Friday, May 22, 2009

Revolutionary parenting innovation: The outdoor computer game

OK here is what you need.
  1. An iPhone or 2
  2. Some children
  3. A park
  4. Good GPS and Network coverage
  5. Some apps
And it turns out that you have a unique outdoor activity involving a computer game, running around and educational value too boot. Never has a perfect compromise been reached on suitable parenting/video game activities.

How is all of this possible? There are two new applications at the iTunes App Store: The Hidden Park and Seek 'n Spell.

Let's start with Seek 'n Spell as it can be played at any largish park. It can be played with one iPhone but I can tell you that having more than one is much better. Now that might sound extravagant but uniqueness doesn't come for free.

You go to the park and launch the App. It asks you to gather up your players, it finds your location and then populates a map of the area with letters. You can see the results to the left. You then set the time and you run around gathering letters (as you reach one it gathers it up and prevents others from using it) and try to spell as many words as possible. The longer the word the better.

You can also see where your other competitors are -- a useful feature for parents watching out for children.

This game is just fantastic. You may have an advantage on the spelling but your kids are quicker in gathering up letters so there is real competition.

There is a ton of potential here. One thing I would like to see is the ability to scale the area in case you are in a smaller park. Try it there and you might to scramble on top of houses to get the letters you want. You can see we played it on a cricket oval and needed the entire area.

Expect to see maths and other versions too.

On to the Hidden Park. This one requires a specific park. So you can play it in New York, Boston, Toronto, Tokyo, London, Munich, Hong Kong, Sydney and fortunately for me, the Royal Botanical Gardens in Melbourne.

This game is an adventure. What happens is this. You get to the park at a specific location (in our case, Gate D at the RBG). The phone then rings and it is some frantic park ranger (ours was Australian) who informs you that developers are threatening to destroy/develop (depending on your perspective) the park. However, if you can find evidence of magical creatures you can save the day. That might seem like a difficult task but as you move around the map, you solve puzzles and take pictures that reveal those creatures.

Then the goal is to snap some pictures and email them to the authorities. Those pictures are pretty exciting loooking as you can see.

The game itself takes about an hour. We traversed the entire park and thankfully ended at the Cafe! Now that is magical.

This is well worth the $5.99 for the activity and you only really need one iPhone to do it all with as you are merely racing against the evil developers. However, it probably is most exciting for children 5 to 9. When it comes down to it, the game isn't that challenging but it is an indication of things to come. So much more is possible.

We are moving to a new era in games. This type of thing could take off in a big way. Indeed, I can see a time where someone provides a platform and you can make your own games for a terrific kids party experience.

For now, I recommend these two very highly. And if you are thinking "what if I don't have an iPhone?" then just add that to the list to get one.