So I’ve been branded a “Kinect” lover by some people, and for the past year that has been a fairly accurate statement. Before that, I was a Wii lover. In both cases, I truly believed in the idea of “motion gaming”. Ever since my family played hooky from work/school in November 2006 to play with our new Wii all day, I’ve felt that the Wii (and by extension) the Kinect would be the future of fun and gaming in our house. Over the past 5 years, I have pushed the Wii and the Kinect very hard on my kids. I’ve bought dozens of games, jumped around the living room, and generally tried to lead the family into a blissful world of motion gaming. I thought the benefits would be worthwhile: we would spend time together, get a bit of exercise, and I would get to play video games. Sure, they would not necessarily be the type of games I really wanted to play, but at least it would be something, right? However, I’ve noticed that my kids don’t ask to play the Wii or the Kinect at all (with the exception of Fruit Ninja). My older daughter loves Dragon Age and complex RPGs. My younger kids like web games and iPad games. When they are not playing games computer and video games, they are playing other things…inside.
We live on a very small plot of land in a concrete jungle, so there are very few opportunities to go “outside” and play anything more than very simple games. The end result is that the kids rarely go outside. I’ve only facilitated this behavior by trying to bring “the outside inside” with Kinect and the Wii. Since we have very little room outside, the virtual worlds of the Wii and Kinect appear to offer limitless space to play things like tennis, soccer, volleyball and ping pong…as long as the living room is clear, the Wii motes don’t break (or at the very least the tether doesn’t slap us in the face), and the Kinect recognizes who is standing in front of it.
This weekend my wife saw a cheap $5.00 kit at Target that could turn a regular table into a ping-pong table and suggested we buy it. I thought it was an absurd idea, but I bought it anyway and “installed” it on the “art table” we have for the girls on the back patio. The reaction from my family was immediate, wild, and unexpected. Even though it is just a makeshift, mini ping-pong table, it appears to be the greatest gift we have ever bought for our kids. We played all weekend, and when the girls were not playing ping pong, they were exploring our small garden, and even building sand-castles in the sand-table (which usually sits unused 363 days out of the year).
Furthermore, it was raining here, and we NEVER go out side when it is raining. This weekend was an exception. This is when I had my “duh, aha” moment that many of you had a long time ago: “motion gaming” is just an illusion of “activity”. Duh. Yeah, you knew it already, but I could not see it. Motion gaming attempts to replicate things that can be done better as pure video games or pure outside activities. It lives someplace in the middle: a location where I have, for the past few years, lived in blissful denial. I’ve been trying to replace a perceived “missing joy” from my kids childhood (my own perception of the house we live in compared to the house I grew-up in, not based on their feelings or perceptions) with sub-par technology and shovelware video games. I was blinded by the idea that technology could replace the irreplaceable. In reality, a $149.99 Kinect with a $49.99 Kinect Sports (and it’s Ping Pong Game) could not generate even 10% of the enthusiasm and joy that a cheap $5.00 ping pong set from Target could generate.
Am I done with motion-gaming? Probably not, but then I won’t buy every title that comes out either. At the very least I’m going to try to stop using it as replacement for real-world activities, and simply open the back door and get outside the damned house for a while.