Headbands that read your brainwaves and turn them into video games. A holographic virtual-reality action game. A touchscreen DJ system. Do kids today know how awesome they have it?
Seriously, there was once a time when I honestly believed things would never get more technologically advanced than the Nintendo Power Glove. But as the fourth-annual digiPlaySpace Exhibition in Toronto proves, things sure have gotten more advanced. And way more cool. The showcase of media technologies opening Saturday at the TIFF Bell Lightbox gives kids the chance to play and interact with 24 new-media exhibits, from gaming to robotics and beyond. And there's plenty for grown-ups to marvel at as well.
"We aim to demystify creative technologies and encourage kids to play, explore and experiment with telling their own stories," curator Nick Pagee says.
THE CLEAR WINNER
Six-Forty by Four-Eighty
This "digital graffiti" features small, illuminated cubes that can be rearranged on a wall to form different shapes or letters. Here's the super-cool thing: Hold a finger to a cube and you can make others turn that same colour just by touching them with your other hand. How does it work? Magic is my best guest. Regardless, it's the thing Elliott kept running back to.
Kid consensus: "When you press them they turned different colours. It was super-awesome."
The world premiere of the latest work by Canada's Tangible Interaction Design Inc. is a black, bulbous form that responds to presence and touch by lighting up in different patterns, which are meant to be it communicating with you. Conceptually, it went over both our heads (we never would have guessed it's supposed to be an alien that we are trying to talk to), but this is the thing about young kids: Anything they can make light up in ways that aren't obvious, like flicking a light switch, will always be fascinating to them.
Kid consensus: "Amazing."
Ototo Sound Lab
Part of the TIFF Kids Micro Makers' Space, this installation lets you turn anything into a musical instrument. Seriously – anything. Want to turn vegetables into a piano? Go for it. The best part were three lumps of Play-Doh that each made different cat noises when you tapped them.
Kid consensus: "I think it was funny. That's weird how they put wires in Play-Doh."
Talk Like a Robot
The world premiere of Canadian artist Reese Brunelle's latest work features a red robot, the classic kind from the 1950s, with a microphone on one arm. Talk into it and it changes the pitch, format and tone of your voice to make you sound like, well, a robot. Simple, but endlessly entertaining.
Kid consensus: "It was funny."
THE GROWN-UP FAVOURITE
Pong Invaders Reality
My daughter showed no interest in this one, which is probably good. Because once Gen-Xers get a look at this mash-up of Ping-Pong and Space Invaders in which players zap descending aliens on the screen by hitting them with an actual table-tennis paddle and ball, they're going to form a long line to play it. In full role reversal, I actually had to ask my six-year-old if I could just play for two more minutes.
Kid consensus: "I liked other stuff more."
The digiPlaySpace runs from March 7 to April 19 at Toronto's TIFF Bell Lightbox (tiff.net).