Posts Tagged ‘Xbox’

In my previous two posts, I talked a lot about avatars and some of the rather intriguing and exciting developments happening regarding virtual worlds. In brief, both are evolving far beyond what early digital pioneers could have envisioned when they took their first steps into virtual reality. We have the ability today, as demonstrated by LucasArts’ E3 reveal of Star Wars: 1313, to render near-photo-realistic environments in real-time. Absolute photo-realism is a mere skip in time away—five years at the outside—and completely immersive, realistic virtual worlds experienced through any connected device are already on the horizon.

This does not spell the death of the avatar. Avatars will, I’m fairly certain, always have a place within gaming and VR. But we’re fast approaching a technological revolution the likes of which humanity has never experienced. Soon we will have the ability to interact with virtual environments directly, without filtering our actions through a digital intermediary.

Very soon, in fact. Prototypes of The Oculus Rift VR headset show great promise in delivering fully-immersive 3D gaming to the masses. With it, you can climb into the cockpit of a star fighter and engage in ship-to-ship combat, surrounded on all sides by the vastness of space and the intensity of interstellar battle (as with EVE VR). Combine the Rift with the Wizdish omni-directional treadmill and a hands-free controller like the Xbox Kinect, and you can transform a standard first-person shooter into a full-body experience—allowing you to ditch the thumbsticks and literally walk through a game’s virtual environment, controlling your actions via natural motion of hands, feet, arms, legs, and head.

In the world of augmented reality (AR), Google Glass will hit the streets later this year, providing users with a wearable, hands-free interface between the real and the virtual, enhancing your interaction with reality, and allowing you to transmit  your view of the world across the globe.

But the real future lies in a recently Kickstarted project by startup tech company Meta. Meta’s developing a system for interacting with the virtual world that tears open the envelope of the possible, and drives the line dividing virtual from real one step closer to extinction. It’s a combination of stereoscopic 3D glasses and a 3D camera to track hand movements—allowing for a level of gestural control of the virtual world previously unseen (think Minority Report or The Matrix Reloaded).

Unlike the Oculus Rift, the Meta system includes physical control and also works in real space (not strictly a virtual gaming world). And unlike Google Glass, Meta creates a completely immersive virtual environment. According to a recent article by Dan Farber on CNET,

Meta’s augmented reality eyewear can be applied to immersive 3D games played in front of your face or on [a] table, and other applications that require sophisticated graphical processing, such as architecture, engineering, medicine, film and other industries where 3D virtual object manipulation is useful. For example, a floating 3D model of a CAT scan could assist doctors in surgery, a group of architects could model buildings with their hands rather than a mouse, keyboard or stylus and car designers could shape models with the most natural interface, their hands.”

In other words, with the Meta system, the wearer can actually enter and manipulate the virtual world directly, altering it to serve whatever purpose s/he desires. Atheer, another recent entry into the field of AR, is working on a similar system. Like Meta, Atheer’s technology uses a 3D camera and stereoscopic glasses for gesture control, and also provides direct access to the virtual world. According to Atheer founder and CEO Sulieman Itani,

We are the first mobile 3D platform delivering the human interface. We are taking the touch experience on smart devices, getting the Internet out of these monitors and putting it everywhere in [the] physical world around you. In 3D, you can paint in the physical world. For example, you could leave a note to a friend in the air at [a] restaurant, and when the friend walks into the restaurant, only they can see it.”

The biggest difference between the two systems is that Atheer isn’t building a hardware-specific platform; it will be able to run on top of existing systems like Android, iOS, Windows Mobile, or Xbox. Apps built specifically with the Atheer interface in mind will be able to take full advantage of the technology. Those that aren’t optimized for Atheer will present users with a virtual tablet that they can operate by touch, exactly like an iPad or Galaxy Tab. Here’s Itani’s take:

This is important for people moving to a new platform. We reduce the experience gap and keep the critical mass of the ecosystem. We don’t want to create a new ecosystem to fragment the market more. Everything that runs on Android can be there, from game engines to voice control.”

We’re rapidly approaching a critical stage in our technological evolution, nearing the point at which we’ll be able to work, play, and live, at least part-time, in hyper-realistic, fully-immersive virtual worlds, just as we do in real-world spaces today. So, what does this mean? Games will get better. Virtual worlds will become richer and more complex, and take on greater significance as we spend more time in them. And we, as humans, may begin to lose our grasp of the real. I spoke to Kim Libreri at Industrial Light and Magic about this, and he agreed that this could become a real problem. The human brain, he said, is a very flexible learning device. With the gains in fidelity that we’ll see in AR over the next decade, he believes that, as the human race evolves, it’s going to become more and more difficult to separate what’s real from what’s not. The longer we coexist within those places, the harder it will become, and this could begin to create problems. As Libreri said,

There’s a real, tangible threat to what can happen to you in the cyber world, and I think as things visualize themselves more realistically . . . think about cyber-crime in an AR world. Creatures chasing you. It’s gonna be pretty freaky. People will have emotional reactions to things that don’t really exist.”

It might also render people particularly susceptible to suggestion. It’s a bit like the movie Inception, where ideas are planted deep within a subject’s subconscious—except this would be easier. If you can’t distinguish the virtual from the real, a proposal put to you in a virtual world could seem like a really good idea someone presented in reality. If this sounds like science fiction, consider for a moment how vulnerable we are to the power of subliminal suggestion or even direct messages within everyday advertising. No, if anything, the intricacies of our approaching reality will most likely far exceed our ability to imagine them.

Of course, there are positives and negatives with any technology. Through highly accurate simulations, immersive virtual worlds could allow people to visit places they might otherwise not be able to. They could also provide greater and more intuitive access to information, and the ability to use and manipulate it in ways that are today all but unthinkable. Whether the looming future of alternate reality will be predominantly good or bad is irrelevant. It is coming, one way or another, and there’s nothing we can do to stop it. If our past history and the ever-increasing speed of development and change are predictive—or at least indicative—of future events, then alternate reality, in whatever form it assumes, is poised to bring an end to the separation of virtual and real. And if that happens, we will all bear witness to the birth of a singularity beyond which the nature of human interaction—and indeed, of humanity itself—will be changed, fundamentally, forever.

You can learn more about the Oculus Rift here.

… and the Wizdish treadmill here…

.. and here.

There’s a video demo of Google Glass here.

And a demo of EVE VR here:

More info about EVE VR is here.

You can learn more about Meta and their computing eyewear here…

… and here.

You can read about Atheer here:

And for an overview of the future of AR, check out this article:

The United States population is growing, and I don’t mean our numbers. There’s no delicate way to say this, but too many of us are fat—really fat. Obesity in this country is an epidemic: about a third of all adults and 17 percent of children—three times the rate of 20 years ago—are obese, and not a single state in the union has met the Healthy People 2010 goal to lower obesity rates below 15 percent. Obesity increases the risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, cancer… the list goes on. And the economic cost is staggering: obesity hammers us with a $200 billion medical bill, and it’s only getting worse. But most distressing of all, you know all those happy, carefree kids you see everyday? They’ll probably die before you do. That’s right, for the first time in US history, today’s generation of  kids probably won’t outlive their parents.

Okay, now that you’re paying attention, here’s the good news: The power to end obesity is in our hands. All we have to do is eat better and get more exercise—and there’s a great tool out there that can help. Anyone? Anyone?

You guessed it: videogames. Specifically, exergaming.

Active videogames have been around since 1982, but didn’t really take off until the introduction of Dance Dance Revolution in the early 2000s. The game’s surprising popularity tore the exergaming market wide open, and gave birth to the Nintendo Wii, Xbox 360 Kinect, and Playstation Move—all variations on a theme, and with the laudable goal of getting average Americans off their asses and moving.

And boy do we move. Kung Fu, boxing, cycling, tennis, bowling, dancing, track and field—the list of options is virtually endless, and more and better games come to market every year.

“Okay,” you ask, with perhaps a hint of cynicism, “but do they really work?”

According to researchers at Brigham Young University and the University of Massachusetts, they do. They found that kids who played exergames for 10 minutes got a workout as good as or significantly better than a 10-minute walk at three-miles-per hour on a treadmill. In the March 7 issue of Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, Bruce Bailey, PhD (Brigham Young) and Kyle McInnis, ScD (U. Mass), wrote that

Exergaming has the potential to increase physical activity and have a favorable influence on energy balance, and may be a viable alternative to traditional fitness activities.”

And guess which is more fun. In fact, the researchers noted that entertainment appeal is exactly what makes the games so effective: Kids enjoy them, and are more likely to stick with the program—and reap the benefits—as a result. Now before you accuse me of hailing videogames as a panacea for US health issues, no one believes that exergaming can, or should, replace regular physical activity. As McInnis and Bailey noted,

Although exergaming is most likely not the solution to the epidemic of reduced physical activity in children, it appears to be a potentially innovative strategy that can be used to reduce sedentary time, increase adherence to exercise programs, and promote enjoyment of physical activity.”

George Velarde agrees. He’s the chair of the P.E. department at Sierra Vista Junior High in Canyon Country, CA. In 2003, he added an exergaming room to the school’s fitness center, and had this to say about it:

The kids don’t even know they’re working out, but they are working out even more at moderate to vigorous levels because of exergaming.”

Dr. Adam Noah—Technical Director of Long Island University’s ADAM Center and MoCap Lab, and an avid (and quite accomplished) gamer—plays DDR regularly, and he can tell you from experience that it’s much more like working out than gaming:

So when I play at this level [the highest level], I’m reaching 15 times my resting metabolism. That’s roughly equivalent to running on a treadmill at 10, 12 mph. People don’t do that. Yet I’m enjoying playing the game.”

And running on a treadmill is, in a word, boring.

Alright, so what’s the point of all this anyway? Just this: videogames, rather than being evil devices that turn people into couch potatoes, can actually play a key role in helping us get healthier. They may never replace real-world physical exercise, but when was the last time you broke a sweat watching TV? Think about it.

The LA Times has an article on exergaming studies here

…and WedMD has one on games and weight loss here.

For more on exergames and physical education, check out this link.

You can find a collection of news articles related to exergaming here.

There’s a discussion about exergaming research here.

Check out this article about gaming and fitness…

…and this one, too.

And for those interested, this link gives a brief history of exergaming.

I’m feeling a bit dishonest about something. Well, maybe that’s too strong a word. Let’s say disingenuous. Careful readers will have noticed that I’ve been engaging in a little linguistic sleight-of-hand with respect to games and health. I’ve argued that videogames can help treat a variety of physical and mental issues, and then gone on to talk about how people are adapting existing technology and developing new games to meet a specific health need. And there’s nothing wrong with that. In fact, it’s part of what makes videogames such a powerful tool.

“But wait,” you say. “These aren’t real videogames. They’re just training tools. Regular people can’t go out and buy them. How can a standard, run-of-the-mill Xbox or Wii game—you know, a real videogame—make people better? What do they have to offer? Where’s the evidence? Wait. Have you been lying to me all this time?”

Okay, okay, take a deep breath and sit down for a second. First of all, I have mentioned some real games in earlier posts, but… okay, mea culpa. You got me. Keep reading, though, ‘cause this is for you.

Playing the Wii can help you recover from a stroke. And I don’t mean some custom-built, made-for-rehab game here. I’m talking about the standard Wii Sports that anyone can go out and buy for 30-40 dollars (less if you’re a smart shopper). How do I know? Because videogame designer and overall genius Kent Quirk—who happens to be a friend of mine—actually did it. Regular sessions playing Wii Tennis and Wii Bowling were part of his post-stroke rehab. Kent summed it up this way:

Being able to stand up for 10 minutes and play a game of Wii Tennis was a real victory for me. And I certainly wasn’t going to go out on a tennis court and play real tennis at that point. So that was motivating and helpful to me.”

Motivating and helpful. Now contrast that with standard physical therapy. PT—or pain and torture, as it’s affectionately known by many who’ve gone through it—is painful, repetitive and downright boring. The problem is, it’s also necessary. So how can you take a treatment modality that’s vital for recovery and make it, well, fun?

Make a game out of it. Dr. Gustavo Saposnik, a neurologist and director of the Stroke Outcomes Research Unit at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto, has been studying clinics and hospitals that do just that. Here’s what he found:

Basically, we found that patients in the Wii group achieved a better motor function, both fine and gross, manifested by improvement in speed and grip strength.”

The Wii’s not just for stroke rehab, either. It can be used to help people recover from things like broken bones, surgery, and even combat injuries. Why? Like traditional PT, the Wii uses the same principles of performing repetitive, high-intensity tasks that help repair damage. The difference is that the Wii makes it fun. Says James Osborn, who oversees rehab services at southern Illinois’ Herrin Hospital,

When people can refocus their attention from the tediousness of the physical task, oftentimes they do much better.”

At WakeMed Health’s facility in Raleigh, NC, patients from nine to 89 play Wii games to improve strength, endurance and coordination. According to Bill Perry, a retired police officer and WakeMed patient who used the Wii to help recover from a stroke,

It really helps the body to loosen up so it can do what it’s supposed to do.”

Doctors and therapists at Walter Reed Army Medical Center agree. They find that Wii therapy works very well for patients injured during combat operations in Iraq. Here’s Lt. Col. Stephanie Daugherty, Walter Reed’s chief of occupational therapy:

They think it’s for entertainment, but we know it’s for therapy.”

And what happens when you turn therapy into entertainment? Patients are more motivated to do it, they stick with it longer, and they get better faster. It remains to be seen whether active videogame systems like the Wii, Playstation Move or Xbox Kinect will ever replace traditional PT. But this much is undeniable: they sure as hell make it more fun.

To read more on how doctors use the Wii for therapy, check out this link.

For an overall summary of how the Wii is used for PT, click here.

You can see some videos of the Wii in action here.

For more info on stroke rehab and the Wii, click here

… and here.

And for an ABC news story on how senoirs use the Wii for rehab, click here.