Thursday, December 20

Exploring Unknowns with Exergaming

I had written this a little while ago, but the sentiment is still valid and at this time of goodwill, sharing, friendship and helping others, I thought it was particularly relevant to post.

Unusually for an article about exergaming we are starting outdoors. At 3,500 feet to be precise. Like many of us I am comfortable with flying as a means of transport. I also enjoy flying as a pastime having earned my wings some years back qualifying to pilot light aircraft. At few thousand feet in this Cessna, I am neither comfortable nor enjoying the flight. I feel cold, I feel apprehensive, I feel unsure, I feel not in control. The once familiar rolling green countryside passing below no longer looks picturesque, it looks menacing and alien. With a cacophony of noise and blast of cold air, the side of the Cessna opens up, and I find myself at the open door, gripping the aircraft for fear of falling out. Over the noise of the engine and the roar of the slipstream I hear myself questioning how I got in this situation, how this looks like a really long way down, how I wished I was not here, uncertain of what will happen, what could happen, what to do. Then I jumped.

The members of The Exergame Network successfully raised $350 for me to take on this challenge of a solo skydive to raise money for much needed exergame research. The Exergame Network (TEN) is a non-profit, unaffiliated and unbiased group of individuals with a common goal, to advocate the appropriate use of exergaming to improve health and fitness. The group started from an expansion in interest of the genre of exergaming and a need to continue the debates between that of the annual Games for Health conferences in Boston. TEN created resources, such as the TEN wiki, and used collaboration tools such as Skype and Google Docs to advance understanding and structure thinking around exergaming.

The work of TEN led to identification that exergaming in practice was progressing far faster than research could keep up. Members of the network identified what these gaps are, from creating and analysing an evidence base of published studies on it’s wiki. We then established what progressive research questions could be asked in order to get “what we can prove” in line with “what we know”. Closing this gap is a priority for the advocacy of TEN.

In order for TEN to close this gap we are pulling together resources from its members to arrive at a package of awards that can be granted to aid the inception and completion of the missing studies. My skydive was just a part of this package, raising money that will be used for buy out from class or research assistant’s time. With a strong contingent of established researchers, academic and clinicians the awards package also includes free consultancy time to aid newcomers. This experience in exergaming provides a big advantage in the methodology and study design.

There is also a wealth of exergaming manufacturers, distributors and implementers within the TEN network that alongside pledges of free consultancy for the award package are able to donate or loan exergaming equipment to facilitate studies. We even have members who are pledging facilities, and in some instances with populations already pre-engaged in exergaming.

Completing the awards package we have pledges of dissemination opportunities that include a pre-agreed poster session and a journal publication (subject to editorial controls). When this package of awards is finalised in the new year a panel from TEN will be inviting submissions for study proposals which will answer our research questions and fill the gap between theory and practice. Successful applications will receive the awards that aid the complete process from design to publication.

Completing this project has significant outcomes. For the people “at the coal face”, supporting, promoting and implementing exergaming the publication of studies that confirm what we are telling people about exergaming will be the evidence basis to help progress the genre. For the academic community the seeding of studies in exergaming will enable more progressive research to be carried out, and give a foundation for researchers beyond simple energy expenditure studies.

Where does that leave me? Like the state of exergaming research today, I am hanging in limbo, under a parachute canopy. I soon realise there is a problem. My canopy lines are twisted and the parachute is not controllable. From the instruction of the course I know what I need to do to resolve the problem and I follow the advice to separate the risers and kick out of the twists. Under full control I can clearly see the direction I need to take and maneuver for the landing pattern. Having the advantage of experience from my fixed wing qualifications it is easy for me to fly the pattern and bring the canopy onto final approach. As I come in to landing I have a talk-down via radio to ensure my pre-landing checks are correct. Resisting the natural temptation to slow the canopy I approach on “full drive”, flaring at the right time and right height to make a successful landing.

As I walk alone back to the manifest area I realise that the success of the jump was down to having the right information to start with, the application of experience to a new environment and the continual support and guidance throughout the final landing phase. This is comparable to the experience TEN will be providing for researchers and students willing to take a leap of faith into the genre of exergaming research.