SIOUX CITY | Anna Plathe, a Bishop Heelan Catholic High School junior, is learning that little kids enjoy squishing inanimate objects.
It doesn't matter whether they're virtual reality ladybugs, tomatoes, or even whack-a-moles, these rugrats at LaunchPAD Children's Museum love to make things go splat!
"When the children don't squish the tomato, they'll jump even harder," Plathe said, laughing. "I'm afraid it doesn't work like that. The tomatoes aren't real."
Along with Heelan sophomore Ji-Yun Park, Plathe is one of the volunteers at the Children's Museum's FX Game Zone, a new exhibit in which kids can literally walk right into their own video game.
Featuring nearly 160 different interactive games, the FX Game Zone is open from 3:30 to 4:30 p.m. weekdays and can be booked for special occasions like birthday parties, according to executive director Bob Fitch.
"When we began creating exhibits for the Children's Museum, we deliberately stayed away from video games," he explained. "After all, we wanted kids to turn cranks or pull levers instead of looking at a screen with a control in their hands."
But Fitch knew he couldn't avoid technology entirely. That's why the Children's Museum began installing overhead projectors that could show virtual reality imagery on neutral colored carpeting inside a dark room.
"It's the best of both worlds," Fitch said. "Kids love physical activity but they also love video games that can make them sedentary. Our FX Game Zone projection interactive floor games get children on their feet, running and jumping and having a good time."
This is good news for toddlers and preschoolers who are just learning about cause and effect.
"The kids may not be into games with complicated rules," Fitch reasoned. "Having said that, they do get a kick out of smashing insects like fireflies and ladybugs with their feet."
However, the kids weren't the only ones making things go splat. Fitch, himself, joined in on a game of virtual reality whack-a-mole.
"Wow, that's a lot tougher than I thought it would be," he said as moles magically appeared and disappeared in animated tree stumps.
Volunteer Ji-Yun Park nodded her head in agreement.
"The games are really fun and challenging," she said. "My favorite interactive game is the one where the player gets to control a car on a race track. That one is hard because it's so fast-paced."
Fitch can't help but smile while watching children become totally immersed through animated images created from a software program.
"The Children's Museum has permanent exhibits that will always be around," he explained. "We're also always adding new, low-cost, high-impact exhibits to keep things lively."
The activity in the FX Game Zone might be too fast-paced for a volunteer like Plathe.
"I'm exhausted just watching these kids running around while playing their games," she said.