This year marks my first year at the Tokyo Game Show. It also marks the first time I've ever been to Japan. I've heard stories about how different it is, of course, and I've seen Lost in Translation more than once. So, before I arrived in Tokyo, I had considered the possibility that there might be a crazy adventure in the works.
I've now experienced Mommy Tummy, a "serious game" project from Kosaka Laboratory – part of the Kanagawa Institute of Technology – and let me tell you: Scarlett Johansson ain't got nothing on me.
Mommy Tummy is a "pregnancy system" designed to simulate the joys and difficulties of maternity, in theory producing more understanding husbands. We happened to spot the device before visiting the show floor and, once we learned what it was, made the immediate decision to take a closer look as soon as possible. When the time came, it was my turn to put on the vest (and a floral apron) and try Mommy Tummy firsthand.
The system operates using a specially designed vest. Inside the vest, a water bag, balloons, air actuators and vibration motor simulate the stages of pregnancy. The entire nine month period of pregnancy is condensed into two minutes.
As time ticks by, balloons inflate to simulate breast growth. The water bag slowly fills with warm water, simulating the fetus growing larger (and heavier). At the six-month mark, the "baby" starts kicking, simulated by the air actuators arranged all around the stomach. Before too long, the baby turns, pointing its head downward to prepare for birth. I don't know exactly how it was simulated, but the feeling of a virtual baby flip-flopping inside my belly was positively eerie.
All of this was accompanied by a graphical representation of the fetus on a screen in front of me. As I shook the fetus from its sound sleep, I watched the screen as my unborn digital progeny pelted my stomach with tiny feet and fists. Afterward, I was asked to pick some objects off of the ground, witnessing firsthand how difficult it is to bend to the ground with a bowling ball strapped to my gut. I was then asked to recline on the ground and get back up quickly -- no easy task, as I discovered.
And now, the kicker: My entire session was being filmed by a Japanese television crew. Me, wearing a pregnancy simulation vest and a flowery apron, spreadeagle on the floor of the Tokyo Game Show, and all of it punctuated by a camera poking, prodding and immodestly zooming in on the whole affair. If you can imagine a better first-time Tokyo experience, I'd like to hear it.
Incidentally, if anyone out there happens to spot me on the NHK network some time on September 21, 2011, let me know.