For some time now Son has been enjoying his two passions, Lego and video games, combining them in interesting ways (like building miniature gaming consoles). So it seemed natural to progress to his first Massively Multiplayer Online Game, and what better way to venture into that world than through Lego. Meet Lego Universe.
It has been a huge hit with both Son and, surprisingly, me. The world created in this game is interesting, sometimes dark, but always lightened up by the fact that it’s all Lego. Your player is a minifigure that you design and clothe yourself. The first part of the game is common to all players: you must navigate off a transport ship, learning basic skills along the way. Eventually you make your way to the Recruiting Centre where you sign up with the Nexus Force. This then allows you to visit other worlds in the universe.
To join the Nexus Force you have to complete a few missions, then you have to choose your Faction. There are four Factions, each with a different style and character. The Assembly Faction is comprised of builders and creators, the Sentinel Faction is for defenders and warriors. The Venture Faction is for explorers and fun-seekers, and the Paradox Faction is for those with a bent towards the darker side of adventure.
Choosing a Faction was a Big Event in our family – with four minifigures, each of our family could create a character. Son chose Sentinel Faction and Daughter chose Assembly. I myself chose Venture so there was big pressure on Husband to pick Paradox Faction so all the factions would be represented in the family. Fortunately that was right up his alley! Since that time both Husband and Daughter have moved on to other things, but Son and I enjoy playing regularly and it’s great to be able to discuss this latest passion with him in detail. We swap tips, share experiences, and enjoy seeing each other’s progress. It’s also really nice for him to be the “expert” and able to offer me assistance when I need it. I’m sure it’s wonderful for children to engage in a bit of role-reversal with their parent from time to time.
Being a Massively Multiplayer game, the exciting part (as we’ve not played such games before) is seeing other characters and knowing that there is a human being behind it. Son enjoys chatting with others, and joining teams to go on adventures. I prefer to play solo, but I’ve often found myself flagging down a passer-by to ask for help – I imagine how fun it would be for the child behind the character to see that it’s an “old lady” asking for help, but of course they don’t know that.
The game allows for all kinds of playing styles. You can go to racetracks spread throughout the worlds, try to complete Missions that may require battling or problem-solving, or you can join forces with others. If animals are your thing, there are various animals scattered throughout the worlds that you can befriend and train to be your pet and companion. It’s not unusual to get passed by a character with a crocodile obediently trotting along behind. You can participate in group building projects, and you even get a piece of real estate with which to build upon using bricks you collect along the way. I made a cute little cottage, but prefer to engage in some of the more challenging and fun Missions. Son loves to decorate his property, and has been collecting Castle Modules to create a medieval home for himself. There is a daily news feature that tells of fun games going on, new adventures, and places to see. It’s never the same game twice, and seems to have enough variety to keep us well-engaged.
The entire game is very regulated and child-friendly. They even have an “easy chat” where you can pick phrases rather than having to type them out yourself. Son started this way but soon progressed to typing his own phrases. There’s a lot to be said for the slang of online chatting, and how easy it makes it for young kids to communicate through text. I know there has been controversy about this slang chat language and spelling, and concerns that it will rob kids of learning “real” grammar and spelling. But I think these concerns are outdated and based on paradigms of learning that I simply don’t share. Neither of my kids seems to be confused by the fact that the word you is spelled “y-o-u” in literature but simply written as “u” in text messaging. I think it’s only confusing to those of us who were introduced to it rather late in life!
I can’t say enough good things about Lego Universe. It’s a very benign and safe environment in which kids can be creative, have fun, and begin to explore online interactions (like chatting) in a safe environment. The worlds they’ve created are very impressive in terms of scope, complexity, and graphics. And I love that I enjoy the game enough to be able to share with Son in one of his favorite games (currently, that is). So if you have a child who is ready to take their gaming one step further, and if you’d like a gentle environment in which to begin instruction regarding online chatting and Netiquette, I suggest this game as a great place to start.