HEAT VISION

Bill Nye Argues Video Games Can Actually Be Good for Kids

The Science Guy discusses the Nintendo Labo and voices his concern over the politicization of science.

Bill Nye built a career out of making science accessible to children, and now he has teamed with Nintendo to introduce a whole new generation to programming.

To help promote the Japanese game studio's recent release, the Nintendo Labo, Nye traveled to Toronto to get his hands on the build-your-own cardboard programming tech.

The Labo is a series of cardboard DIY kits that players can build as peripheral accessories to their Nintendo Switch console. Along with these creations — which include a piano, fishing rod, robot suit and many more — the kit comes with software that allows users to program their crafts to be interactive, as well as offering the possibility of creating their own invention.

The famed Science Guy caught up with Heat Vision to talk about the new gaming hardware, the upcoming third season of his Netflix show, Bill Nye Saves the World, and his concerns that science has become too politicized.

How did you team up with Nintendo?

They called me. (Laughs.) I'm still consulted by all sorts of people about elementary science education. I consider myself having some small experience in this area.

The Labo is aimed at getting kids into programming and working hands-on with building their own creations. What about that appealed to you?

You hit the nail on the head. What we all want in science education is hands-on. You'll hear many people express concern about video-gaming, so this uses the video game hardware, the Nintendo Switch, to build things, even program things. It's just great. Bill Nye predicts that in just a matter of months — I would say weeks, but let's not get carried away — people will have created their own new devices on the Labo from scratch. I played with the thing for just one day and I was already, myself, building something that the thing didn't do yet, let alone if you have tens of thousands of 10- to 12-year-olds messing with it. It's going to go crazy.

Are video games a good way to reach kids?

Absolutely. Plus it's not something you can stop. I grew up with pinball and I enjoyed it, and you learn a little basic physics when you're playing pinball, but with these modern devices, the possibilities are enormous. There's no substitute for hands-on. With this Nintendo Labo, you're making real devices that have real interactions.

What's the challenge of reaching kids who might be reticent to educational games or media?

I don't buy the premise. When it comes to electronics, the people who are reticent are the grown-ups. Kids, in my experience, are fearless. Here's a thing, what does it do? Can I make it blow up? It's really a cool idea. The Joy-Cons [Switch controllers] have an infrared camera and they both vibrate when you want them to, so they use the vibrations to move the scooters made of cardboard across the table. Anyway, when you get a bunch of kids with a bunch of cars, they run them into each other.

Your Netflix show is set to premiere its third season. What can fans expect?

Well, it's going to be the time of your life. That's first of all. No, I'm very proud of them. We pour our heart and soul into these things, so I really hope people watch them. We're going to have one about the nature of consciousness — how do you get a mind from a brain. Another is our evolution show, which is very important. That's the fundamental idea in all of biology. And then we have a show on addiction that I'm really pleased with.

How do you pick the topics that you cover?

We have a dartboard. No, we argue about it for a couple of weeks, and by "we" I mean the writers and I. One of the joys about doing these shows is that the writing staff we were able to hire I think is extraordinary.

Do you think science has become more politicized in recent years?

Well, yeah — that's why we had a March for Science. People have lost sight of how much science affects your life. I'll give you any number of examples, but we have almost 7.5 billion people in the world, and almost all of them are able to eat, and they're able to do this because of science. We're able to not have measles and the flu and polio because of science, so this idea that the scientific consensus on the discovery of human-caused climate change is being refuted by the fossil fuel industry — I think when we look back, it will be swept away. These are facts. We look forward to climate change becoming something that we all work on instead of something that we try to ignore.

The students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas — I just look at their activism. There's going to be a whole generation of people who come of age who are going to address climate change and all these other scientific political issues, and they're going to make changes in eight years. Things are going to be different.

Are there any current scientific advancements that you're particularly excited about?

First of all, this business that we proved that gravitational waves exist. I think about my grandfather: He had no knowledge of relativity. Now we have GPS satellites that tell our phones which side of the street we're standing on, because we understand relativity. I just think about what will happen when people understand gravitational waves and things like dark matter and dark energy.

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