Just watching BBC World news on the new X Box offering- the new game looks like it will also add to the physical immersive experiences already offered by Eye Toy. All games that extend the ideas in this area and the possibilities for interactive physical play for people of all abilities can only be good news. While they are useful for general entertainment my main interest is in how they can be used for physiotherapeutic reasons with kids and adults with cerebral palsy, especially right or left-sided hemiplegia. This one looks like it’s worth keeping an eye on.
Old people, especially the millions in the UK who don’t have access to a generous pension fund need playgrounds at least as much as they need retirement homes. More than ever at any previous time in their lives, they need opportunities to socialise widely and make new friends. One of the issues facing our society is the rise of a huge retired population. My mum was discussing the regeneration of our town centre and thinking about how we could place old people at the centre of the new market complex. We thought about how public spaces should have places where old and young can mix freely and cheaply, places that are accessible and right in the centre of the action. We talked about this while we sat in a crowded cafe and the unusual owner seated more people by the simple expedient of asking young people sitting on their own if they could shove up to make space for someone else – an old person. We then watched as the generations started to talk. It worked beautifully. We then attended a meeting where we were asked how we could improve the town centre. We raised the question of communal spaces, but the information gatherers couldn’t – or wouldn’t – get it. They wondered, would the generations want to mingle? What good could it possibly do? Maybe we could use the wonderful benefits of gaming to bring them together physically as well as in the virtual world. Eye Toy, Guitar Hero and Wii Fit could be the way forwards – I’m sure there are some old codgers who could deliver a polished rendition of Smoke On the Water to blow away the opposing 13-year olds.
The predecessor of the Wii Fit was the Eye Toy Kinetic, a ‘gym’ game for improving fitness. It was an important step but it didn’t get it quite right. Too complicated to log in was one issue, repellently fit avatar trainers was another, but more importantly, it was designed for people who were already fairly fit. This is a misunderstanding of its audience. Many creators continue to overlook the middle-aged audience they could harvest. The Eye Toy Kinetic’s routines require a level of agility seen in wiry teenagers, not fat middle-aged women who’ve forgotten, if they ever knew, how to exercise. But the Wii Fit has got it right. In the last four weeks I’ve watched some government morbidly obese statistics switch on to exercise because the Wii Fit helps you leap over the barriers to exercise without humiliation, finger-wagging or boredom. It manages to be motivational without ever being patronising. It gives frequent and timely feedback and it repays effort. I’ve seen a middle-aged man become competitive enough to beat a skinny teenager at hula hooping, and a woman who’s never run in her life jog for 60 minutes. This is when the technology becomes exciting, when it can incite this level of personal empowerment and change.
The wonderful literacy expert Sue Palmer drew my attention to the way the alphabet can be taught using movement, with kids using their whole bodies to learn the shapes of letters – a bit like a massive use of the Magic pencil technique used by Clare Elstow in the BBC Words and Pictures series before she took over Cbeebies. Sue saw this technique used in scandinavian primary schools. The Wii and Eye Toy technology seems to me to be made for this.