the first toys to be released.

The toys are designed to use with the Wii U and allows characters to come alive and enhance the capabilities of their characters in video games like Super Smash Bros., Hyrule Warriors, and Mario Kart 8.

Activision was the first company to create a way for plastic molded figures to become action characters in a video game. In the Skylanders system, gamers take a plastic toy figure, like Spyro, and place it on a portal that connects to a game system like the PlayStation, the Xbox, or the Wii U. Once the figure is put on the portal, the character appears on the screen (think of Star Trek when Captain Kirk is beamed from the spaceship Enterprise to a planet).   Now the gamer uses his or her character to defeat enemies in the Skylanders video game. How successful has this been? Skylanders has generated more than $2 billion since the fall of 2011 and sold more than 175 million toys.

Disney Infinity, which was launched in 2013, has used the same technology to bring classic Disney characters alive to the tune of over $500 million in sales and just recently released Disney Infinity 2.0 featuring characters from Marvel.

Gamers, both children and adults alike, have made this new category of toys a lucrative part of the toy merchandizing scene. Companies like Toy “R” Us, Wall-Mart, and Target feature huge displays that seek to inspire sales. This Christmas season will be sure to capture even more gamers as Nintendo enters this emerging market.

Why is the toy-to-life strategy so successful?

  1. People are looking for the real.   In a digital age where images are transitory, being able to hold in your hands a carefully crafted figure that represents the essence of the character makes the video game seem more significant.
  2. People long for meaning. Video games are not simply games; they are immersive stories of heroism, good vs. bad, and spiritual attainment. Holding a character in your hand and then playing as that character in a game intensifies the lessons learned in the gaming experience. Nintendo’s tag line for the Amiibo says it all, “Discover the power inside.”
  3. People desire icons of significance. Since time immortal, humans have crafted physical icons that represent their values, beliefs, and deepest longings. Being able to place Mario, Link, Princes Elsa, Mickey Mouse, Spider-man, or Spryo next to your beside takes the video game experience with you and becomes a frame of reference as you battle your own personal villains and seek to overcome life’s obstacles.