It was fitting that a Kinect for Xbox 360 video game system arrived in the mail on the same day it rained for the first time this winter. As the rains close in and keep us inside for long stretches, I am always looking for new and inventive ways to keep my busy daughter active — and, yes, sometimes out of my hair when I’m making dinner.
I think I found the answer — or at least another great tool to put in my toolbox of rainy day activities.
We had a blast with a few of the Kinect games — I’ll be reviewing some of them this week — as the entire family gathered around and played and laughed and giggled and had more fun with a video game than I ever thought possible. A few of the active games worked us so hard that my legs were actually sore the next day. I’m no slouch or couch potato either, coaxed onto my feet for the first time in ages. I’m training for a triathlon and feel like I’m in the best shape of my life, and yet … I got my ass handed to me by a video game. I was not expecting that. It was kind of awesome.
To be honest, I wasn’t expecting much when it came to the actual game play of the system. I remember years and years ago, before my daughter arrived, being excited about a PlayStation 2 game that promised to “see” your body and show you moving onscreen. It was clunky and slow and I could never get the sensors adjusted just right and eventually just shelved the thing. So when I heard that the Kinect for Xbox 360 promised the same thing, I was wary.
Technology has apparently come a long, long way in the past few years. (It should be noted here that we are not big video game people.) The system really did track our every move and mimicked closely onscreen what we were doing with our bodies off screen — no controllers needed. My wife, daughter and and I ended up playing games for a lot longer than we imagined, racing each other in downhill skiing or trying to help each other through a river raft adventure. There were tiny moments of aggravation — no one could figure out how to move from sporting event to sporting event without basically resetting the system and having to wait for long stretches between competitions — but eventually we started to figure out shortcuts that allowed for faster game play. It took the adults about five seconds to figure out how to control the system, while it took my daughter, age 5, much longer. To be fair, this was probably the second time we ever let her play video games, so she had some catching up to do. Plus, it was pretty comical for us to watch — like handing a Luddite an iPhone and watching all the fumbles. After a few games, she seemed to get the hang of it.
I don’t know how you handle long bouts of indoor time with the kids, but it can drive me batty after awhile. Last year, I remember setting up American Ninja-style obstacle courses around the house and having jumping competitions on the bed, just to find new ways to stay active when it was pouring outside. And yet, there are also moments when I need some time to myself, either to get dinner ready, clean the house or just chill out for a moment. I’m still too much of a technophobe and yuppy type-A parent to say a video game system could replace all those games and fun times, and I still think it’s important the kid learn to make her own fun — or just revel in sheer boredom — without the use of any electronics. But after seeing the Kinect in action and getting the chance to move and sweat and jump and laugh, I’m happy to add it to my arsenal of dad-approved activities. Moderation blah blah blah. Honestly, I feel a little guilty if I plop the kid in front of the TV for a half hour. I think a half hour of jumping around — and you really do need to jump and slide and twist and hop and squat with this thing — would make me feel a little better.
To sum up, I wanted to point out some pros and cons after a couple days of playing, if you’re considering a video game system for yourself.
Movement. Sweet, glorious movement. We are not big on video games around here, but we are big on sports and hiking and lots of adventure. I was completely blown away by how much movement you need to do to make this system work. I may even end up using a few of the sporting games to switch up my workouts.
Fun factor. A lot of the games inspire friendly competition or teamwork, forcing you to work together for victory. There were moments we lost races because we were laughing too much.
Games. Again, I’ll be reviewing more specific games this week, but in general, there are enough types of games — active vs. fantasy, say — to keep everyone happy.
Lag time. Maybe this is a thing and all systems require lots of thinking, but I wish it didn’t have to cycle through so much electronic “thinking” before each game. Give me entertainment now, magical device!
Tracking. For adults, it was pretty easy to figure out how to control the system without controllers. For kids, it will definitely take some patience and practice. But if your kid is used to games already, maybe there won’t be such a steep learning curve. (It should be noted that after three days of moderate play-time, she seems to have the hang of it.)
And that is about it.
I never envisioned myself getting so excited about a game system. But all in all, I was blown away. I’m excited to have another rainy day activity in the bag. But beyond that, I can see lots of fun father-daughter bonding time in the works. The skiing and rafting and obstacle course games in particular were big hits with both of us. But now I need to put her to bed so I can keep playing ….
Full disclosure: I received a free Kinect for Xbox 360 system to review, as well as a few games. In reviewing, I kept asking myself whether I’d buy this system if I didn’t have this opportunity but rather played it at a friend’s house, and I think the answer is yes, depending on which games you get. More on that this week.