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11/09/2007 Family Family Gamer Article
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We all know that games consoles are made with one pursuit in mind, playing games. However, some weeks I seem to spend just as much time on the various periphery activities as I do getting down and dirty with the latest play thing. This week I discovered the PS3's photo viewing functions, something I have previously marvelled at on the Wii and 360. Whilst I often hear these photo-features derided for diluting the console's gaming focus, I realised over the weekend that this is one of features I most value. It is here that my life truly mingles with the technology of those conspicuous black, white and grey boxes, and I have an undeniable reason for their presence in the hollowed halls of our family living space.

There is something magical that happens when I pop in an SD card of five or six years of family photos and instantly they are rendered in high definition on my TV for all to see. No longer do we have to crowd around a photo album trying to glimpse the pictures being talked about and pointed at. No longer do we have to devote book shelves to storing these tomes of family history.

The whole photo viewing experience just makes more sense when everyone present can view them together. It's great to be able to pop on the TV and start a slide show when in-laws and grandparents have dropped in and are sat in the lounge. The directness of the experience, as we fast forward, rotate and zoom snapshots of our lives, speaks for itself.

What are games, if not spaces in which we can find the novelty and imagination that enables us to make new memories and share new experiences.

Whilst each of the consoles have had the common sense to provide this photo viewing experience, the functionality varies greatly between the different systems. The core values of each console can be seen, writ large, in their approach to photo viewing. Because of this our family members each have their favourite. I like the simplicity and easy networking of the 360, that I can simply pick my photos from a shared folder and render them to the TV. The kids love the Wii's interactive photo editing, endlessly pasting sunglasses and noses on various family members. Jo enjoys the real life photo rendering of the PS3 slide show as the pictures are mapped onto real paper and land haphazardly on the screen as if our memories are happening again for the first time.

It is this ability to play with our memories that hints at the wider rubric of the machine's functions. What are games, if not spaces in which we can find the novelty and imagination that enables us to make new memories and share new experiences. Just as the various photo channels, blades and bars look back on experiences past, the games themselves look ahead to life not yet lived and evenings not yet spent. It is a happy feeling to consider what is still left to discover; surprises as yet un-played, team-work not yet established, and the blossoming of our younger offspring's dexterity.

In this light, the various photo, video and music functions act both as gateways into the console's world and reflections of what they have to offer day to day life. Although it may seem like a rather grandiose idea, it's my hope that our family's consoles will become things around which we gather to relax and have fun. I want to find games that extend this experience and provide opportunity for collaborative (rather than just multiplayer) shared experiences. I want the games we play to be fun, but also for them to make us ask fresh questions about ourselves and the world in which we live. The loose action of Wii-Sports means that there is space around the action to talk with each other. Even better has been the simple questions of the Everybody Votes channel, which provide a 5 minute dose of entertainment and often foster heated debate in our house. This is not limited to Nintendo, as seen in the enormous scope of Little Big Planet PS3, or Viva Pinata: Trouble in Paradise 360.

Although this may not pander to the hardcore gaming fraternity, this gaming dad is happy for all these extra features that are thrown our way. And so, we draw the curtain on this weeks meanderings, why not join us each week to mull over the comings and goings in our little clan as we tip-toe towards a game enhanced existence. This, I think you'll find, is really living. This, is playing anywhere, and this is a where the real touch generation is to be found.

Written by Andy Robertson

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Andy Robertson writes the Family Gamer column.

"Videogame reviews for the whole family, not just the kids. I dig out videogame experiences to intrigue and interest grownups and children. This is post-hardcore gaming where accessibility, emotion and storytelling are as important as realism, explosions and bravado."

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