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Capturing The Spirit Of Sesame Street
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Capturing The Spirit Of Sesame Street

February 23, 2011 Article Start Previous Page 2 of 3 Next

What lessons are you learning from Sesame Workshop about making entertainment for kids?

NM: One of the things that's funny, one of the things that people often think of when they hear "Sesame Street", is numeracy and literacy. You know, the "letter of the day" and the "word of the day." These are concepts that after 41 years, Sesame Street has made incredibly iconic.

But actually, there's another part of their curriculum called the "Whole Child Curriculum" that is focused on life skills outside of the didactic stuff. So it's about social and emotional development...

TS: Making friends, facing fears, solving problems together...

NM: Exactly. Even adults take for granted the skill of recognizing that people have emotions different from your own, recognizing and identifying what those emotions are, all that kind of stuff. Those are really integral parts.

Those things are one half of the Whole Child Curriculum. And then the other half is called "Healthy Habits for Life," which is their nutrition and physical activity series, where it's all about encouraging people to live happy and healthy lifestyles. And of course the Kinect is a great fit for that.

And there are the stories. Our game is structured as a book that's a story about monsters. Every chapter is a story about a monster with a problem and who needs your help to solve it. And it's in the storytelling where you're helping those monsters where actually a lot of that Whole Child Curriculum comes in.

And Sesame Workshop is very involved. They have their own group called the ERO group -- the Education Research and Outreach -- that vets all of what they call "mission-driven" products, their certified educational products, to make sure that the content actually is built on healthy, established curriculums.

So they look at all of our scripts, all of our design documents, and their interactive group has a lot of experience in bringing Sesame Street to different types of interactive media, from Genesis games back in the day to Flash games today.

So you're crossing the line over to edutainment with this game.

TS: Half of it is all that stuff that Nathan is describing, but the thing that I got when I was doing research and watching a lot of videos of old and more recent Sesame Street episodes was that you have to remember to be funny. I didn't even realize when I was a kid that Sesame Street is a secret comedy show.

Tim you have children, right?

TS: I have a two-year-old, two-and-a-half. Almost three.

And you Nathan?

NM: My video games are my children. [laughs]

So Sesame Street is a secret comedy show?

TS: It's got that kind of New York improv comedy vibe to it. If you look at The Muppets, those are live performances by comedians who are kind of riffing off what's going on. You see Cookie Monster on Martha Stewart or you see Elmo on Jimmy Fallon, those guys are live comedy performers, and they're really talented.

And it's tempting when you're writing material for kids, like in this game for younger players, to just play it safe and make it stuff that's kind of bland and non-threatening. That's what I think people feel with kids' writing.

But then you watch the videos of the [Sesame Street] shows, and they're really, really funny. They're satirical -- they don't just make bland shows for kids, they make them actually funny. I think that's important for the kids and especially for the parents who watch them together. We're hoping that this is something parents play with their kids.

NM: One of the things that was revolutionary when Sesame Street aired 41 years ago was the idea of what they called co-viewing -- not just designed for adults, not just designed for kids, but designed for adults and kids to be able to watch and enjoy together.

Sesame Street wanted parents to be involved with their kids, even when they're watching TV -- not just to use TV as an electronic babysitter. We're actually trying to take that idea of co-viewing and turn it into co-playing, where the game is actually designed to be fun for parents and kids to collaborate, to play off of one another and strengthen their abilities. And the storytelling not only includes lessons for kids, but also jokes and funny situations for the adults.

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