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Game turns moviegoers into human joysticks

MSNBC.com is getting film audiences involved in a new interactive video game, NewsBreaker Live, that plays before movies start. Photos: Playing theater games

Moviegoers have a new way to interact with theater screens, and it doesn't involve throwing tomatoes.

As part of a multimedia campaign to get people more involved with its Web news content, MSNBC.com has launched a game, called NewsBreaker Live, that plays in movie theaters. A motion-sensitive camera in the front of the theater measures how the audience is moving its arms. The camera then translates that collective motion to an onscreen paddle that players use to bounce a ball back up to the top of the screen to knock out blocks.

NewsBreaker Live is a version of a Web-based video game, NewsBreaker, that MSNBC.com is presenting on its site. In that game--a play on the old title Breakout--MSNBC.com headlines float to the bottom of the screen. When players hit 25 of the headlines with their paddle, they gain another life.

In the theater version, instead of a single player moving a paddle left and right with a keyboard, the entire audience controls the paddle together, moving it around by waving their arms.

MSNBC.com launched the game in conjunction with the communications firm SS+K. The technology is currently installed in a theater in Los Angeles, and will soon move, for short stints, to Philadelphia and White Plains, N.Y.

According to Sam Mazur, a creative director with SS+K, the system records the audience's NewsBreaker Live score and compares it with those of previous audiences, thus providing each group with an incentive to try for the high score.

The game is being run in place of the advertisements that usually play before film previews, and if a video posted on YouTube of the game being run in L.A. is any indication, it seems audiences are responding enthusiastically.

The technology behind the theater game was created at Carnegie Mellon University, Mazur said.

Catherine Captain, vice president of marketing for MSNBC.com, said the game is playing in theaters showing summer blockbuster films--Spider Man 3 and the like--because it was believed that audiences attending those sorts of films would be more likely to get energetically involved.

While the game is only expected to play in three cities now, Captain said she hopes to expand the campaign in the near future.

"I'd like to see it go a little more broadly," she said. "Now that we've seen the buzz, it seems a little unfair not to share it with the rest of the country."

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