Wednesday, September 30

Common Exergaming Myths

Back to basics = fitness and fun!

Exergaming, or active gaming, is still a very new concept to mainstream media and within the public knowledge.

When I have spoken to officials and policy makers at last they now have heard of some for of exergaming or another, but sadly, there's many misconceptions.

Misconceptions in exergaming have come from media reports and more worryingly, research. Here's the top misconceptions I hear time and time again.

  1. Exergaming doesn't count as real exercise. The whole purpose of exergaming is to have an exercise component and there's very little value in exercise as a weight loss tool unless there's a lot of it. That's either high output for medium duration or low output over very long durations. This misconception has come from studies into Wii Sports - which isn't great exercise compared with exergames that utilise genuine fitness machines such as bikes and steppers, that are able to provide moderate to vigorous physical activity.
  2. Exergaming doesn't look like fun. The reason exergaming works for fitness is that it is fun, the exercise is incidental to activity and the enjoyment and immersion of the games keeps the mind off the exercise. This misconception has come from a wave of fitness themed "exergames" that deliver "celebrity exercise programmes" via a games console with virtual workouts and trainers. The exergames that work with real video games (Gamercize as an obvious example) tap into the principles that has been growing video gaming for the last 20 years by keeping the fun in the activity.
  3. Exergaming is not as good as real sports. The fundamental problem with this misconception is that exergaming and sports are different things and can't be compared. If everyone was playing sport then there wouldn't be a need for a physical activity that was engaging for all levels of condition, fitness and self-confidence. Yes, real sports are better in many ways to exergaming, but that's not what's required. What is required is something everyone can enjoy in a sustainable way to improve fitness and promote weight loss. The problem here is that researchers have been comparing exergame "sports" with real sports, asking something of exergaming that it's not trying to answer.
  4. Exergaming is gets boring for the long term. There's no point having an activity to boost fitness and conditioning if the user doesn't stick with it. This is a serious issue with pretty much all exergames I know of, but the ones that can counter this problem are those that are flexible enough to work will all, or even just a selection, of games. Research has show that a "single game" exergame gets boring after a very short number of weeks and statistics from one exergame manufacturer show a total average use time of just 18 hours in one year.

How do we solve these misconceptions and bust these myths? The answer is through diversity of research. There's too much media attention into the same old exergames that don't represent the best of exercise, fun or sustainability. It's up to the research community to research what exergames are out there and consider how they can be studied to provide policy makers with better information.

Thursday, September 10

Bible 2.0 - 7 Deadly Sins Revisited

Have you ever wondered if Web 2.0 is a good thing or not? With any good there also comes bad, so here's my cynical collection of bad practice that I have seen since I was introduced to the path of the new ways of web.

  1. Sheep Dip - Have you noticed how Web 2.0 appears to be about nominal popularity? Be it the number of followers on twitter or the number of views on an article. Here's the first deadly sin of Web 2.0, using the genuine popularity of something that's buzzing on the net to boost your own "numbers". I see this a lot with my line of work, exergaming. As an example, I would write a blog post about the iPhone 3GS and get a lot of page hits, or I could write a post about the phone I actually know and own (er, Nokia N95 if you're interested) and not get a single click. There's an overemphasis on numbers, that leads to a flock of sheep mentality, and someone always wants to cash in and stand out. Popularity is not a number, it's about quality - be yourself, don't follow and judge the value you add by the response you get, not the numbers!
  2. Blamming - I must admit, I have never studied genealogy, but it surprises me how many links in my family tree lead back to royalty in some principality of Africa. All I have to do is "click here" and I could be rich from all the $3 million dollar unclaimed legacies left in my name. Wow, don't you just hate spam? I just found out the name for the most annoying type of spamming - "blam". It's using Web 2.0's ability to interact and respond to post links to your own content. Again I see this a lot. You read a decent article on the web and there it is, in the comments, taking up space and devaluing the original article and misdirecting comments - a commerical link, vaguely related to the original content.
  3. Web 1.5 - This is a great sin, I find it highly amusing. The basis of Web 2.0 is user supplied content and interaction, but you still find those "forward thinking, web savvy" companies out there trying to get in on the act that really don't have a clue. It's those facebook fan pages that don't allow user comments, it's those twitter accounts that never reply to a @question, it's those sites that don't have comments or even name authors (yes, I'm looking at you right now!). I guess it's the combination of deadly sins 2.0 numbers 1 and 2 that lead companies to cut all chance to respond? I see user/customer/critique as a most valuable asset, but most of all I think it's rude to just talk and never listen!
  4. Core Dump - Have you ever had a program crash in Windows? Well, I'll go out on a limb here and bet there isn't a single person who hasn't seen this. To record this you get a dump file - it's full of every piece of data that is on the system at the time, and it's meaningless to almost everyone. Back to the point, there's a sin 2.0 I have seen that's very similar - people who use interaction to just keep talking, just keep posting, just keep overloading a genuine network with meaningless drivel until the network dies a death according to the "meaningless words to valuable content" ratio. Once again, I see a lot of this! This is probably the worst sin, as it's devaluing and dis-respecting others. If you have something to say - make sure you have something to say!
  5. Web Stalker - I have gotten this sometimes, and its pretty annoying. You find a Web 2.0 site that's relevant and interesting to you, so you interact and engage there. You're finding out about people, learning new ideas and sharing experiences, then hours later your own personal web stalker comes along and hits the site with a combination of blam and core dump. Of course the funniest thing is they ride off the back of what you say, often referring to you by name making everyone else think you're endorsing this person and have been acting as a strawman for their spam!!
  6. Wiki Warrior - I've not seen this too much, but it goes on all the time. It's the art of altering wikipedia pages to point to commercial sites or push points that lead to commercial sites. Personally I use wiki when I want to find something out, as an example I googled "wiki Australian cars" when I was trying to find out the name of a car for an Aussie pal. If I wanted a bunch of car markers and great deals on Australian cars I would have just googled "Australian cars". What I don't want to see on wiki is adverts, that's the point of going there! The most amusing aspect of this sin is the idiotic mentality that compels the wiki warriors to use brand names as user names. Is there no sense of propriety with these people?!!!
  7. Lazy Spam - I've found this specifically with twitter, you find some one that's looks like they would be worth listening to, you follow them and straight away you get followed back and a direct message along the lines of "Thanks for following me, for the best weight loss program go to ". If you are going to abuse Web 2.0 for commercial gain, then have the common decency to actually put a bit of effort in or think about it!

Ok, that was fun, now I should just point out that none of my friends (the only people remotely likely to read my blog!) have been guilty here - but if you're reading this and it sounds familiar then you've been caught out as a Web 2.0 sinner! Repent now and change your ways!

Now I hope this post gets hit will all the blam, core dumping, web stalking and all those other transparent tactics - it's just for a bit of fun :) I've made a start already by following the sheep and tagging this post incorrectly!

Wednesday, September 9

How do you rate exergaming?

Active games have a fun element, but that depends on what you call fun.

You may think that all exergames or active games are pretty much the same. You put a disc in your console and off you go, happy, busy, good. Well, it's not quite that simple. There are different types of exergames, and within these types there's quality and disasters.

I like to think this time in exergaming's history has similarities with the great Video Games Crash of the early 80's. I have always approached exergaming from the gaming rather than exercise perspective (which is a minority viewpoint in the fraternity) but time will tell if who has the right end of the stick and who has ... well, the other end.

Back in the 80's the popularity of videogaming went mainstream and floods of really poor quality games that went unsold. The consumers lost confidence and held back on all purchases, bringing the video game industry to it's knees. I don't think exergaming will go through a period as bad as this, but I can foresee similar times ahead.

The most obvious exergaming genre is the fitness "game", the types like Wii Fit, EA SPORTS Active and all the other similar themed titles that replicate exercise via your console. I have my own views from a gamer's perspective that these titles are just too dull to warrant any of my active screen time, but that's the point, some people like them, some don't. Personally I'd take Gamercize and Call of Duty over simulated running round a track any day. However, as fitness themed games go, there's a lot titles in that genre and a lot of variance in quality.

In the fitness game genre, take two examples to prove the point on quality. Both EA SPORTS Active and Jillian Michael's Fitness Ultimatum have somewhere approaching 500 reviews each on, but EA gets well almost 300 five star reviews, while the Ultimatum is given a similar amount of one star reviews. One game will get you fit the other will disappoint and demotivate you. You can see there's two aspects at play here as to if an exergame will work for you:

  • Is it the type of game that you're interested in?
  • Is the actual title a good game of that genre?
Good questions, but as yet no answers, UNTIL you part with your hard earned cash and take a gamble. We live in a different world of collaboration and information these days from the 80's when word of mouth was the communication method that unseated many poor video games. We should be better at avoiding mistakes.

Communication and collaboration for exergaming is working right now, to try and answers the questions of features, attributes and experience that'll make video game exercise work for you. The collaboration comes from a group of industry experts, researchers, supporters, users and observers from a LinkedIn group that closely resembles an anarchic collective.

In this group we're working on a model for an exergaming rating system - you can see what we have so far on the wiki site that's been put up. We've had a go at rating Wii Sports, Wii Fit and Konami's console DDR for now, just to test the rating system. There's a lot of work going on by good people, donating time and effort freely, so I expect this system will not only be pretty good - but also unbiased and consumer focused.

If you think you can help us with this, from a standpoint of professional or wide personal experience, then jump on the LinkedIn group, maybe even one of the skype calls (next on Saturday 12th @ 5PM ET). Let's not make the same mistakes with exergaming that were made with videogames in the 80s. After all, back then it was a but of fun at stake, with exergaming it's the future health of ourselves and our children.

Tuesday, September 1

Are video games sport?

Health Promotion in the Golden Decade of Sport

When you watch sport on TV how would you choose to participate, join a local club or go buy the video game?

This presentation explains what the Golden Decade of Sport means, and how it relates to increased physical activity and healthy lives. If video games steal the show, how can this be of benefit to health promotion? Find out more...