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?

 

What “House of Cards” Teaches Churches

If you are a real fan of House of Cards, the political thriller staring Kevin Stacy as Frank Underwood, you will finish Season Three by the end of this week.  Last year 668,000 households finished the series in three days or less. Today Netflix releases season three with Underwood having ascended to the Presidency.

Two years ago Netflix changed entertainment as we know it by releasing all 13 episodes of season one season of House of Cards the first day. This revolutionary approach to TV directly challenged the broadcast model of rolling out a series by showing an episode a week. It also catered to the new way Americans like to watch their TV, binging on one series at a time.

In our busy, techgear distracted lives; there is something about immersing yourself in a story that is quite satisfying.   A generation ago, people would get this experience by reading a book. They would buy the latest blockbuster like Gone with the Wind or Shogun and read it late into the night. Today’s twenty-somethings can remember the pleasure of getting their hands on the latest copy of Harry Potter and locking themselves in their rooms until they made it through over 700 pages of text.

But rather than reading book, we inhale each TV series as the characters and images burrow deep into our consciousness. While broadcast TV is trying to combat this media trend by launching their own online services like CBS TV, the model of once a week viewing is going by the wayside.

The media habits of today’s children and youth (the iKids Generation born since 2000) are greatly affected by this approach as well. If their family has Netflix or Amazon TV, they are used to watching their favorite series, one show after another. They are very much growing up with the idea of instant entertainment at their beck and call whether at home, in a car, or eating at a restaurant. It almost doesn’t make sense to them that they would have to wait a week to see the next episode of their favorite series.

Most churchgoers view worship much like they approach entertainment.   For those who are older, going to church once a week at the same place and time is much like it was when they turned on the TV to watch their favorite show on a Sunday night. Worship is just part of the regular routine and schedule of the week.

Dawn Chesser, Director of Preaching Ministries at Discipleship Ministries says, “It is critical to keep pushing on the essentially corporate nature of worship, especially in an age of such individualistic lifestyles. The nature of binging in whatever form it comes is I do it when I want to and I do what I want to, according to MY schedule and MY particular taste. There is a lot of ME in there and not much we, and it is important to caution against thinking about worship as only being about ME.”

But what happens when people no long follow a routine for their entertainment options? One week they may watch House of Cards and the next last season’s Game of Thrones or The Good Wife.   And the next week they may take their child to see a movie after their child’s soccer game.

In fact the idea of a regular routine is also at risk. After all, when does the workday start and end? When we are 24/7 connected to the office or to our customers, work never ends.

To connect with our binge watching, routineless population churches will need to teach people that worship is not just another entertainment option. That worshiping with others matters.   Even more profound, worship is not about fulfilling our needs but engaging with others in the worship of God. It is a means of grace.  In the greater picture, binge watching is a symptom of a much greater issue, how we use our time.

Taylor Burton Edwards, Director of Worship at Discipleship Ministries says, “Using the means of grace matters — and it takes time to use them, time that will not be there if we do not actively encourage the participation of the people in all the means of grace, including corporate worship, but also searching the scriptures, personal and family prayer, fasting or abstinence, and the ministry of the word, read or expounded, to name just a few of those listed in the Third General Rule. Each has its own integrity, all are necessary, and of them, only corporate worship is corporate worship. Worship is not a lifestyle. Rather, worship symbolically represents the lifestyle we are to have as members of Christ’s body in the world.”

Perhaps the closest we get to binge worship is Holy Week, when a person can walk with Jesus into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, can dine with him on Maundy Thursday, can die with him on Good Friday, and can celebrate him on Easter.  Of course, people still need to show up at the right place and time, but if they do they will embrace the totality of Jesus’ meaning and purpose in their lives.

Foremost in all of this is the story. Whether its House of Cards or a blockbuster book, what grabs our attention and solicits our passion is a powerful story that compels us to experience human emotion and challenges us to look at our lives in a new light.   While many of us will indulge in 13 hours of Frank Underwood and his devious ways, a greater story is taking place during this season of Lent as Christians immerse themselves in the story of Jesus. Not just to hear a story, but to live changed lives.

Three Takeaways:

  1. See worship as part of the corporate lifestyle of living in Christian community
  2. Live the means of grace throughout the week through small groups, missional encounters in your community, prayer, and connections through social media
  3. Embrace binge worship by marketing all the worship experiences from Palm Sunday through Easter as Holy Week so people can connect the dots. Offer all the services. If you have a small staff, just opening the church for silent prayer on Good Friday gives people an opportunity to live the story.

For resources on Holy Week:

Holy Week Resources from Discipleship Ministries

Holy Saturday on Twitter

 

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.

How to Share iKids at Your Church

Many of you who are excited about the iKids: Parenting in the Digital Age have asked me what is the best way to share the book and its ideas with parents and adults working with children and youth. A great time to focus on this topic is between New Year’s and Ash Wednesday.  It so happens there are six weeks during that time, so churches can think about doing a six week series of sermons, seminars, or offer small groups during that time. Here are five strategies you can use:

  1. Do a sermon series on Six Values for the Digital Age starting on January 11 and finishing on February 15 using the Six Values for the Digital Age Study Guide as your resource.  Here are the topics and scriptures:

  • January 11: Happiness – Psalm 1:1-3
  • January 18: Wisdom – Proverbs 3:5-8, 13-18
  • January 25: Hope – Psalm 71:5-6 & Romans 5:1-5
  • February 1: Vision – Joel 2:28 & Revelation 7:16-17
  • February 8: Identity – 1 Samuel 3:8-10, Luke 1:35-37, 2:46-51
  • February 15: Faith – 2 Timothy 1:3-7
  1. Offer a Wednesday evening series using the same outline above starting on Wednesday, January 7th and finishing on February 11 (Ash Wednesday is February 18th).

  2. Give copies of iKids: Parenting in the Digital Age to your children’s and youth Sunday School teachers for Christmas and do a follow-up training on a Saturday morning or Sunday afternoon in January. Use the iKids Handout and Presentation Slides to share ideas from the book and have a discussion with them about what this means for the families in your congregation.

  3. Offer a parent’s event on Sunday, January 25th on the iKids and use the iKids Presentation Handout and Presentation Slides to share your ideas. This is the first football free Sunday since August, the week before the Super Bowl, so it’s a good time to offer a lunch and learning time after church.

  4. Offer a small group study or use the material in a Sunday School Class for parents using iKids: Parenting in the Digital Age and Six Values for the Digital Age.

iKids Resources you can share:

Six Values For The Digital Age at ikidsgen

iKids Presentation Handouts

iKids Presentation Slides

iKids and Screen Time: Is it Time to Hit the Pause Button?

It’s hard to believe, but the iPad has only been around for four years. First introduced in 2010, it ushered in a digital wave of devices that have been quickly embraced by families with children. Almost everywhere you go you will see children with digital devices about three inches from their faces as parents do their shopping or walking.

Some recent articles and studies reminds us that we are in the midst of a great experiment – and it might be time to hit the pause button on the amount of time we let the iKids use our favorite devices.

  1. Is there a difference between reading a book on a screen than reading a physical book?
    Apparently so. When parents read a book to a child on an iPad or Kindle Fire there is more focus on what is happening on the screen than on the story that is being read. As a child looks at the words on the screen, they want to touch the screen to make something happen. Instead of focusing on the words and the story, they are more interested in the images on the screen. Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, a professor of psychology at Temple University says the goal of reading a book is starting a conversation about the story. “But if that book has things that disrupt the conversation, like a game plopped right in the middle of the story, then it’s not offering you the same advantages as an old-fashioned book.”
  1. Does the number of words a child hear matter?
    While much is made of the economic disparities between the rich and the poor, another disparity has great implications on a child’s success in the future. Studies show that affluent parents spend 30 minutes more a day reading and talking to their children than poor parents. The daily intake of words is just as significant as maintaining a healthy diet or getting enough exercise. By the time a poor child enters school he or she has heard 30 million less words than their affluent peers whose parents buy them books, read to them, and engage in more conversations. What makes this even more troublesome is that a child can’t make this up by working harder when they are older. The development of language skills it closely tied to the developing brain of the toddler and preschooler – once that time is past, you can’t make it up. This research does not take into account the new trend of using digital devices. If the affluent turn to using tablets for reading instead of physical books, the number of words heard by their children may go down.
  1. Does multitasking damage your brain?
    You would think watching TV and flipping pages on your smartphone at the same time is just a harmless activity, just a way to spend some of your down time. But it turns out, multitasking, especially if it is an ongoing way of life, may be taking a toll on our brains. The brain can only do one thing at a time and with the constant switching between streams of information you end up doing multiple things inefficiently. Stanford University researchers found heavy multitaskers did poorly when it came to productivity because they are unable to filter out unnecessary information. In another study, researchers at the University of Sussex compared the MRI scans of people who multitasked and those who didn’t. They found that high multitaskers had less brain density in their cortex, the part of the brain that controls our emotions and cognitive ability. Neuroscientist Kep Kee Loh, the study’s lead author, explained the implications: “I feel that it is important to create an awareness that the way we are interacting with the devices might be changing the way we think and these changes might be occurring at the level of brain structure.”

The Implications:

While the use of techgear for reading and entertainment may be convenient and fun, when it come to iKids we need to seriously think about how much they should spend on screens. Because children and young teens are at the peak of brain development, a careful watch must be made on how the devices are used.

  • For preschoolers, the old fashioned practice of reading a physical book develops imagination and deep thinking. It makes a connection between the parent, the child, and the story that enhances their thinking and creates an emotional bond between parent and child.
  • For 8-10 year-olds, the types of study habits they develop will greatly impact their ability to think in the future. Working to use one stream of information, rather than being surrounded by multiple devices will be a challenge, especially as schools increasingly turn to the use of techgear in the classroom.
  • For 13-14 year-olds, as smartphones become the center of their relationships with their friends, the challenge becomes weaning them off their constant texting, SnapChatting, and uploading. When it comes to schoolwork, what was said earlier about 8-10 year-olds it true – moving them away from multitasking is important for their long-term brain development.

7 Ways to Uncouple from “Now”

The operative word for the digital age is “Now.” Whether its getting a prompt to “Like” or a disquieting nudge because you haven’t answered that email, it seems that little is being done to remember the past or prepare for the future. Our devices are not created to encourage us to ponder, reflect, and discern. They are designed to get us to search, to click, and to hyperlink – always looking for the next best thing.

This is true for our iKids as well. As we shuttle them from school to practice to church to camp to after-school events…are we giving them time to take a break? Where in our hurried lives do we hit the pause button and breathe?

So in attempt to break free, here are 7 ways to take a break from the tyranny of now.

  1. Read a novel. Our smartphones and tablets are full of ways to distract us and the reading we do is nothing more than scanning short bursts of information. Taking a break from screens and reading a real book helps our mind imagine, relax, and refresh.
  2. Learn to cook Moussaka. About six months ago my family and I went to a Greek restaurant and I tried moussaka for the first time. For some strange reason I went home and decided to learn how to make it. It was out of my comfort zone and cultural background, but now that I have cooked it a number of times, it’s not half bad. If moussaka is not your thing, find a recipe that takes a lot of preparation and challenges you. The act of cooking a complex dish gives you a sense of accomplishment and appreciation for the time it takes to make something good.
  3. Take a media fast.   We are so hemmed in by our screens and by our need to respond, that we don’t know how to live without a smartphone in our hand. So take up the challenge to shut it down for an evening or even a day. Turn off all media and give yourself time to think and reflect (fasting in Biblical times was related to food, fasting for us is giving up our media intake for a period of time).
  4. Write a letter. If you don’t remember how to do this, it entails getting a piece of paper and a pen and clearing a spot on a table to write. Writing by hand is slower because it makes you use the artistic side of your brain. When you write with a pen or pencil you are literally drawing a picture – one that others can recognize – that communicates a message to someone else. This is not the same as typing or texting. Writing by hand gives you an opportunity to think and to reflect as you share your thoughts with another person.
  5. Read a book to someone else. This is different than #1 above. By reading aloud to another member of your family or a friend the words take on another meaning. It also moves you to engagement.   This last week I picked up Love. Period.: When All Else Fails by Rudy Rasmus and starting reading it to my son. It has been a very rewarding experience as we are learning together and being challenged live out our Christian walk in today’s society.
  6. Listen to a story.   Take the time to talk with an older adult who grew up before the digital age. This might be an older relative or a member of your church. As you listen, you will see that they talk in stories and they focus on relationships. Talking to an older adult gives you an opportunity to break free from the onslaught of being “on” all the time and to hear about a time when relationships were built face-to-face and time moved at a slower pace.
  7. Pray. A long time ago I took a class on spirituality and we were taught a very simple prayer that has stayed with me. It goes like this, “I belong to God.” That’s it. Find a quiet moment and give yourself time to repeat this phrase as you pray it over and over again. It’s a very powerful prayer because it will remind you created you and will give you a sense of the timelessness of God’s presence in your life.