May 22, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

The Future Is Kinect-thetic | The Gaming Life

Skeletal mapping technology offers full-body play without a controller

Microsoft’s Kinect™ sensor debuted in November 2010. Originally known as Project Natal, Microsoft unveiled a computer boy named Milo at the E3 (Electronic Entertainment Expo) conference the previous year. Audiences were both impressed and apprehensive as a demonstrator drew a picture of fish on a piece of paper in the real world and made a gesture to hand it to Milo through the screen. The video-rendered boy then looked at the drawing and offered some feedback.

Two years later, what seemed like a magic trick during the electronics show has come to life in our living rooms through skeletal mapping technology. Milo has been reborn as King Cheetah in the game Kinectimals, Angel in Dance Central, and the Cookie Monster in the scheduled fall 2011 release of Sesame Street: Once Upon a Monster. The Kinect, measuring only nine-inches long and offering controller-free gaming, is a webcam-style extension of the Xbox360 and wields kinesthetic learning power as well as gaming power.

What is kinesthetic learning power? The theory of multiple intelligences first defined in Howard Gardner’s Frames of Mind (Basic Books, 1993) explains that people with bodily kinesthetic intelligence have above average mechanical abilities, possess poise in high-pressure situations requiring physical performance, and understand how to utilize bodily expression for goal-directed purposes. This power was cited as the main reason the first humans were able to manipulate tools and evolve into higher beings.

According to the University of Illinois (“Helping Children Succeed in School,”, “kinesthetic learners learn best through movement and manipulation. They like to find out how things work. These students make up 50 percent of secondary students and have difficulty learning in a traditional setting.” In Anne Gilbert’s book, Teaching the Three Rs Through Movement Experiences: A Handbook for Teachers (National Dance Education Organization, 2002), kinesthetic lessons using the human body supplemented reading, writing, and arithmetic instruction. Higher test scores were attributed to incorporating Gilbert’s “movement experiences” into the elementary school curriculum.

Combining these lessons with the Kinect sensor could result in a powerful 21st-century teaching tool. Kinect goes beyond mere cause and effect learning. Its mechanism for motion detection could be used to introduce new subjects to students and improve retention by allowing them to perform with body motion and voice activation.

Here are some games that utilize the Kinect. Ratings are based on the Entertainment Software Rating Board ( guidelines: E (everyone), T (teen).

Body and Brain Connection. Namco Bandai Games. 1-4 players. $49.99. Rated: E. Ages: 8 up.
Neuroscientist Dr. Ryuta Kawashima, developer of the Brain Age games for Nintendo DS, has crossed platforms to create a brain and body exercise game that utilizes the lobes of the brain to strengthen kinesthetic learning. Choose between three exercises to determine your brain age or take a Group Mock Test and have everyone’s brains measured. Group play allows only two people at a time, with a maximum of four players. Mini-games include kicking the right numbered soccer ball to finish a math sentence, a multi-tasking Pac Man game (aimed at Generation X parents) using both hands to avoid ghosts, and becoming a bridge to match traveling cars in primary colors with roads. Among other games are popping balloons in sequential numerical order with your hand, following red and white flags using the arms in Simon-Says style, mirroring directional arrows, and whacking blue gremlins popping out from pipes. Translating the greater than and less than signs using the body makes conceptual mathematical sense and could aid students in the real world. Unlocking new games depends on correct answers and reaction time. Although rated E for everyone, younger users will have trouble with the instructions and some games that are too challenging.

Dance Central. Harmonix. $49.99. Rated: T. Ages: 13 up.
Harmonix, the creators of Guitar Hero, has produced a game whose choreography can transform an awkward teen into a dancing queen with its step-by-step routines. Players can be uninhibited and dance to 32 popular songs or download additional ones for a fee. Choose from “Break It Down,” “Perform It!,” or “Dance Battle.” Each move has a flash card and memorable name such as the sunrise or the light-bulb. A boom box gives a rating of 1 to 5 depending on how accurate you’ve mirrored the game avatar. The beginning and intermediate level moves are easy to master, especially when you slow it down during the tutorial. Kinesthetic learners could use the flashcards in dancing and walking as a memory aid for lessons in school requiring rote memorization. Though waving a potato chip won’t distract the Kinect, wearing genie/harem pants will. Players should not wear loose clothing; Kinect’s skeletal mapping system can’t distinguish a skirt from an extra leg.

Kinectimals. Frontier Developments. 1-4 players. $49.99. Rated: E. Ages: 6 up.
Adopt and name a tiger, a lion, a panther, a cheetah, or a leopard with the help of Bumble the lemur from Lemuria. The cubs require training, petting, feeding, and grooming. Playing fetch and going through obstacle courses can make your cub an expert. Make a comfortable home for them in Captain Blackwood’s abode using the money you earn from contests. Unlocking the pirate’s map requires working through the game sequentially and skillful use of your toy box. If you buy the stuffed King Cheetah extension, it materializes in-game by scanning the quick resonse card by holding it exactly nine inches away with your fingers tucked underneath your hand. The realism is impressive from the fur blowing in the wind to the slobbery kiss on your face through the camera. Game play requires both motion and voice activation.

Kinect Sensor and Kinect Adventures for the Xbox 360. Good Science Studio. 1-2 players. $149.99. Rated: E. Ages: 8 up.
This launch game comes with the Kinect sensor and is not sold separately. Adventure through the wild rapids in “River Rush” and collect coins in your raft. Use your body in “Rallyball” to hit all the haystacks. Plug multiple leaks (“20,000 Leaks”) that ramming fish leave behind. Weightlessly pop bubbles in a room (“Space Pop”), and dodge obstacles while being moved through a medieval gauntlet (“Reflex Ridge”). Earn pins and badges with gold, silver, and bronze placement. A green chopper moves you across the map after completing each activity. Your avatar is adorned with accessories for major progress until reaching the expert status. Beware of stepping out of the Kinect sensor range (6-12 feet from the screen with a 6-foot wide arc) and losing your identity to a heavy-browed “Greg Brady” avatar who may never leave.

Kinect Sports. Rare. 1-4 players. $49.99. Rated: E. Ages: 6 up.
Enter Flame Stadium and decide between Party Mode, Main Event, and Mini-games to play soccer, table tennis, volleyball, track and field, bowling, and boxing. The mini-games allow players to hone their skills to become a champion in each sport, while the main events are more fun. World Records are constantly broken and fireworks splash in the background while you throw the javelin and the discus. Hearing the announcer’s accolades can build confidence for kinesthetic learners.

After examining the first generation games, it can be concluded that the Kinect is amazing with some minor flaws. The good news is that the sensor is in its infancy but exhibits great educational potential. The kinesthetic method is a learning strategy that can augment educational practices. The Kinect sensor is the answer to harnessing that power. With Microsoft’s announcement of Avatar Kinect which will read facial expressions, improving emotional intelligence is not far off.

Ann Crewdson is children’s section supervisor, Issaquah/Sammamish Libraries, King County Library System, WA.