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By Max Borders : BIO| 25 Jul 2020
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The screen went blank, and words appeared. PLAY AGAIN? - Orson Scott Card, from Ender's Game.

When it comes to how to deal with social issues, God created two basic types: regulators and entrepreneurs. The former think about what government should do about fixing some perceived problem. The latter think that if there is a problem, people will find a way to fix it on their own. This second class is often treated like second-class citizens -- entrepreneurs, after all, are just profit-chasers, right? So how can they help solve social problems?

Take the issue of childhood obesity. Familiar voices of outrage are lining up behind command-and-control measures to stop the "epidemic." Beltway crusaders have mobilized against everything from Big Soda in the schools to video games. These two enemies figure well into a rather porcine narrative: capitalist pigs create legions of materialistic pigs for mutual gain: Companies gain wealth. Kids gain weight. Public health gains problems. Or so the story goes.

But while regulators think of ways to control our lives, the market will respond in a manner that will allow us to change our lives ourselves.

Most parents are already worried about their kids' health and most kids themselves are concerned about the way they look and feel. Markets respond to these kinds of values very well. The market has already responded to the needs of parents, kids and profit-oriented businesses. As PC World's Andrew Brandt explains:

"From the beginning, playing video games has mainly been a sedentary experience. You sit on the living room floor, or on the sofa, and use only the muscles in your thumbs (and maybe wrists or ankles, depending on what kind of controller you've got). But that's all changing: The stereotype of the idle, lazy gamer is ever so slowly giving way to the image of a more active, fit, and healthy person."

First out of the gate were games like Dance Dance Revolution, in which kids learned dance moves to bubblegum beats. There is even a site devoted to fans of the game called DDR Freak. So kids everywhere are shaking off the calories and getting themselves ready for their first prom night. (And whether you sell it as 'how to de-spazz your dance moves' rather than 'how to be healthier', the results are the same.)

What if there was a game that tapped into the already existing CGI technology? To make realistic motion in movies, CGI geniuses use software and sensors that allow them to map body parts that move around relative to a fixed point. That means some guy at Dreamworks can walk, run and jump to create realistic body-movement effects for a giant monster or a superhero, onscreen.

As this technology gets cheaper, might we see Playstation kits where kids can attach sensors to their hands and feet in order to slay virtual dragons or karate-chop kung fu warriors in virtual environments? Or what about a footpad that requires your daughter's movements to make her avatar run around in a crystalline cave? Now if people deny that kids will be willing to transfer the beat 'em up games from their thumbs to their fists, then I'll take a bit of that action. (Heck, when I was a kid, I would have given my bike and even my Shogun Warriors for a martial arts simulator faster than you could say kukkiwon.)

But the lesson here, folks, is that it's coming. As technologies, preferences, and price-points converge, we're going to see a whole lot of changes away from the joystick/gamepod model of play. Parents may want to clear some space in the playroom. And regulators may want to start looking for something else to regulate.

Max Borders is TCS Daily managing editor.

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