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Disney Infinity 2.0

Andy Robertson

Disney Interactive
Xbox, PlayStation, Wii U, PC, iOS

As mathematical terms go, infinity fascinates from an early age. A playground trump card, a point where everything collides, the horizon where land meets sky and now the post-fix to Disney's billion dollar videogame franchise.

Whether the game is actually infinite is initially unclear, apart from its seemingly endless ability to generate profits. It's a lucrative combination of video-game and toy-line. The starter pack (£52) comes with the first 3 of 30 or so toy figures which when placed on a USB peripheral plugged into the gaming console grant access to a related character in the game. Progress in the game and character customisations are then instantly, wirelessly, saved to the toy. Each additional toy character is about £12.

The second iteration of Disney Infinity has just been released and is themed around either Marvel or original Disney characters. The Marvel packs offer the meat of the adventures for The Avengers, Spider-Man and Guardians of the Galaxy characters with a tougher challenge, larger worlds and more sophisticated upgrades.

The core game is the same as last year with action brawling and puzzle solving popularized by the Lego video-games. Setting aside these accepted gaming norms, it's violent stuff with fisticuffs, rockets and guns. The bodies of fallen enemies fall apart without blood and soon disappear so the game won't ring ratings authority bells but, as with the films to which it relates, combat is the main way to proceed.

So far, so video-game franchise, but there's more going on here than meets the eye.

Putting carefully sculpted physical representations of in-game characters into the hands of children does something unexpected to the experience. As well as an expensive way to unlock additional content, the figurines extend play from the screen to the carpet.

The usually bounded, controlled, adventures in the game flood out into the real world and into territory the highly curated brands are unable to control. These characters in the hands of children break all the rules, mixing and matching different imaginary worlds. On the kitchen floor Spider-Man comes to the rescue of Batman while Woody and Buzz look on. Elsa and Anna sing songs from Cars while Mater tries out a country rendition of Let it Go.

Perhaps here is Disney Infinity's endlessness. The game seems to know it, and matches this carpet-play with a Toy Box mode to let players create their own mix and match adventures in the game. Simple game development controls and a chest of intelligent pre-set items mean that anyone can make their own mini-adventures.

Strangely though, this potential revolution has yet to be capitalised upon in my home, and I suspect others. A diet of on-screen superhero action is not easily forgotten and even with the physical toys children gravitate back to controllers and buttons. Toys remain on the shelf rather than living in pockets or losing paint and limbs in the playground.

The reluctance is no surprise. We all get used to the infinite horizon that surrounds our lives. We procrastinate, too long overlooking the potential of travelling to those far off magical places. There's a lone Oak tree on my morning skyline I see every day. I know I'd love to go and stand under its branches gazing back towards our house but in ten years I've never been there.

We need support to take ownership of our world, and sometimes a gentle shove in the right direction. Most who play Disney Infinity will enjoy the adventures, novel game making and smart collectable figures. However, few will realise how much freedom the game grants them, not only making up play-time fun with the toys, but taking that back to the on-screen game creation.

Like reading the Bible, Disney Infinity is better when it's experienced together as a family. Get parents and children in the mix together and it comes to life. Younger minds bring imagination and creativity while mum and dad sustain and steer the play, nudging things away from defaulting to the prescribed tropes.

Disney Infinity does something we don't expect it to: encourage players to rewrite the usually stiffly protected rules and adventures of its brand characters. It knows this is what happens when children play, but rather than fighting that it goes with it.

Here the game really is infinite, calling up all manner of messy, chaotic inventions. Many of these will live for a day and soon be discarded, but others will grow into favourite adventures that continue on the carpet and as in-game toy box creations for weeks and months. It's impressive and inadvertently challenges owners of other texts to do the same, if they dare.

Putting more control in the hands of players and readers is dangerous, but it seems that Disney is confident enough in its characters and worlds to take the risk. In doing so it opens the door to many more play possibilities, undreamt of stories and unimagined outcomes. It also reminds us of the untapped surplus of meaning in other texts, when we find a way, and the courage, to let children imagine what they might mean to them.