Take A Class In LittleBigPlanet With Prof. Sackboy

The PlayStation game LittleBigPlanet is a promising vision of the future of education from an unlikely source.

The offices of Media Molecule, the game development company behind LittleBigPlanet and LittleBigPlanet 2, are brightly painted and dominated by fan art of their most famous character, Sackboy. The space also features a large communal dining table around which staff and guests can sit, eat, chat, and relax. The table is enormous--it can seat close to 24--and wholly symbolic of the games Media Molecule loves to create. Games like LittleBigPlanet, which nurture creativity in the context of community.

The emphasis on community in LittleBigPlanet is one of its most distinctive features, partly because the game does it so well. Players can play, build, and share levels with other players within the game itself, and the culture of friendliness cultivated by the LBP community allows both experts and n00bs to feel at home. The developers have remained active participants in the community, and players are supported with many opportunities to celebrate their own creations. From a wonderfully diverse array of ways to “like” player creations to tweetable level URLs that can be shared across social networks, the game makes it easy to participate.

As a studio, Media Molecule is itself highly collaborative, and feels at times like an artists’ collective. With a social vibe, the studio is filled with examples of fan creativity like Sackboy Halloween costumes and handwritten bug reports produced by 9-year olds. The staff seems to believe almost fearlessly in the idea of engagement in a community as a way in to learning, a vision even more realizable today with the wealth of social supports available via digital media and technology. For Media Molecule, education is possible only within a community founded on knowledge sharing and support. As level designer Christophe Villedieu said in an interview, “Sharing is the gift for the community--you don’t expect anything in return. It’s just that I know how to do something so I share my knowledge… take it and use it. It’s like free food, like open knowledge, for every creator.”

For educators interested in how games can provide new models for student engagement, the design of the community for LBP and its approach to open knowledge might serve as an inspiration. The barrier to entry into the community is incredibly low, it is filled with social supports for learning that come from fellow players, and players can develop interest and build expertise through the design of their own levels. The game not only empowers players to believe that with the right tools, creativity knows no bounds, but also to believe that players can only learn from what they’ve made if their creativity is shared with others. The result is a robust community where players are constantly growing and learning together, which makes LBP a promising vision of learning in the 21st century.

Katie Salen is the Executive Director of Institute of Play and a Professor in the School of Computing and Digital Media at DePaul University. Institute of Play is a not-for-profit design studio that pioneers new models of learning and engagement.

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