SAN FRANCISCO – In a sea of virtual-reality headsets and monitors broadcasting video games, there's something that seems completely alien at the Game Developers Conference: a swing set.
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The piece of playground equipment has been plopped down inside San Francisco's cavernous Moscone Center to promote Biba, an upcoming app that seeks to stop children from transforming into touchscreen zombies.
"The idea behind it is to simply get kids outside playing using devices and systems they're already familiar with, like touchscreens, phones, that kind of thing," said Biba chairman Greg Zeschuk while a pair of adult conference attendees giggled and glided on the rope swing next to him.
As one of the app's creators, Zeschuk seems just as out of place as his swing set. He's best known as one of the founders of BioWare, a video game developer responsible for such serious role-playing series as "Mass Effect" and "Dragon Age."
After leaving BioWare in 2012, Zeschuk returned to the game industry as the chairman of Biba, which derives its name from the Japanese word from playground. "I jokingly say that this is my response to putting people on their butts with BioWare games for hundreds of hours," he said.
Biba uses colorful robot animations and achievement tracking to motivate children to engage outdoors. In the game's lore, playgrounds are actually spaceship wreckage. The app is targeting kids ages 3 to 9, but it is primarily intended to be used by parents for what Biba calls "refereed play." That means dad can't blame junior for breaking his shiny new smartphone on the merry-go-round.
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The app is designed to be "playground agnostic," meaning parents tell Biba what equipment is available, and it provides compatible challenges for youngsters. Zeschuk and his team at Biba have also partnered with playground manufacturer PlayPower to create app features that will be specifically compatible with the company's equipment.
"It's become awfully easy to give kids phones and forget about it," Zeschuk said. "I think this is a way to take back the interactive relationship between parents and kids using screens."
Follow AP Entertainment Writer Derrik J. Lang on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/derrikjlang.