Friday, February 29

Exergaming Fails in School

Expert Sets Guidelines for Improvement

The exergaming world was rocked by criticism following the use of exergaming as a replacement for traditional physical education. The story that originated in the UK has since circulated the globe with criticism from as far away as Australia for not being real exercise and for giving up on sport.

The articles highlighted research stating the console used was only 2 percent more extra effort over sedentary gaming. The odd part is this; the discouraging research came from the same university that praised the equipment via BBC news one year earlier.

If you are not confused by this U turn, you should be. I am used to seeing one research study contradict another, but never from the same source! Both studies did make national BBC news though, not that I am suggesting anything with that statement.

So step in Dean Horridge, from Fit for Sport and most recognised for his work with the TV show "Ian Wright's Unfit Kids" (pictured). In his most recent article he sets out a number of guidelines for schools to follow in order not to fall foul of the hype. I met Dean last year at a trade show, and he's worth listening to. Here is a summary of his tips for setting up a program and product selection to schools;

1. Discuss with kids what they want.
2. Involve the children in your testing.
3. Check suppliers research into activity.
4. Spend wisely, and do not buy without trying.
5. Get trained to use new equipment.
6. Change the sessions often to keep interest.
7. Plan for the long term suitability.
8. Keep safety in mind but maintain enthusiasm.
9. Make sure all kids can participate regardless of ability.
10. Watch out for equipment storage needs.

I have not specifically mentioned any products in the post, because the experience of a failed exergaming program could be applicable to any equipment, no matter how good or bad the machines are.

Obviously choosing equipment where the cardio fitness benefits and sustainability are beyond doubt is the best start - but then again, I would say that!!

Sunday, February 24

Nintendo says Wii Fit Won't Make You Fit

Wii Fit is Actually Designed to Make You Stand Still

In a previous post here, I defended Nintendo Wii Sports against the media tide of disillusionment in the value of the game as real exercise. I also added Wii Fit was intended to make you fit but according to Nintendo's Shigeru Miyamoto, who conceived the idea of Wii Fit, I was wrong.

"I forgot to mention something important earlier: I don’t think Wii Fit’s purpose is to make you fit" said Miyamoto

Buried deep in the US site, and commented on by Kotaku, he indicated the true purpose of Wii Fit is not to get you fit, but in fact to help you stand still better.

Miyamoto explains, "If you’re standing still, and it tells you 'Your body is swaying', you can see on the training results screen that your body has been shaking."

I still believe that Wii Fit will help you become fitter, because it tracks your weight which will make you aware of the exercise you need to do. Having said that, there is a brain training style feature on Wii Sports to test your fitness age.

We use similar tracking software with Gamercize; the GZ Personal Trainer was released in early 2007 and is accessed online or on a mobile phone, so I do know the importance of tracking health indicators. Recording your weight, BMI, Waist/Hip ratio and resting heart rate and seeing them change over time on the graphs does give added motivation to keep going in the right direction.

The Wii Sports fitness age check, Wii fit in general and the GZ Personal Trainer are all good examples of how technology helps motivation. The only thing that is unclear now is - what is Nintendo's key message for Wii fit to the consumer?

I guess the only way to be sure is to go out any buy one... oh... now I get it!

Saturday, February 23

Professional Sports and Government Back Active Gaming

Fitness Technology for Motivating Everyone

Activing gaming, known as exergaming in the US, has been an element in many "exertainment" gyms across the world. These gyms, designed to use technology to engage children in physical activities, have proved very successful due to the variety of activities on offer. There are virtual full body motion games, highly entertaining sport walls and a host of other entertaining exercise machines. Now the racing game bikes and dance mat exergaming machines can be joined by Gamercize.

This week saw the launch of the Gamercize Gym Pod, backed by the Active Southampton partnership and Southampton Football Club. Gamercize products work with all games and video game consoles, pausing the game if exercise is stopped. The launch and installations are unique for the credibility of exergaming, because the motivation behind the partnership is purely promoting physical activity and attracting the younger generation into the leisure and sports centres.
Nathan Dyer jumped on for his first look and was soon keen to help introduce the technology to the PlayStation generation. The Gamercize Gym Pod is capable of running any title, but was set up running soccer game FIFA 08. Nathan plays football for Southampton FC, known locally as the Saints, but did not play for his own side that day. When it was his turn on the Gym Pod, Nathan took over from the previous player who was using a local rival team - Portsmouth. Undaunted, Nathan hammered in goals to leave the scoreline 5 - 1 to Pompey at the end of the game, much to the amusement of the BBC and newspaper reporters! You can watch the video here.

The Gamercize Gym Pod has been installed in two local government run facilities, the Xbox 360 version is in Chamberlayne Leisure Centre and the PlayStation 3 equipped version in St Mary's Sports Centre.
The Nintendo Wii has already been used by the centres, mainly in the half term play scheme. You can see the kids having fun here with a big bag of Wii games under the desk!
The Gamercize Gym Pod is used in the fitness room with the other cardio machines during the school term, but taken out and taken over by the kids during the holidays. The games played vary depending on the time of day, making sure kids have suitable rated games and adults get to play the games they want. The centres can also be sure that Gamercize will never lose it's attraction, because new PS3 and Xbox 360 games will always generate interest.
The fitness facilities available to a lot of people are outstanding, but equally as unknown. The appeal of Gamercize will bring people into the centres that would not normally go there. Given an introduction into fitness as fun, I hope they'll stay and try out the other activities. Just imagine, the next time there is a huge title being released, like Halo 3 mania, there will be lines of customers not only outside shops, but also outside your local gym!

Thursday, February 14


Gamercize's Wii Power Up

Kids around the world have worked out that you don't have to leap around and wave your arms about to get the Wii working. My two kids are no exception. They sit on the couch and just flick the Wii-mote to play the games. So much for a Wii workout!

The awaited Wii-Fit is a genuine exercise option, but I think this will appeal to the parents who are used to DVD workouts much more than their kids. I think both Wii games and Wii-Fit are excellent products for the market, but there is the huge gap in between Wii-mote fun and Wii-Fit exercise. Gamercize fits in this gap without taking anything away from Wii-Fit or Wii games.

A fair number of families who have a Wii also have a Gamecube, or have since bought low cost Gamecube games that take advantage of the other half of the Wii's capabilities. The trick that Sony missed in turning 100 million PS2 users into PS3 users was not lost on Nintendo, the Wii fully supports these excellent 1 - 4 player Gamecube games.

If you have super co-ordination you can use the GZ Power Stepper with your Wii-mote, but we prefer using it with the Gamecube compatible games. The fitness boost from using the Gamercize stepper is very good. Even without cheating the Wii-mote, the best you can expect is around 180 calories per hour from Wii-Sports. This figure has been confirmed by two studies plus the research done by Gamercize. Playing Wii with the Gamercize stepper powers up the fitness benefits to over 650 calories per hour!

If the aim of exergaming is to have some fun playing games while getting some exercise, then the Gamercize route is a pretty good way to go. They do tend to play the Gamecube games more often, but if I catch my kids playing the "Wii-Lazy" way again, then I'll hide those Wii-motes!

Sunday, February 10

What is Exergaming?

Ask Your Kids What an Exergame is!

The misuse of the term exergaming is not surprising as there is no formal definition in any recognised dictionary. The joining of the words exercise and game could define football, tennis or any sport as an exergame - but the term is being used to group together new and exciting fitness technology.

Some commercial organizations have spotted this market, and misuse the term aggressively to gain credibility and revenue. This is not good practice, but the lack of definition has left the door wide open. Exergaming is a good thing, but it's meaning goes deeper than the joining of two words.

In the last two or three years the realisation that 21st century lifestyles are taking a toll on our health has come into the media spotlight. The traditional pastimes for enjoyment have been replaced by labor saving devices providing huge diversity of entertainment for it's target audience. These labor saving devices, designed to make entertainment convenient and effortless, are video game consoles.

If there is going to be a definition of exergaming then it should reflect the environment that has driven the term to be in common use. Exergames have been born from the use of video games so therefore are themselves video games, but with added exercise.

So is the Nintendo Wii and exegame? Absolutely. Is Sony's Eyetoy an exergame? Most probably. Are Konami's dance mats exergames? The original. Is Gamercize an exergame? Without doubt.

So what is masquerading as an exergame that is not? Flashing lights you hit in sequence. No video game there. Game bikes with hardware graphics from the 70's? Not a chance. I have even seen one company use the term "interactive video game" for a product that does not even have a video screen! These pretenders could be good exercise and they can provide a reasonable amount of fun, but they are not exergames.

Exergames address the social need, they need to be as fun and engaging as a games console but also give physical exercise in a sustainable and safe manner. In my experience the best judge of what makes a true exergame are children. They know when activities are fun and enjoyable. They know what will keep them active and having fun - video games with exercise.

The term exergame is being used by some as an advertising gimmick. Without a video games console and a number of games that can be used - there is no exergame. Do not be fooled.

Sunday, February 3

Racing Game Exercise

Get Fit with PGR4 Anyone?

Racing games are relatively popular; some 10-15% of games sold are racing games. PGR4 and Forza 2 are a couple of the most recent games I have played.

PGR4 is outstanding, because it opens up the tracks to motorcycles. I have done a lot of road racing on track, and also a few track and test days. Here I'm taking my road bike out, wearing the right gear in case of a spill!

Racing video games are less dangerous, but can also be as physically demanding as a real twenty lap full-on race, with the use of an exercise bike for control. Most people expect the physical effort of these video game racing bikes to be reflected in the speed of the vehicle.

While this is true for all other systems you may see, it is not true for Gamercize. Is this a mistake? No mistake, there are many real advantages.
Firstly, physical effort should not be dictated by a computer. It is dangerous to over-exert, particularly if you have not reached your optimum level of fitness. Playing racing games with Gamercize you will automatically step or cycle faster in a sympathetic encouragement with your on screen self. The important fact is that you do not have to, you control your own pace.
Secondly, the effort needed to win the game is not linked with physical ability. It seems a little unfair to punish or demotivate people with less fitness than others. Gamercize lets everyone have a fair chance of winning, for all ages and all abilities. How else would teachers and parents be able to play fitness video games with the kids on a level field?
Thirdly, as only 10-15% of video games are racing based, it does seem to me to be a waste of money to buy equipment that will only be used occasionally. Not to mention the inconvenience of having to swap over from exercise to controllers when changing games. Gamercize works with all games, racing or otherwise.
Lastly, and maybe most importantly for dedicated racing addicts, the control with Gamercize is exactly as the game developer intended - precise and flexible. Some exercise racing bikes have almost an on/off throttle response. This doesn't work well as you try and feed the power in progressively coming out of a corner!

Now if you have been racing at all before, you'll know smooth is fast, so maybe Gamercize is better racing game exercise than those systems designed for racing games? Car or bike, we'll take them on, and let's see who wins!