Using Game Systems for Something Other than Gaming

I noticed a pair of stories yesterday and today with a common theme. They are both about using gaming technology for something other than pure entertainment. This is hardly surprising when you stop and think about it for a second.

Today’s game consoles are essentially personal computers. They are at least as capable as the lowest end systems you can buy in the desktop category. What makes them distinct is in what their software takes away, they usually have a limited user interface better suited to use at ten feet and primarily for viewing content or playing games. And for what they add, starting with the Wii most notably but increasingly so from all the vendors, they boast an increasing number of physical interfaces, both for analog input and haptic feedback.

It isn’t surprising, then, that a programming classic, Logo, has inspired another take on this tired and true idea of making programming fun. This time, though, on an Xbox rather than a desktop personal computer. In some ways, this seems at least notionally related to Scratch. Both use sensing and animations in addition or in place of traditional program logic. Kodu seems like it may be a bit easier since it trades on a main stay of gaming, building levels and mods, which would seem to give the beginner a leg up in deciding what to do with the environment. It may also be its biggest constraint, though, compared to Scratch which can be used to program real world sensors and micro controllers. Oh, and since Kodu is from Microsoft, I doubt it is open source like Scratch.
Still, think about kids who may have better access to an Xbox and hence gain an exposure to programming through Kodu who might otherwise have missed out.

The other story I saw, this one by Jacqui Cheung at Ars Technica, ranges farther afield from technology than learning programming. It is about a student project that uses the Nintendo Wii to help train techniques of CPR. I have a vague, possibly inaccurate, recollection of someone recently suggesting that even poorly performed CPR improves a patients odds of success over nothing at all, so this may be better than we give it credit. And as much as I’ve been meaning to take a CPR course through the county, I’d be far more likely to try this if I was able to simply download the training to my Wii over the wireless.