Sony Wonderbooks: Combining Games and Reading, with Hints of Harry Potter

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Like burying vegetables in mac and cheese, Sony’s trying to get kids interested in books by combining them with video games.

The name of this work in progress is Wonderbooks. It’s an augmented reality book that works with the PlayStation 3 and PlayStation Move accessories, with 12 pages of thick card stock on the inside that the Move’s camera can read. On-screen, users see an image of the book at their feet, with 3D imagery superimposed on top, and they can interact with the book using the Move motion controller.

Sony has only shown one example of Wonderbooks software so far, a J.K. Rowling collaboration called Book of Spells. The game takes place roughly 200 years before the events of Harry Potter, and is supposed to train players in spellcasting and witchcraft.

Jared Newman / TIME.com

In my brief demo of Book of Spells, I learned to summon birds that could chase away small creatures, cast fireballs through my wand and either shrink or enlarge objects. During the training sessions, creatures would emerge from the pages on the screen, or a portal would open that showed the world inside the book, allowing me to cast spells through it.

Although the book itself is lifeless, I did find myself suspending disbelief as I stared at my wand-wielding hands on the screen. It helped that I was sitting cross-legged on the floor, close to the screen, as a child might.

Book of Spells seems more like a video game than an educational product, even though the game does teach new words and vocabulary at times. But Sony views Wonderbooks as an educational tool, so we’ll likely see software with a bigger emphasis on learning.

Sony hasn’t announced a release date for Wonderbooks. When it does launch, the book will cost $40, in addition to the $299 price of the PS3 and to the Move, which comes in bundles at around $100. At that price, Wonderbooks could have trouble taking off, so Sony will either have to pitch it to families who already have a PS3 and Move, or bundle aggressively.

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