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Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Kids: The Converged Consumers?

I attended an interesting event last night at 01 Zero One in Soho.

Paul Tyler talked about his production for the BBC, Bamzooki. Frank Alsema talked about The Blackbeard Connection. Gary Pope of Kids Industries gave a very entertaining talk entitled 'Are children over-indulgent technology eating monsters, or are they still kids?' Ashley Cooksley, Manager, Kids, Teens and Learning, AOL UK presented the results of research conducted recently with 10 year olds across the UK and Richard Deverell, Controller, BBC Children's talked about the future for broadcast media in the on-demand age, and the shift in power between channel and programme brands.

Paul Tyler - Bamzooki
I knew nothing about this show (if that's an appropriate manner in which to refer to a cross-media broadcast) prior to attending, but was rather impressed with the concept - offering kids tools that they can download, from which they can build their very own 'Zooks' and upload them for possible inclusion in the TV broadcast. The Zooks are effectively virtual robots, designed by the kids, and suitable for certain tasks or environments. Kids are encouraged to share experience and learning, collaborating to for me teams for the tv programme, where the 'Zooks' are pitted against one another in competitions. An understanding of mechanics, physics and an observation of what works in nature yields better results. So, the interactions encourage learning on several levels.

Paul was one of two speakers talking of the 'Interaction Pyramid' - the easily grasped concept of a diminishing number of participants as more interaction or engagement is required. He admitted that the bar was set quite high for this show and that a very small percentage of the kits downloaded actually resulted in uploaded 'Zooks.' He was relatively unconcerned about this but I feel that the comments by another speaker, Gary Pope of Kids Industries about 'Proximal Development (that we learn most and are most attentive when we're just between the 'can do' and 'can't do' spaces in any task were particularly relevant here. It appears to me, that too many of the kids are firmly in the 'can't do' camp and as a result, get less from the experience. I'm also slightly cynical about the attitude that passive consumer (or lurkers) forming the majority of the audience is both acceptable, and even desirable. My suspicion is that this is driven by the needs of the dominant medium (TV in this case) and not by any higher ideology. If all the million kids who downloaded the kit uploaded 'Zooks' how would they be judged fairly, and how would you make a compelling TV show using the existing format (several teams competing against one another)?

Frank Alsema - The Blackbeard Connection
Hmmm. Not entirely convinced about this one. A 'true cross media' game. Again, the 'interactive pyramid' was mentioned; and again, this seemed to be the limitations of the games engine or medium driving the need for a high rate of player attrition. Not that I'm saying games shouldn't be competitive, but I wonder how engaging the format is for the non-participant? A feature length movie, broken up into 3 minute chunks, broadcast daily with clues for players wouldn't, I suspect, hold much interest for a non-player or one who has dropped the ball and is out of play. Then again, the idea of watching a bunch of wannabees do mind-numbing and demeaning activities whilst captive in a house on live on TV seems utterly ridiculous to me too.

Ultimately, I felt that pursuit of the 'Convergence' holy grail drove the game model. Rather than the value of each device/platform being used for it's unique merits, I felt that they had a shopping list of devices and platforms they wished to include, then dreamt up rather clunky means by which to link them in a game. Still, it's early days and there was a lot to admire in the aspirations of the project, if not in the execution and design.

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