Friday, 27 November 2009

Play time

This is kind of cool until you realize that the book doesn’t add a whole lot apart from size. If you’re at home, you might as well use a laptop or the TV screen and then the characters could be part of the interactivity. If you’re on a train, lugging the book negates all the convenience of the iPhone. Doh.

Of course, the book would serve to make the whole interactive experience more comforting if young children were conservative creatures afraid to embrace new media. But no, that’s their parents. Children are continually engaged in forming a model of the world from scratch and will take on board anything that’s put in front of them. To them, iPhones are no less familiar than books. And there you have the USP of the human race in a nutshell.

Seeing this after reminiscing so recently about interactive stories set me to thinking about Figments, a "story world" game for young children that Leo and I dreamt up in the late ‘90s. We couldn’t sell it to games publishers nor to TV networks either, though not for want of trying. (The games execs only had eyes for twentysomething boys, the TV execs were dazzled by reality TV and thought interactivity meant choosing from multiple endings. As they still do, in fact.)

Figments used a “cascade of events” concept to create narrative strings that the user could influence by pointing things out to the characters. Think The Sims only the characters are like little playmates rather than lab rats to be tormented and studied. When I have a day to spare, I’ll tell you all about it.


  1. The rationale behind this bit of advertising is even more interesting than the product itself. It's a somewhat condescending view of children insofar as the little cherub is being steered through the whole experience by his dad.

    In my experience what would happen is that after the first page it would be an elbow in the ribs from the ickle chubster and they would be doing if for themselves.

    Really aimed at parents who want to exert as much control as possible over their kid's imaginations. I've got a friend who still has to run potential birthday presents for his now 14 year old nephew past his ever anxious mum in case they exert a pernicious effect on his development.

  2. There is so much that computer games could provide for kids in the way of really new ways of playing and discovery if not for the limited imagination of (most) adults, who shackle the potential of new technology and new media by only being able to see things in terms of old media models.

    In the field of education, for instance, we could be chucking out the whole antiquated mess of facts and book-learning, which has precious little to do with real understanding. If a kid's passion for a subject survives school it's a minor miracle. New interactive models provide a way forward, but they're still stuck at the stage of "teaching machines" and quaint old "multimedia". Ugh. Part of me can't wait for this generation to die so the young people brought up to take computers for granted can really start using their potential. Though, of course, that puts me among the dinosaurs :)

    It's always been like this. Cinema came along but people thought it was just a case of pointing a camera at a stage play, and so on.