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January 24, 2012

Joining The Xbox Nation, Part One



Full disclosure: when the folks at Edelman PR contacted me and offered to send me, for review purposes, an Xbox 360 with Kinect and the games "Kinectimals (Now With Bears)", "Kinect Sports: Season Two", and "Kinect: Disneyland", I actually hesitated.


Here was a can of hi-res worms I wasn't sure I wanted to open. We'd bought a Wii a couple of years ago, and I was more than happy with it. Not because it's a decent console, with fun motion-based controllers and a whole slew of games for younger kids. No, I was happy with the Wii because for the most part, it sits by the TV collecting dust. Every once in a while Lucas plays with it, but he's a bit of a jock, likes his outdoor time, and quickly becomes bored or frustrated with video games. Not the worst problem to have as a parent. Zoe is four, and her definition of "playing" video games usually involves waving at the screen and talking to the computer-generated characters. As for me, I've never been much of a gamer: I had a first generation Xbox, which I bought a year or so after Lucas was born. I figured that as a new dad I'd be hanging around the house a lot more, and video games seemed to be a good way to pass the time. (When I wasn't being a caring and commited father, of course.) My days as an Xbox gamer were short-lived: a few months after I bought it, the kid busted it. He found out that the eject button opened the tray, and tried to close it manually. By pushing straight down on it. Snap. A couple hundred bucks down the drain. I was bummed for a couple of days, but as it became apparent that fixing the thing was going to cost as much as it would to buy a new one, I found myself...not caring. I gave the busted console to a friend who wanted to use it for parts, sold a few of the games to a used CD store, and didn't think twice about it.

And so we lived as non-gamers, and were content. Then I got the offer from Edelman. It did take me a few minutes to reply. But I said yes, and told them that I'm not a gamer, and that I was going to be honest about my experiences with the Xbox, the Kinect, and the games. That's fine, they replied. It's what we're looking for. 

"Gamer" is a weird way to self-identify. I occasionally describe myself as a surfer, but there's something to be said for that - I possess a set of physical skills and knowledge of the ocean that the average person does not, enabling me to participate in a very difficult, demanding, and even dangerous sport. But "gamer'? It's blissfully shameless - "I'm an adult who spends several hours a day sitting on my ass in front of the TV playing video games!" And make no mistake - the Xbox 360 is for the gamers. To get good at, say, Call Of Duty: Black Ops, you do in fact need to spend several hours sitting on your ass in front of the TV. As a guy with a fulltime day job, a few writing gigs, a blog to manage, oh, and a family, I do not have several hours a day to spare. The Wii was great, in that regard - the games are basic enough for both my 7-year-old son and decidedly non-gamer me. 

The Kinect, however, was what set the hook. Looking like a dashboard-mounted projector, the motion-based controller proports to go one step beyond the handheld Wii controllers - as the ads say, YOU are the controller. Simple concept, enormously complex execution: you stand in front of the thing, and what you do - swing an imaginary golf club, throw an imaginary football, wave an imaginary wand - is translated right up there on the TV, in the game. I was intrigued - not for my own sake, or even Lucas', but for Zoe. At four, the Wii controllers and most of the games are a bit too complicated for her. But running in place? Jumping up and down? That she can do. Lucas, meanwhile, was skeptical. "You don't hold anything? You just act it out?" "That's what they say", I replied. "Hmmm", he said. "That sounds impossible." 

This is the first of three posts I'll be doing about the Xbox 360. Next up: the kids put the Kinect through its paces. Finally, I try my hand at a couple of "grown-up" games, and ponder life as a new member of the Xbox Nation.


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