Wednesday, August 10

The Power of Video Games (for Exergamers)

Exergaming is Driven by Gaming

This is a post that has been long overdue! As I write this I am sitting with my kids (see pic from six years ago!) who have got me crawling, not the walls, but the floor to plug in our original Xbox. They have loaded a save game from 2004 and are playing with an "ancient" Gamercize for Xbox!

Recently I saw a re-post of an article (that's not worthy of a link, sorry) claiming to be "everything you need to know about exergaming". Sadly this promising title leaves a lot to be desired and represents a terrible view of exergaming. Why is it so bad? It has a common attitude, even shared by a fair few exergame advocates - those that don't understand and have never experienced "The power of video games" - that exergaming is great (but we don't know why).

There is one aspect of exergaming that sets it aside from traditional physical activity and fitness options, and that is THE VIDEO GAME! The whole reason that (good) exergames are successful is that they tap into the engagement, sustainability and enjoyment of a past time that can keep anybody playing for hours! It's time to refocus on the basic principle that makes exergaming what it is - video games.

Video games now with the latest Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 consoles have two basic modes. I will make no apology for going back to basics. The first mode is offline, or story mode, where a player progresses through a what is in effect an "interactive movie". The game play can last for between three and over a hundred hours (Blue Dragon on 306!). Game play is preserved by saving the game and typically as you progress through the story, your symbiotic in-game character improves and gains new skills.

It's this progression, the sense of achievement, options for personalisation that leads to an attachment with the video game. The basics of video gaming are very simple, but in reality it takes tens of millions of dollars to make a global best seller. There is all this going for a video game, but what happens when you reach "the last boss" / "final challenge" / "finale"? In short, the player becomes bored with the game, and it's appeal is lost. This is the reason why there are always new games out each month, it's a concept called "attach rate", meaning the number fo games per console per year.

One major misconception I see from a few exergame advocates and a lot of main steam media is to take an exergame in isolation. Attach rate statistics show the appeal of a game can last a couple of months at best. Is that enough time to change a lifestyle with exergaming? Maybe not, so sustainability (changing the game) needs to be a huge consideration when using exergaming as an intervention. Give it six months and that's where you'll see some amazing health benefits that traditional activity would be hard to match, especially when considering seasonal changes for outdoor exercise.

Video gaming has progressed beyond the solitary play stereotype into a whole new world, and the second major mode of games today - the online mode. The PlayStation Network (when it's up) and Xbox Live provide a transport mechanism for the most engaging for of gaming. While solo play may engage players for a couple of months, online play has the ability to engage players for 12 months or more.

Halo and Call of Duty (both compatible with Gamercize online or offline) are classic examples of video games that have relativity short story modes, but almost unlimited appeal when played online. The social aspects of online play are compelling for the human species. There is of course progression, but this is largely cosmetic, in terms of new kit, and almost never functional. Everyone has the same chance to achieve, depending on skill.

There's the catch for online gaming. It's one thing to beat a pre-programmed story, but another thing to compete and socialize with people from all over the world - and win! Getting to this level takes time and lots of practice (all of which is active time with Gamercize) but is more rewarding than, say, soccer practice compared with an actual match.

The true benefit of exergaming is the video game. If you've never experienced the "3 yard stare", it's unlikely you'll be able to fully appreciate this and the power of exergames. My advice would be to get online and get gaming with a genre that appeals to you (and don't forget to add Gamercize to the mix and keep healthy too!).

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