“Kinect Sesame Street TV,” out Tuesday, is not exactly a video game, though it runs on the 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 the “Sesame Street” game, 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.
Two-and 3-year-olds, he notes, are at a very “ego-centric” stage of development. They already experience on-screen characters as if they were talking to them, even with traditional television programs. They start growing out of that around 4, but by 5 they’ll have more or less grown out of “Sesame Street,” too. (“Kinect Sesame” is recommended for children 3 and up).