NYCC/NYAF 2010: Heroing Up

1010100072Conversations about this year’s combined New York Comic Con (NYCC) and New York Anime Festival (NYAF) would not be complete without mention of Marvel’s Superhero Squad – cute cherubic depictions of existing Marvel characters with oversized hands and feet and Kewpie doll smiles like Japanese Super Deformed (SD) or Chibi drawings.

In addition to the release of Marvel Superhero Squad: Infinity Gauntlet video game this November on all the major consoles, the Squaddies will be online in a Beta test of Marvel’s first MMO this coming Spring 2011.

Before I go any further I must apologize to the presenters at the Saturday Superhero Squad Gazillion session who also staffed the Gazillion and Marvel booths. Despite stopping by both Saturday and Sunday and asking on both occasions, I cannot remember anyone’s names. They were all very nice and took the time to introduce my boys the new MMO environment and rules of the physical card game associated with it. AND they showered the boys with pins and cards. I was told the latter was a conference exclusive so I am doubly appreciative.

I am new to videogames and have never played an MMO so am unable to rely any firsthand experiences. However, the name itself – MMO – gives insight into what is most valued about it – The ability to “communicate” and play together live across space.

While their panel offered insight into the authenticity of the characters in the Marvel universe(meaning they stayed true to the darker, more tragic, grown up personas of the heroes), I was hoping for a demonstration of how – and how much – players in the Superhero Squad MMO would interact. I walked in without the prerequisite knowledge of MMOs and it would have helped me appreciate the concept beyond the immediate oohs and aahs of seeing my favorite superheroes Chibi’d and animated.

As expressed by the panel, their target audience is boys ages 6 – 12. Their secondary audience is composed of girls and parents. So there are safety concerns. How well are users protected against social predators and bullies? The latter becoming more epidemic and dangerous in recent years. I am eager to test the safety options I was told about by a panelist after the presentation.

Where the Superhero Squad MMO really succeeded was simplifying the play. My boys love videogames. However, where my eldest is able to manage the various buttons to animate his character and play the game, my youngest struggles (often giving up). In the Superhero Squad MMO all you do to animate your superhero or engage in a battle is move your cursor (a big gloved hand) in the direction you wish to go or mouse over the evil characters to fight them.

1010100084In addition to the ongoing collection of tokens through the succession of levels, the Superhero Squad MMO includes a virtual card game. The boys and I were fortunate enough to be given a real deck and taught play at the NYCC.

At home the boys created additional rules to make the game easier for them to play. Their version of the card game also incorporated the collectible Superhero Squad figures like the ones they got on this year’s NYCC Kids Day.

Perhaps the most interesting revelation from the Superhero Squad Gazillion panelists was they didn’t anticipate kids wanting to be villains. I don’t think I would’ve either. But the desire is intriguing. Digging around the Internet I found this whimsical post on Mamapop.com by a mother whose 6 year old has chosen the Dark Side of the Force. My head is popping with theories about why kids might chose villains over superheroes –

Is it because more care is given to providing villains with sympathetic backstories? A result of the anti-hero symbolism in pop culture? Or simply because villains have some pretty cool costumes?

Whatever the answer sign up at Heroup.com for the Superhero Squad MMO Beta. It promises to inspire some interesting situations educationally and developmentally.

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