Going Beyond Video Games

What will the next generation of playrooms and game rooms contain?


Mark Coxon is like any parent who wants his children to spend happy times in their playroom. He’s just not too keen on PlayStation 3 being the main attraction. He’d rather have his kids enjoy things that are fun and educational.

Coxon isn’t anti-technology. On the contrary, he works with sophisticated technology every day as a custom electronics professional, in both the residential and commercial sectors at southern California-based Orange ProAV and parent company Mad Systems.

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Based on his experiences with automation and high-end home theaters, as well as theme park and museum installations, he thinks playrooms and game rooms can go way beyond where they are today. They just need a little imagination—and the skills of residential and commercial electronics installers.

“My kids love video games, too—all kids love it if you give it to them,” says Coxon. “But we’d like to be able to focus them on something more than Grand Theft Auto.”

Before moving into his California home, Coxon had outfitted a playroom for his three kids, ages 2, 4 and 7, in their previous Arizona home with a beach theme that included a lifeguard tower that housed a small television, plus a stage and karaoke system so they could watch themselves on TV.

“A company like Mad Systems can do things on a larger scale, though,” he says. The company has done installations for several museums across the country, such as the Children’s Museum of the Upstate in Greenville, S.C.

One of the rooms there simulates a TV news station, where kids can use touchpanels to make backgrounds on a green screen and feed text into teleprompters, as well as use an IP camera (fixed to a bigger prop that looks like a studio camera) to create and record broadcasts.

There’s also the Kidspace Children’s Museum in Pasadena, Calif., where children get down and dirty feeding virtual bugs. Kids place different plates of food that have been embedded with RFID tags in front of plat-panel TVs featuring videos of insects. When the food isplaced in front of the TV (made to appear like a house window), children get to see and learn about bugs’ reactions to it.

A mock time machine was created for the Temecula (Calif.) Children’s Museum.

And space-themed doodads allow kids to interact with them at the Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles.

“A lot of times kids are into things that aren’t necessarily toys, like when they collect pine cones or rocks. If you have a way of tagging information to the objects they’re interested in, it becomes more of an interactive toy,” Coxon says.

If parents are willing to shell out big bucks for themed home theaters—why not plan a kids’ room that’s a little more adventurous? Coxon has heard requests, such as one homeowner who wished to create a museum-like interactive history of his company in a basement theater room. If things go Coxon’s way, perhaps we’ll soon see interactive museum-like playroom shrines to Sesame Street or Disneyworld.

Here are some pics from the Children’s Museum of the Upstate:


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