NEW YORK (AP) — Cookie Monster, Big Bird and Elmo are giving kids a glimpse of television’s future.
The Sesame Street crew has been talking to kids for more than four decades. Now they’re offering a way for their pint-sized audience to interact with characters on the other side of the TV screen, using Kinect, the motion and voice-sensing controller created by Microsoft.
Kinect Sesame Street TV, out this week, is not exactly a video game, though it runs on Microsoft Corp.’s Xbox 360 video game system. There are no winners and losers, no real rules to follow and no points to score. If you don’t want to play, that’s fine. Just sit back and watch Sesame Street, as kids have for the past 43 years.
But if you do play, Grover will count coconuts you’ve thrown, the Count will praise you for standing still and Elmo will catch a talking ball if you throw it to him.
The episodes presage the next step in the evolution of television, adding an interactive element to what’s still a passive, lean-back experience. The game is sure to arouse jealous feelings among football fans who yell at their TV sets during Sunday’s game. As you watch children playing, it’s easy to imagine a not-so-distant future where viewers become participants, affecting a show’s outcome — much more than they do when they vote for American Idol contestants.
Kinect Sesame Street “allows the child to participate in the narrative plot,” says Emory Woodard, communications professor at Villanova University in Pennsylvania. Woodard, who worked at Children’s Television Workshop — what is now Sesame Workshop — in 1995, notes that a lot of TV programming aimed at preschoolers involves characters talking to the kids.
“But in this case,” he adds, “The characters can react to the child’s response.”
It’s not entirely clear, though, whether that makes a difference to them. “That’s a research question to explore,” Woodard says.