Nintendo’s Labo: A stunning new addition to the hot selling Switch platform that is a real innovation in the foundations of “play”

With all the things going on in the world, one of the best things I have observed is the wonderful outside the box thinking by the people at Nintendo with their invention of the Switch console device. As anyone who knows me understands, I love innovative learning technology. While there likely will never be a better substitute for learning than the function of a book, there are a lot of neat technological developments that inspire learning while having fun and the most innovative that I have seen in recent years is the Nintendo Switch. I have spent hours and hours on it playing games like Zelda and Mario Odyssey, and I was stunned to see that Doom was available for the little device. I think the portability of such a powerful device is absolutely astonishing—you can essentially sit in an airport waiting on a flight and play complicated video games on the move. The experience can be paused to resume in your hotel later and can then be put back up on your television when you get home. For a massive experience like Zelda, I think the game portability combined with the intricacies of the game itself provided me with a once in a lifetime game experience that I cherished in 2017.

I have been sharing more and more the Switch experience with my oldest grandson and my nieces are heavily involved in their Switch, so its been fun to watch this whole thing flowing into such a positive family bonding experience. The Nintendo Switch games aren’t just fun, they are quite smart and seem inclined to inspire intelligence among their players. I was very impressed with the kind of games my grandson wanted to play on the Switch, of note—titles like Stick it to the Man—which is a remarkably complex game geared toward the early teen market. As I watched him play it I was amazed at how clever it was. Culturally there is a lot to be anxious about in our political landscape, but I see a lot of hope and yearning in video game designers and producers of the hardware of this Switch console. That it brings so much joy to my grandson is enough for me, but I am very excited about every new Switch release because of the inclination toward innovation that is on full display within the industry.

Usually a device like the Switch wears out its technical prowess after the first year and we all look toward the next great thing. But the people at Nintendo had just began to touch the magic of their Switch device apparently, and in April they have a new addition coming out for it called Nintendo Labo which essentially lets you turn the Nintendo Switch into just about anything, from a working piano to a complex robot using cardboard cutouts. I was just a little shocked at the simplicity of the whole presentation when Nintendo released their first look at the incredible technology during the middle of January 2018. What it aims to do is essentially take the raw imaginative power of playing with paper and cardboard and adds a technical dimension to it all to bridge fantasy to reality. My impression is that it was a stunning undertaking that has real possibilities in the realm of personal education.

One of the big criticisms of video gaming as opposed to books and classroom instruction is that the belief is that video games inspire antisocial skills for the introvert in all of us, and does not inspire proper interaction with other people. I don’t agree with any of that. If anything, video games these days are very community based and devices like the Switch allow young people who cannot yet participate in the greater aspects of the world to have access to that freedom early under supervised conditions. I can’t think of a better way to teach young people how to function in the world than to put the world in their hands along with all the possibilities and to let them play around with what works and what doesn’t. After all, isn’t that why kids play to begin with? We let them play so they can learn. Heck, as an adult I still play at lots of things because playing and learning go hand in hand. Kids should not learn to play less as they get older, adults need to learn to play more.

Kids love attention with adults to work on projects, whether its model rockets, Lego projects or back yard science experiments. If an adult will sit down with a child and play with them, both get a lot out of the experience. Obviously for the children, they have the most to gain and they always appreciate the attention—and that is what the fine people at Nintendo have uncovered with their new Labo concept. Who hasn’t built model vehicles and buildings out of cardboard, but to allow the Switch to bring life to them gives that extra incentive to put a bit more effort into the task, and to have those sit downs with the children in your life to allow them to have those critical teaching moments—the learning of basic physics and mechanical applications of known construction methods. It’s a brilliant concept that takes an already great device, the Nintendo Switch, and really ramps up its appeal and market influence.

Pessimists will declare that the new Labo offering is just another way for Nintendo to make money—but isn’t that the name of the game? To offer the public something of value with just cardboard seems like a damn good idea to me. We will likely get all the Labo kits which will run us many hundreds of dollars, but if it gives us good times with the children in our lives we’ll consider it all worthwhile. Still to this very day my kids remember all the little things we built together, and those moments are very sentimental to them. Kids neve forget no matter how old they get. What Nintendo has done is to take those opportunities for family bonding and brought life to them with the wonderful features of the very technically malleable Switch device.

More and more my grandson has been taking our Switch home with him to play with, and I let him because I think the device is a miracle that can really inspire intelligence. I can’t help but think of Neolithic man building shelters against inclement weather and spending half of their day hunting for food and the other half trying to procreate. Then to think how far we’ve come as a species where we can get food in five minutes and spend the rest of our day playing a video game on such a portable device. A Nintendo Switch can take the mind to places once though unimaginable and encourage the brain development that took thousands of years of evolution to otherwise muster, and we can now achieve so much before a child even turns ten—if only we could turn the switch on in their minds and ignite their imaginations with an expectation of greatness. And while the people at Nintendo Switch are in business to make money, they really didn’t have to go this far to make it—they are offering nothing less than a positive device for all of human kind to inspire in them the best that it means to be human—and they put it into a very small, and easy to use device that actually accentuates our very lives as people. And that is quite remarkable.

Rich Hoffman

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