A Little Big Problem

LittleBigPlanet promises to take user-generated creativity to new levels, providing it can first ove

LittleBigPlanet, probably the most anticipated videogame this year (about which we have talked before) has been for delayed a few weeks. Usually, such a stall would be down to last minute bugs found in the code or something rather mundane. No-one expected something like LBP to be delayed due to an outbreak of corporate religious sensitivity.

The problem was discovered in one of the pieces of music licensed for the soundtrack, specifically a piece by Toumani Diabate which contained two expressions which are found in the Qur’an. This discovery appears to have triggered a spasm of corporate religious sensitivity with Sony immediately recalling all copies globally and Guildford-based developer Media Molecule left ‘shellshocked and gutted’. A new date for the game has since been announced.

Sony’s Playstation 3, on which the game is based, has had a previous well publicised conflict with a major religious organisation. Last year they fell into a well-publicised dispute with the Church of England over the use of the interior of Manchester Cathedral as an environment within their ‘Resistance : Fall of Man’ title. Clearly, they don’t want to enter the same kind of conflict again - and in particular not with something as family-friendly as the LBP brand.

Perhaps what’s most interesting here though, is the precedent implied for LBP as a platform for user-expression. It’s one of the flag-bearers for the idea of user generated content, the game itself is essentially a tool to allow the player to create more levels and share them with others. On the evidence of the beta version, which players have been using for a few weeks, it’s a startlingly powerful one. LBP is intended to be a place for free creativity and expression, so it’s going to be very interesting to watch the corporate reactions as the game evolves with the public expressing themselves within it.

After all, the previous poster-child was Will Wright’s Spore - and we all remember what happened there…

Iain Simons writes, talks and tweets about videogames and technology. His new book, Play Britannia, is to be published in 2009. He is the director of the GameCity festival at Nottingham Trent University.
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Why does food taste better when we Instagram it?

Delay leads to increased pleasure when you set up a perfect shot of your dinner.

Been on holiday? Take any snaps? Of course you did – but if you’re anything like me, your friends and family didn’t make it into many of them. Frankly, I can only hope that Mr Whippy and I will still be mates in sixty years, because I’m going to have an awful lot of pictures of him to look back on.

Once a decidedly niche pursuit, photographing food is now almost as popular as eating it, and if you thought that the habit was annoying at home, it is even worse when it intrudes on the sacred peace of a holiday. Buy an ice cream and you’ll find yourself alone with a cone as your companion rushes across a four-lane highway to capture his or hers against the azure sea. Reach for a chip before the bowl has been immortalised on social media and get your hand smacked for your trouble.

It’s a trend that sucks the joy out of every meal – unless, that is, you’re the one behind the camera. A new study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology suggests that taking pictures of food enhances our pleasure in it. Diners at the food court of a farmers’ market in Philadelphia were asked either to photograph their meal or to eat “as you normally would”, then were questioned about how they found it. Those in the photography group reported that not only did they enjoy their meal more, but they were “significantly more immersed in the experience” of eating it.

This backs up evidence from previous studies, including one from this year in the Journal of Consumer Marketing, which found that participants who had been asked to photograph a red velvet cake – that bleeding behemoth of American overindulgence – later rated it as significantly tastier than those who had not.

Interestingly, taking a picture of a fruit salad had no effect on its perceived charms, but “when descriptive social norms regarding healthy eating [were] made salient”, photographing these healthier foods did lead to greater enjoyment. In other words, if you see lots of glossy, beautifully lit pictures of chia seed pudding on social media, you are more likely to believe that it’s edible, despite all the evidence to the contrary.
This may seem puzzling. After all, surely anything tastes better fresh from the kitchen rather than a protracted glamour shoot – runny yolks carefully split to capture that golden ooze, strips of bacon arranged just so atop plump hemispheres of avocado, pillowy burger buns posed to give a glimpse of meat beneath. It is hardly surprising that 95 million posts on Instagram, the photo-sharing site, proudly bear the hashtag #foodporn.

However, it is this delay that is apparently responsible for the increase in pleasure: the act of rearranging that parsley garnish, or moving the plate closer to the light, increases our anticipation of what we are about to eat, forcing us to consider how delicious it looks even as we forbid ourselves to take a bite until the perfect shot is in the bag. You could no doubt achieve the same heightened sense of satisfaction by saying grace before tucking in, but you would lose the gratification that comes from imagining other people ogling your grilled Ibizan sardines as they tuck in to an egg mayonnaise at their desk.

Bear in mind, though, that the food that is most successful on Instagram often has a freakish quality – lurid, rainbow-coloured bagel-croissant hybrids that look like something out of Frankenstein’s bakery are particularly popular at the moment – which may lead to some unwise menu choices in pursuit of online acclaim.

On the plus side, if a diet of giant burgers and salted-caramel lattes leaves you feeling queasy, take heart: if there is one thing that social media likes more than #avotoast, it is embarrassing oversharing. After a week of sickening ice-cream shots, a sickbed selfie is guaranteed to cheer up the rest of us. 

Felicity Cloake is the New Statesman’s food columnist. Her latest book is The A-Z of Eating: a Flavour Map for Adventurous Cooks.

This article first appeared in the 25 August 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Cameron: the legacy of a loser