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Spreading cheer and good health through a virtual reality game

We got Kinect. For Christmas and the winter ahead, my husband said. For when the house is empty again and the weather outside is frightful. It will be good for our health, he told me. I do not play virtual reality games — not Second Life, not World of Warcraft, not The Sims 1, 2 or 3. I am not much of a game player, virtual or otherwise. If there is time to be spared, I prefer to read, cook, clean house, google Sarah Palin — really, do just about anything other than play a virtual reality game. Then I stood in front of the TV console and waved my arm to connect to Kinect. In no time this old lady was dodging pins, rafting down a curvy river, flying! A machine other than my dentist’s X-ray generator or an airport body scanner could see me! I loved it on sight. (I understand that Kinect can hear me too, but we haven’t worked out all the kinks on that yet.)

Having read a bit about Microsoft’s Kinect technology, I realize I’m not the only Luddite who is delighted by this virtual reality game, by the Redmond giant’s baby steps into a virtual reality we’ve hitherto experienced only in the movies. But I know that if Kinect can set my limbs in motion, it can move a population of couch and computer potatoes to more active lives.

Yesterday there was a story in The New York Times on the progress made by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation five years after Bill Gates invited scientists to submit ideas for solving the world’s most vexing health problems. The foundation has dispensed an astounding $450 million to make some of those ideas come true. Unlike in technology, the reporter explained, in biology there is no Moore’s Law, and progress has been slow. Eradicating malaria is hard.

While the world waits for its toughest health problems to be solved, I have a modest proposal for Mr. Gates. Give children in the wired world Kinect. It won’t alleviate the suffering of people with no access to proper health care, but it will make a lot of kids sitting in front of the TV jump for joy. And that can only make them healthier.

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