The Nintendo Switch Just Reinvented Gaming

Today’s reveal of the new Nintendo Switch gaming system brings into focus five lessons every church leader needs to know to connect with millennial and iKids generations.  The new system, which will be available in March 2017, features a video of people in their twenties using the new gaming system to interact in multiple ways with their friends.  Here are five things we can learn about the thinking behind the system:

  1. Gaming is not just for children and teenagers.
    The gamers in the video reveal of the new system are people in their twenties who show how the versatility the Nintendo Switch fits into their on-the-go, in-the-moment lifestyle. While Nintendo’s previous systems were marketed to children and families, the Switch is clearly targeted to youth and young adults.
  2. Flexibility is a core value.
    The Switch is a hybrid of the traditional gaming systems like PlayStation or Xbox and a portable module, like the widely successful Nintendo DS system. First, it can be played like a traditional gaming system as it is hooked up to a TV. Second, its controllers can seamlessly be connected to a tablet with what looks like an 8-inch screen, which turns it into a portable gaming system that can be played anywhere.  Third, the two controllers can be removed to allow two players to play the same game as they look at the tablet. Fourth, it can be linked to other switches to allow multiple player gaming.
  3. The Switch fosters relationships.
    The Switch explodes the myth that gamers are lonely misfits who waste their time playing video games in the confines of their parents’ basements. Instead, its portability and the configuration of the controllers fits into a different narrative – gaming is about connecting with friends.
  4. The game doesn’t stop.
    In one section of the video, a gamer continues to play the same game as he moves through a variety of locations. With the Switch, you don’t have to pause.  The game continues from a ride in an airplane, a ride in a car, to your TV at your home.
  5. Its about the experience.
    While people may fixate on the release of a revolutionary gaming system, the goal of the gaming system is to create immersive experiences through which stories of valor, of overcoming, and finding hope give people meaning and purpose.

Questions for church leaders:

  1. What does Nintendo’s focus on creating a system for youth and young adults tell you of the importance of connecting with this generation?
  2. How flexible is your programing for youth and youth adults? Do you offer multiple options and places where people can connect with your ministry?
  3. How are you fostering the creation of meaningful and healthy relationships?
  4. How do you help people discover that their relationship with Jesus is an ongoing process that is active no matter where they are? How do you teach people to have daily and ongoing prayer, to read the Scripture in a way that informs everything they do, and to see each encounter with another person as an opportunity to share God’s love and grace?
  5. How are you turning your worship services into transformational experiences and creating multiple small groups and outreach group experiences where people can integrate their spirituality with their daily living?

 

 

Craig Kennet Miller is the author of iKids: Parenting in the Digital Age and Director of Congregational Development at Discipleship Ministries with the United Methodist Church

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

20150830_131344_resized

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?

 

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.

Disney Infinity 2.0 Reveals Its Strategy for Reaching iKids

Today’s release of Disney Infinity 2.0: Marvel Superheros is a watershed event for Disney. For years they have tried to figure out how to crack the billion dollar gaming market. With last year’s successful launch of the Disney Infinity video game, they finally found a winner.

If you are not familiar with Disney Infinity, it is at the forefront of the toy-to-life format, where gamers buy toy characters that come to life in a video game. Skylanders by Activison was the first to pioneer this concept which has generated over 2 billion dollars in sales for the company.

What gets iKids excited about the Disney Infinity video games is the ability to collect their favorite Disney toy characters (which sell between $12 to $15 dollars each) and to then play them in the game. Characters like Violet from the Incredibles, Mater from Cars, and Elsa from Frozen became popular choices to add to the original game.

But in Disney Infinity 2.0: Marvel Superheros, we see the culmination of a strategy Disney has focused on over the last ten years. After their successful collaboration with Pixar movies like Toy Story, Lion King, The Little Mermaid, and Beauty and the Beast, they discovered what sells in today’s marketplace are the characters and their stories.

So in 2004 they bought the Muppets. In 2006 they bought the full rights to Pixar. In 2009 they purchased Marvel Entertainment for $4 billion. Then in 2012 they bought Lucasfilm and the rights to the Star Wars franchise. Just last year they continued their buying spree as they obtained the rights to Indiana Jones.

Disney’s goal to own all the characters and stories of our pop culture is readily seen in Disney Infinity 2. Rather then staring characters from Disney movies or Pixar, it includes Thor, Iron Man and Black Widow from Marvel in the starter set who play in an Avengers themed game.

But this is just the start. What makes Disney Infinity 2.0 unique is the Toy Box mode in which you can mix and match your characters and create your own games, sets, and designs – think Minecraft combined with Angry Birds. In the new version characters get their own stories in the Toy Box Mode and they get to play with characters from all of the Disney owned franchises.

So what is our take-away:

  1. Disney through its old and new franchises is the most influential company in the lives of iKids. Besides the Disney Channel, it also owns ABC, ABC Family, ESPN, and DisneyXD. Along with its movies and theme parks it has the capability to make its products wildly popular among children (think Frozen).
  2. Disney has always understood the power of story. In today’s culture, stories and strong characters impart wisdom and meaning.
  3. Disney’s ability to think long-term it now paying off. Its strategy of buying up the pop culture has positioned it to have even more influence than before.
  4. By purchasing properties like Star Wars and Indiana Jones, they are able to rekindle the love adults had for these movies when they first came out. As a result, their goal is to create experiences that children, teens, and their parents can enjoy together.
  5. The Disney Infinity Video Game franchise has the opportunity to fully exploit its strategy. No one would be surprised to see Disney Infinity 3.0 based on Star Wars next fall, just before the next movie of the series is released.