On Sept. 23, the latest version of the Disney Infinity franchise was released, starring all of the best and brightest from Marvel Comics. There's a world of adventure to be had playing through the structured stories of comic books and Disney whimsy, and that might be the way I prefer playing the game. But one of the game's primary functions is called The Toy Box—and it might be one of the most exciting things I've seen in a long time.
It's not exciting just for me in particular, but for the future of gaming in general. Maybe not even just gaming, either; maybe it can help make people a little better.
The Toy Box is an open world that lets you create and build games and scenarios using all the tools the game developers who created Disney Infinity had at their disposal. Coincidentally, those developers work at a Disney-owned company called Avalanche, located right here in Salt Lake City. Players are allowed to do just about anything they want in their construction, and to fashion the game in a variety of ways.
This mode of play is comparable to some games that came before it—most notably Minecraft, which hit the streets five years ago, though that might as well be millennia in video game years. If you're not familiar with Minecraft, imagine a giant virtual LEGO set, and you have the gist of the game. It's hugely popular, and people can sink hours and hours into crafting their own worlds.
But that's about where things end in Minecraft. Yes, it's about creativity, but the game's entire focus is on building (and to a lesser extent, survival). People can only marvel at what you've created and explore it to such a degree.
Infinity, however, allows you to create interactive experiences to share. Want to create a tower defense game? Done. A labyrinth full of enemies for your friends to battle? Simple. A sprawling city where you've hidden a variety of objects for friends to find? Capture the flag? A fighting game? A racing game? An entire dungeon-crawling role-playing game? Disney Infinity 2.0 makes it possible and even easy.
The unique impact of Disney Infinity 2.0 on the future of gaming is that it's teaching the people playing the game how to make a game. You have to program it, decide on the functionality, and actually develop something. Furthermore, Disney Infinity 2.0 invites you to upload the games you make for others to download so that they can play. I always tell people to create more than they consume, and for those who like to unwind playing video games, Infinity allows them to do that.
We're going to get better games in the future as a result of this approach—and, more than that, better people. Douglas Rushkoff, author and astute cultural observer, challenged people to "program or be programmed." If we're going to be competent citizens in this new digital age, we need to learn how to step back and do the programming, or we're going to disappear as consumers in a wasteland of technology. These may be small steps, but I think games like Minecraft and Disney Infinity 2.0 are great first steps toward getting us to that point.
Bryan Young is the editor-in-chief of BigShinyRobot.com