Nintendo breaks out of the living room and into the classroom

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by: John Caddell

It's generally known that Nintendo deftly sidestepped the video-game console testosterone wars by focusing on an innovative motion-sensitive controller rather than amping up processing and graphics power (and price). As a result, Nintendo's Wii is the fastest-selling third-generation console in the world, well ahead of both Microsoft's XBox 360 and Sony's Playstation 3.

They've done a similar trick with their handheld device, the Nintendo DS. Also at the top of its market, the DS has two screens and recognizes handwriting. Which may not help a great deal to play Super Mario Brothers, but has opened up a brand-new market for video-game consoles: schools.

In Wednesday's Wall Street Journal, reporter Yuri Iwatani Kane writes about the use of DS's for education in Kyoto's Yawata school district (link – $$). The students use them to learn English handwriting, with software written by IE Institute, a Japanese educational-software maker. And it's not an isolated anecdote. Writes Kane:

Behind the fastest-selling portable videogame player in Japan is an unusual shift in the culture of gadgets: People are clamoring for it not just for games, but also to keep a household budget, play the guitar, and study the Buddhist scripture Heart Sutra. Since its introduction in 2004, the DS, which responds to writing and speech, has spurred software makers to fill the Japanese market with an eclectic array of reference guides, digital books and study tools.

Nintendo's greatest feat, in my mind, is its ability to expand the video-game market beyond its core audience of boys and young men, to bring in women, girls, and, as the article points out, even students.

Which is great "outside-in" thinking many companies could learn from.

(Disclosure: my six-year-old son has announced that he wants a DS for Christmas.)

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