Here’s the 13th post in our series of guest posts by Microsoft Most Valued Professionals (MVPs). Since the early 1990s, Microsoft has recognized technology champions around the world with the MVP Award. MVPs freely share their deep knowledge, real-world experience, and impartial and objective feedback to help people enhance the way they use technology. Of the millions of individuals who participate in technology communities, around 4,000 are recognized as Microsoft MVPs.
This post is by Colin Smith, who is a System Center Configuration Manager MVP.
Those of you who know me, or follow any of my blogs, know that I typically focus on datacenter, virtualization, systems management, and cloud computing topics. I am not a gamer and don’t have a current-generation game console. I do have several classic Xboxes that my children use solely as media center devices. Well, that changed in April when I won an Xbox 360 + Kinect Bundle from Silect Software (creators of ConfigWise and MP Studio products) at MMS 2012 in Las Vegas.
What follows is a concerned, tech-savvy, non-gamer, parent’s perspective on the first two months with the Xbox 360 and the Kinect.
I have two boys, aged 8 and 5. To respect their privacy, let’s just call them Thing 1 and Thing 2. They are both busy with several sports and other organized activities. I coach both of their soccer teams. They both love to play with Lego. In fact, they often prefer to play with Lego rather than watch TV. They both have a fascination with Star Wars, and I am currently reading the Harry Potter series to them at bedtime.
I live in older home with a theatre room in the basement. The theatre room has low ceilings and I have a ceiling mounted projector. I haven’t (yet) been able to configure the space to use the Kinect without casting shadows on the screen. I was unsure whether to bring the Xbox home because my children are already too busy and I didn’t want to introduce another time-sapping, sedentary element into their lives. I decided that I would allow them only to use it together (or with me) and only to play cooperative games, and I would strictly control how long, how often, and under what conditions (homework done, chores done, etc.) they’d play.
Although the Kinect has been available since November of 2010 and is the fastest selling consumer electronics device in history according to Guinness, there are still may people who have not tried it for various reasons, some of which I expect are similar to my own. I hope this blog provides you with some additional information to help you decide what’s right for your family.
My room dynamics did not lend itself to installing the Kinect, so I selected a few standard (i.e., non-Kinect) games that fit my requirements of being multiplayer and cooperative and that would hold their attention. I bought the Lego Star Wars Saga and the Harry Potter Lego game. I started them on the Lego Star Wars game. Here are my initial thoughts:
The game was not necessarily intuitive for them, and it took a little bit of explanation from me and several hours of trial and error from them until they were making steady progress and really enjoying themselves. After two months they average less than an hour per week of Xbox and they still haven’t finished all of the levels in the game. They do work together to achieve objectives (most of the time).
I set up the Kinect in my office and had the boys come in and try it with the Kinect Sports soccer game. I provided them with little instruction or coaching. Up to this point they had never used the Kinect. Here are my thoughts on this exercise (pun intended):
1. It was fairly easy to setup the Kinect. However, as is well documented, adequate space is required to make full use of it. Overall setup was less than 15 minutes. I did not try any of the lenses that modify the space requirements.
2. The interface took a little getting used to and was not always intuitive. Good feedback is given when a player moves outside of the area that the Kinect can track, but this is mostly in the form of on screen text that young children might have trouble reading.
3. The interface was difficult for children and not immediately intuitive to use as they are not used to smooth exaggerated gestures. Initially, their frustration levels were quite high. It took some coaching to get them interacting with the interface. After the first thirty minutes, most issues were resolved.
4. Marking out the play area with tape on the floor and marking the starting points made it much easier for them to get started and keep playing. All the same, the children often inadvertently left the play area.
5. They loved the music and danced between rounds or when they scored goals.
I added another element to this experiment: the fitbit. The fitbit is a small, portable (wearable) device that is essentially a pedometer on steroids. It contains an accelerometer and altimeter and can track and measure steps, calories, etc. I used the fitbits to measure the boys’ caloric burn and steps taken while engaged in the various activities. I attached one to the waistband of each of the boys.
Here are the measurements that I collected:
Interpretation of Results
The fitbits validated my expectations that the Kinect games do indeed require more actual physical activity than a standard Xbox game. Of note is how similar the Kinect soccer is compared to the background measurement. I attribute this to the fact that the fitbit accelerometer measures steps taken and uses this as the basis for other calculations, such as calories burned. While playing Kinect soccer, the kids were kicking a lot but standing in one place, so the accelerometer was not triggered even though their legs were moving. Thing 2 got so tired playing Kinect soccer that he actually had to stop and take a break. As an aside, when the fitbits were used to measure calories burned while bicycling, the numbers were very low, because the device wasn’t moving horizontally, only vertically. I expect that the number of calories burned playing Kinect soccer is actually higher than what the fitbits measured. Take a look at the video at the end of this post to get an idea of how much movement there is in a typical Kinect soccer session.
The Xbox Kinect is fairly easy to set up, and the children enjoy using it. It provides an activity level far more intense than a standard video game and probably much higher than the fitbits reported. The Kinect is no replacement for actual physical activity, but it’s much better than typical video games. As a parent I am inclined to permit my children to play Kinect games longer than standard video games.