Playing the penguin

It’s not uncommon for my daughters to be up before me on weekend. They’re pretty good at entertaining themselves—sometimes quietly and sometimes not-so-much—while their parents try to steal a few more minutes of sleep. This Saturday, after she thought that she had waited long enough, my younger daughter, who I will refer to as Bootsy, came into the room and stood by my side of the bed. When I opened my eyes, she asked me, “Are you going to play the penguin today?”

“Playing the penguin,” for those of you not current on the Craig household’s local dialect, refers to Little Big Planet, in which my sackperson of choice is decorated, as, well, a penguin. Complete with a cute little scarf. (I prefer to think of him as being more inspired by Opus than by Chilly Willy, but a bow tie wasn’t one of my choices.)

I don’t particularly like Little Big Planet. I’m not a big fan of platform games, which revolve around getting from point A to point B in a largely two-dimensional environment, and which reward reflexes and memorization above all else. I get bored quickly, and I almost always hit a very specific point where I get stuck, and the work involved in overcoming the obstacle is way more than I’m willing to invest in the game. In Little Big Planet, that point was in the second level in the Islands area. There’s a segment where your sackboy has to grab on to a series of spinning wheels, and basically throw one’s self up a tower. Mastering the sequence required many, many falls, and then you have to do the same thing again in a second area, this time, without a floor.

Yeah. Not so much.

But for all this, I’ve found myself playing Little Big Planet quite a bit lately. And trying to figure out why.

Part of the answer has something to do with the fact that not particularly liking something is nowhere near the same as hating it. Little Big Planet can be fun, and the user-designed levels give me something to do even if I’ve given up on the main “storyline.” Part of it is that many of the charms of Little Big Planet, at least for me, are similar to the charms of a game like Mafia Wars. I can play it in short discrete sessions, and it gives me a wealth of little prizes to chase after, even if I’m no longer making progress toward some larger, overriding goal. (Given my current other gaming project, being able to pick up a game and put it down again less than a hour later has a very real appeal.)

And part of the answer has to do with the face waiting for me to open my eyes on Saturday morning. It’s fun to play Little Big Planet because my daughters enjoy watching the game so much. Little Big Planet is a particularly kid-friendly game, cute, fun to look at, and not too scary, but I’m not sure that the girls care about any of that. It’s simply one of the two games I own (along with Katamari Forever) that I’m willing to play in front of them. And the girls love video games. Any video game. Rabbit (the daughter who isn’t Bootsy) is a horse fanatic, and I’m sure she’d love Red Dead Redemption, but even if I avoid the storyline missions, I can’t be sure that any random person I encounter won’t swear at me. Or be trying to kill a prostitute. I’m not sure I’m ready to explain that one.

Bootsy gets really upset when I lose a character in Little Big Planet, but he always pops out, good as new. It’s really comforting to be able to tell her that she doesn’t have to be afraid, that it’s okay, and for it to actually be okay. We have to lie about that kind of thing to our kids enough. So I relish my moment of honesty. And I play again.

Gavin Craig is co-editor of The Idler. You can follow him on Twitter at @craiggav.

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