Are We There Yet?

It is certainly a concern for parents to become a little too dependent on mobile forms of entertainment that just are not interactive enough for kids. Oh sure, stuff like mobile DVD players and the like are a great way to shut the kids up on a long car ride. But do you really want to continue submitting them to nothing but forms on non-interactive entertainment? Luckily there are some new ideas that will give parents an alternative that they can use.

Are We There Yet? It’s the name of a popular movie playing in theaters right now, but for most parents, it’s the second least favorite phrase to hear while driving with their kids. (The very least favorite is, of course: “I really have to go to the bathroom,” when you’re stuck in traffic with no exit in sight). While there’s not much you can do about making calls of nature go away by magic, many parents (myself included) have come to treasure the portable DVD player to take care of the “Are we there yet?” problem. On any road trip in excess of 20 miles, I hand a player and a stack of DVDs to my seven-year-old, and I never have to hear “Are we there yet?” again.

But I know, deep down in my heart, that what I’m doing is wrong. I’m teaching my daughter to become dependent on a form of entertainment that requires nothing from her. She just sits there, silently and passively, absorbing a Disney cartoon. I wonder if I’m destroying her capacity for self-entertainment.

That’s why I was intrigued when John Paul Bichard, a digital artist at The Interactive Institute in Stockholm, contacted me about a research project called Backseat Playground that he’s developing with two other researchers, Liselott Brunnberg and Oskar Juhlin. As he describes it, “Backseat Playground is a mobile gaming research project that will enable kids to play with the world outside their window from the back seat of a car.”

The seeds for the project were sown by Brunnberg at the mobility studio of the Interactive Institute. She developed two games called Road Rager, which pits kids in other cars against each other using ad-hoc peer-to-peer networking, and Backseat Gaming, a “mixed reality game” that uses GPS and digital compasses to let kids point mobile devices at objects on the roadside and use them in the game.