By Shari Phiel
What’s your idea of a typical video game player? An overweight twenty-something with sallow skin from never seeing the light of day and bloodshot eyes from staring at a screen for hours on end? Used to be the only sports injury a video gamer was likely to have was carpal tunnel syndrome.
Thanks to the development of “exergaming,” the days of passive participation in video games may be over.
Exergaming is a recent term used to describe video games that also provide exercise. The concept of exercising with the help of your television isn’t exactly new. People have been using exercise video tapes for decades. Jane Fonda alone opened the door to a string of celebrity workout videos when she released “Workout” in 1982.
The recent advent of active participation video games has begun to change the face, and shape, of video game players. Most notable among video game systems with exercise capabilities is the Nintendo Wii (pronounced as we), first introduced in 2006. What made the Wii system so different from other video game systems was its use of a wireless controller that could be used as a handheld pointing device.
Wii’s wireless remote was, in fact, what revolutionized video game exercise. The Wii remote uses Bluetooth technology, built-in accelerometers and infrared detection to sense its position in 3D space and communicate with the game console. Which meant for the first time, a video game system could tell where the player was along with their position in many cases. For games like bowling or tennis, this got players off the couch and using their whole body to get the ball down the lane or across the net.
Amy Doutre and her husband purchased a Nintendo Wii after trying the game at a friend’s home. While driving home, the couple raved to each other about how much fun they had playing and decided to buy one immediately. “You’ll get hooked and won’t be able to sleep,” Doutre said.
To enhance the exergaming experience, Nintendo also created the Wii Fit; a video game that uses a balance board with the same technology as the wireless controller designed for yoga, strength training, balance games and aerobics.
One of the primary benefits of exergaming is that it’s fun. Something traditional exercise routines often lack. Balance games that mimic snowboarding, skiing and soccer provide exercise with the exerciser even knowing it. Always wanted to try yoga but don’t like the idea of driving to a gym or practicing in front of a bunch of strangers. Now you can try various positions at home and the Wii balance board will help you maintain the correct position.
Don’t be fooled though. It’s not all fun and games. Those looking for a more serious work-out, Wii’s strength training and aerobics programs get your blood pumping and your heart rate up while working out your muscles.
While the Nintendo Wii is currently the best console for combining exercise and entertainment, they aren’t the only game in town. Video game makers have come up with their own way to be played on other platforms like Microsoft’s Xbox and Sony’s Playstation.
Leading video game manufacturer Konami created Dance Dance Revolution which uses its own special mat to track the players’ movements and is available for Wii, Xbox and Playstation formats. DDR is so popular it’s even being used in schools to promote exercise. A 2007 article in the New York Times highlighted one middle school in West Virginia even using the video game in Physical Education classes and are finding students to be excited and energized by the use of the game.
Exercise based video games can be a great way to stay active, especially during Colorado’s cold winter months. Instead of driving for two hours on a busy, snowy interstate, you can hit the slopes wearing your pajamas and bunny slippers instead. Still, there’s nothing like the real thing especially when it comes to the rush of flying down a mountain run in new fallen snow. Maybe the answer is in finding a balance between the two.