Most verbal communication in online games so often eatures a mixture of slurs and profanity. Most games offer no alternative to voice chat often feeling like the only option is to mute it all out. However shutting your ears to everyone reduces your team interaction and communication; it removes the player from the fact they are playing with real people. How refreshing it is then to see that Little Big Planet provides all the communication tools you need without having to open your mouth.
The control interface in Little Big Planet gives the player full control of their arms, head and even hips, as well as providing various emote options that when combined allow players to express almost any emotion without need for any vocal contribution.
For example when a player completes a particularly difficult part or wins a race they usually activate the biggest smile Sackboy can muster combined with waving and dancing arms. Even when a frustrated player shows Sackboy’s clenched fists and angry face he looks adorable making any potential conflict look more like a child's tantrum.
During moments of frustration or continued death I often push Sackboy’s sad emoticon all the way to all out bawling complete with arms outstretched double thumbs down. More often than not this prompts the second player to sidle alongside with a cute smile and give a few “there there” pats on the back. Que both Sackboys switching to a full happy mode and jumping for joy.
This use of puppetry makes the player feel like they are role-playing as the little Sackboy rather than speaking over the game as themselves. It takes the player into their avatar and makes events as described above feel like an important part of play. It is hard to tell if players that would normally curse and insult play differently when their voice cannot be heard but largely discouraging that communication makes the online play experience more enjoyable.
The beauty of this is that if it allows players of all ages, genders, languages and race communicate in an even and safe environment ,it encourages a greater level of roleplay which voice communication often ruins.
Instead of building non-verbal systems to support co-operation, roleplay and enjoyment, many games use voice communication as an easy out. I wonder if some games would actually be enhanced by being designed as if no player would ever be able to speak to another verbally. How could you use avatar emotes, automated responses and other actions to allow players to act out their thoughts. It may not work in every situation but I think many games would have a wider appeal if voice communication was not the only way to say how you feel.
I would also add that voice communication is possible in Little Big Planet (and is complete with lip syncing Sackboy) but in my time of playing it was a very rare occurrence. Another side effect of this level of puppetry in Little Big Planetis it has allowed for Machinima such as this
[Check out my blog Heaven Twiddling for more games design highlights.]