Exergaming: The Future is Bright

Well we’ve reached the end of our 7 week campaign, and whilst we’re sad to be wrapping things up, we hope that we’ve made an impact and influenced both how you think about active gaming and how you can incorporate it into your daily routines. For our final post, we’re taking a look back at some of the key points and successes from the campaign.

In our first week, we talked about the stigma towards exercise that can keep people from getting the healthy balance they need. It can be challenging to overcome personal demons and motivate yourself, but exergaming is a great way to achieve the balance. We also had our first Exergame Spotlight, looking at Pokemon GO. Mobile exergaming is booming and is an excellent solution for those that don’t have the desire or ability to own a suitable home console, or invest in Virtual Reality at this early stage. Practically everybody has a smart-phone these days and hopefully we’ve convinced you to utilise its abilities, not just in GO but also the other mobile exergames we took a look at –  Zombies, Run and Ingress

We also took a look back at how exergaming really started to flourish with the possibilities afforded by the Nintendo Wii and games like Wii Fit, or even some of the popular Dance Games. Given the popularity of the Wii – even today – its still an affordable way to get into active gaming and one that you should consider, especially if you already own one.

But it’s just as important to look to the future of Exergaming, and as we discussed earlier in the campaign, we see Virtual Reality as the key to the active-gaming revolution. Whilst it may still be in its infancy, VR is the most likely solution to the exercise stigma, able to take gamers off into immersive experiences and away from any negative thoughts towards the exercise they’re engaging in. Games such as Holopoint and Audioshield are early examples of what VR can do for exergaming. There are even more possibilities coming from the recently teased Nintendo Switch that have us excited about where active gaming could be going in the near future.

But there’s no point talking about exergames without seeing them in action, and we’d like to thank Allision, Alex and all the others who have shared their exergaming stories with us, and just because we’re wrapping up doesn’t mean we don’t want to hear more from all of you – keep sharing using #activategamers.

We hope that Activate Young Gamers has helped bring a bit of exergaming into your daily routines, both now and into the future. It’s been a fun ride, thanks for coming along with us!

-EC

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Image from Kathryn Beadle

 

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Nintendo Switch: A Different Approach?

The internet has been firing up in response to Nintendo’s announcement of their new console; the Switch, particularly over its key selling point; portability. So we thought it might be interesting to consider if and how the Switch could have an effect on exergaming.

The Switch has two interesting (or as many are saying, revolutionary) new features that have people talking. The first is its portability. From what we can gather from the teaser trailer, the Switch’s tablet acts as an all-in-one, allowing gamers to play their favourite titles on the move. The second is its removable/interchangeable paddles which can be restyled to create a range of different controller interfaces.

We’ve talked a lot over the course of the campaign about the Wii and what it did to bring exergaming into the home. We’ve also been trumpeting VR as the definitive future of exergaming. Whilst its unclear at this stage if the Switch supports motion controls or Wiimotes – Nintendo is notorious for phasing out backwards compatibility after a couple of generations – the element that may make the Switch a versatile exergaming platform is its portability.

Assuming that the Switch is what its rumoured to be – a consolidation of Nintendo’s home and portable consoles – there’s a good chance it’ll include the pedometers that the 3DS utilises to track your movement and give you rewards. It could also potentially support mobile data and GPS signals, or a system similar to the SpotPass. These implementations could see the Switch support mobile exergaming experiences similar to Pokemon Go. Taken to its logical conclusion players could soon be wandering outside to complete quests, searching for in-game Easter eggs in local parks, or even hiking nearby mountain ranges to reach the greybeards in Skyrim,.

Of course, all of this is crystal ball gazing right now since details are scarce about the system, but it’s another approach to exergaming that we may very well be experiencing soon.

-EC

Would you like to see the Switch bring exergame functionality to major titles? Share your thoughts using #activategamers

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Exergame Spotlight: Audioshield

It’s time for another exergame spotlight, and today we’re taking a look at Virtual Reality game, Audioshield.

We were inspired to spotlight Audioshield because it’s the warm-up game used by Tim Donahey in his VR workout routine that we’ve featured several times over the course of the campaign. Whilst it may not have the same aerobic effect as games like Holopoint, it can be an extremely effective upper-body workout. Oh and it’s great fun!

Audioshield visualises the beats of the song you’re listening to into orbs flying towards the player. The player must then use their hands to swing towards and punch the orb. With a blue shield in one hand, an orange in the other, and a combination purple shield, you score points by matching up shield colours with those of the corresponding orbs, with the difficulty increasing with the speed of each song.

Audioshield allows you to use your own songs or pull songs from online streaming services, keeping the gameplay fairly customisable. The scoring system is actually pretty interesting, with not only a technical score based on accuracy but also an ‘artistic expression’ score based on the amount of your physical activity and your punch power. It’s this second score that allows Audioshield to work well as an exergame and rate your physical activity.

Audioshield is exclusive to the HTC Vive which is one of the notable challenges with getting into active gaming through VR. A fair number of VR games will be exclusive to one of the major Virtual Reality systems, meaning that a bit like with consoles you have to either side with one and hope that the games you want come your way, or purchase both (Oculus Rift and HTC Vive) of the systems. With the incredible cost of Virtual Reality as its is right now in its infancy, for most people that simply won’t be feasible.

In the future, when the costs come down on the systems and/or exclusive titles become rarer, it will be an incredible time to be an active gamer. But at the moment, you’re better off getting involved playing mobile exergames or stepping back to some of the older, more affordable options.

-EC

We’re getting towards the end of our campaign now. If you have any exergames that you’d like us to spotlight, or any issues in the active gaming world that we should look at more closely, let us know using #activategamers

 

Stories from Active Gamers

We’ve spent several weeks talking about exercise stigma and put various exergames under the spotlight, so we thought it was about time to talk to some avid active gamers out there. Allison and Alex have each experienced active gaming in different ways and hopefully their stories will serve as inspiration for those that want to take up the exergaming lifestyle.

Allison

“The first game I ever played was Banjo-Kazooie on the Nintendo 64 about five years after it actually came out. I couldn’t understand anything or get past the first level but the opening credits were amazing. When I really got into gaming as an early teen, I spent a lot of time at my PC and wasn’t particularly active. I mean when you move into High School you already get less time running around and so it wasn’t the healthiest lifestyle.”

“I remember when Wii Sports first came out and I played a lot of Golf and Tennis, it was the first time that people were talking about games being able to be used as a training tool. My brothers played Wii Fit a lot more than I did, although its balance training was something that interested me and was able to improve my centre of gravity.”

“Their more recent version Wii Fit U was when I really got into exergaming. The minigames were a great way to let off a burst of energy and I used its health tracker far more than I ever thought I would. I’ve played around with the Kinect a fair bit too, and I still use Wii Fit U occasionally, but most of my exergaming has branched out into mobile games. They’ve been the most fun because they’ve allowed me to game out in my local park and all around the place”

Alex 

“My earliest memory of gaming would probably be Crash Bandicoot back in the Play Station 1 days. It was either a massive challenge or I was a bad gamer, I can’t remember which. It’s true you get a lot more exercise in primary school with jump-rope and just running around like crazy. My exercise was fairly irregular later on though. I played a lot of Grand Theft Auto when I was about 13-14. Wii Sports was a classic too, and was the first game that I can remember playing where you had to actually move around. Although it was pretty easy to cheat the system, even with Wii Fit later on.”

“As far as exergaming, I guess I’ve spent most of my time using mobile games to augment my daily routine, with games like Zombie’s Run. I lost about 10kg playing that over a year. I definitely played a lot of Pokemon GO too earlier this year, and still play it on and off. It’s funny I didn’t even think about it as an exergame for a long while.”

“I think active gaming will really be able to take off when Virtual Reality becomes more popular. I had a chance to play it a couple of months ago. You can see that it’s much more difficult to cheat at VR and its so immersive that you wouldn’t want to. Active gaming has absolutely helped improve my health, although I think that, at least at the moment, Active Gaming should be used as just one part of an overall healthy exercise routine.”

Thanks for sharing your stories Allison and Alex!

-EC

Would you like to share your own active gaming adventures with us? Use #activategamers for a chance to be featured on the blog!

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Throwback Thursday – Wii Fit & the Dawn of the Exergame

Back in the day, if you or somebody you knew owned a Nintendo Wii, there’s a good chance you encountered Wii Fit at some stage. Released nearly nine years ago, the game sold over 22 million copies, meaning that 1 in 4 Wii owners have spent time jogging around a virtual park, pretending to ski or tightrope walk on the balance board, and generally avoiding that fateful  weigh-in on one of the first successful examples of an exergame.

Gameplay

Wii Fit definitely had a focus on exercise and information over gameplay. If you were serious about it you could engage in daily measurements and basic simulations that tracked your health improvements over the course of your workout period, with the Balance Board avatar (the updated version of Microsoft office assistant Clippy) giving you chirpy tips on how you can improve. You could even track your exercise completed outside of the game, although at the end of the day you were at the mercy of the virtual scales – and whilst he might not have said it, the balance board knew if you were lying.

The game included nearly 50 activities that made up the meat of the gameplay. Most of
those were simple yoga and strength exercises, but the aerobic minigames were the ones that kept people interested in playing – ranging from hula hoops to skiing, snowboarding and boxing. Clearly Nintendo took some inspiration from their hugely successful Wii Sports. Although whilst it didn’t really offer much in the way of health benefits, many would argue that Wii Sports was more fun and less clinical than Wii Fit.

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A Wii Fit user playing the ‘soccer heading’ activity

The Balance Board

wii_balance_board-rooooo

Arguably the most crucial component of Wii Fit, the balance board accessory accounted for much of the cost of the game and was certainly a step-up from your generic household scales. The board included four pressure sensors that could accurately measure the movement, balance and weight of anybody up to 150 kg – although the board itself was extremely sturdy and could withstand up to 300 kg of force (maybe they learnt a little too much from people throwing their Wiimotes around the room in frustration).

Apart from being used for the daily tests, the balance board was the primary way that you would complete the fitness activities. Given so many people found out how to cheat their way through Wii Sports, Nintendo had to build a more reliable accessory if they wanted the fitness aspect of the game to be credible.

The balance board is a good example of how important peripherals are in exergames, which is an issue as they tend to be the most expensive element of an active gaming set-up. Whilst moving into the future, VR systems will come down in price and they’ll always have more than just one use-case scenario, you can’t have a reliable exergame without a reliable tool for measuring fitness ability. For the time being though, the balance board can now be picked up for much cheaper than when it first launched, lowering the entry barrier to active gaming.

Wii Fit & The Future of exergames

Two years later, Nintendo released Wii Fit Plus which included 20 new activities and additional functionality such as custom fitness regimens. The sequel was hugely successful, selling another 22 million copies with the two games combined boosting exergame revenue exponentially, and most importantly introducing millions of new people around the globe to the concept of active gaming.

However, Nintendo’s third installment in the series Wii Fit U for their Wii U console went in the other direction, only selling a measly 890,000 copies (or 4% of what the original game sold) although this can largely be put down to the commercial failure of the Wii U console.

Wii Fit might not be able to address the exercise stimga concerns that we’ve discussed over the past few weeks, since it’s definitely a minigame-augmented fitness simulator and not the other way around, but it was instrumental in showing people that active gaming could actually work, and if you’re looking for a no-frills exergame that makes you a little less passive, then it still holds up as a good option today.

-EC

Do you remember your first experience with Wii Fit? Tell us about it using #activategamers for a chance to be featured on the blog!

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Check out the original launch trailer for Wii Fit:

Sources:

Vgchartz.com. (2016). Game Database, Best Selling Video Games, Game Sales, Million Sellers, Top Selling – VGChartz. [online] Available at: http://www.vgchartz.com/gamedb/?name=Wii+Fit&publisher=&platform=&genre=&minSales=0&results=200 [Accessed 29 Sep. 2016].

 

Do Exergames Actually Work?

Something  it may seem that we’ve been avoiding since the start of the campaign is the simple yet all important question, do exegames actually help you lose weight? Today we address the question.

You might not be surprised to hear that there have been several studies that dive into this issue, often with the main determinate factor being if exergames are more effective than regular comparative exercise. But that’s not necessarily what we want to measure.

As discussed in our piece on exercise stigma, the benefit of exergames is more about overcoming a mindset you may have which is preventing you from exercising – be it the privacy of exercising indoors, or the necessity of the gaming experience to keep you engaged in the exercise. If we measure exergames not as an alternative to exercise but as a way to get ourselves active where we otherwise may not be, then any amount of extra physical exertion is better than nothing.

Okay, okay, enough skirting around the question. We found two separate studies that asserted exergames as comparative to a light-to-moderate exercise routine, increasing heart-rate, oxygen consumption and energy expenditure. The main takeaways being that it is indeed possible to lose weight and improve aerobic fitness using exergames, although it’s not recommended to use them as a complete replacement for traditional exercise, due to current inefficiencies. It’s worth noting that a lot of the issues taken up by the studies (which mainly used Wii Fit and Dance Dance Revolution) could be addressed with the new wave of Virtual Reality exergames that will be available to consumers in coming years.

To decode that a bit, exergames are absolutely effective at getting you up and active – as much so as even moderate exercise – and for those that find it challenging to engage with ‘normal’ exercise they’re certainly a better alternative to no exercise at all. But as with all technologies, it’s difficult for the current generation of exergames to cover all the benefits that you get with a gym subscription.

This just goes to show that replacing a portion of your passive gaming routine with active gaming is a very viable way to fill your quota of required daily physical activity, and can encourage you to start living a much healthier lifestyle – be it indoors or out.

– EC

Have you lost weight or noticed other improvements in your health due to active gaming? Share your story with us using #activategamers for a chance to be featured on the blog.

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Sources:

Peng, W., Lin, J. and Crouse, J. (2011). Is Playing Exergames Really Exercising? A Meta-Analysis of Energy Expenditure in Active Video Games. Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, 14(11), pp.681-688.

Whitehead, A., Johnston, H., Nixon, N. and Welch, J. (2010). Exergame effectiveness. Proceedings of the 5th ACM SIGGRAPH Symposium on Video Games – Sandbox ’10.

How Virtual Reality will Revolutionise Active Gaming

You may not have tried it yet, but you’ve almost certainly heard about the Virtual Reality revolution that’s been storming its way through the technology industry in the past five years. Virtual Reality (or VR) systems such as the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive use sophisticated Head-mounted displays and tracking systems to immerse the player in a 360-degree interactive environment  which they can discover and engage with in a way that no other technology is capable of doing.

Combined with emerging accessories such as the Virtuix Omni – which aims to solve the problem of running into living room furniture – VR promises to be the most realistic gaming experience available.

Active Gaming and VR go hand-in-hand, with immersion an increasingly important factor in the demands of exergamers. There are certain challenges to overcome, first and foremost to keep players from experiencing dizziness and migraines whilst in-game, but  there are already VR exergames such a VirZOOM and Widerun available to consumers.

But the potential of VR goes beyond explicitly exercise-focused games. Simple ports of modern shooters, adventure games and Triple-A titles to VR transform your favourite games into experiences that often require a significant amount of body movement – effectively become exergames in their own right – and this addresses some of the hurdles that exergames face with exercise stigma, as we discussed previously.

One major problem with VR active gaming at the moment is the cost of the hardware. Whilst it will become more affordable in the future, an Oculus headset will run you over AU $1000 at this time, and that’s not counting the cost of the Gaming PC required to power it.

There is, however a cheaper alternative. If you own a compatible smartphone, you can purchase a Google Cardboard headset for as little as $15. It might not have the same capabilities as its more expensive competitors, but it’s more than capable of providing you with fun new ways to exercise in your living room.

– EC

Have you tried out VR active gaming? Share your experiences with us using #activategamers 

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Sources:

Shaw, L., W¨unsche, B., Lutteroth, C., Marks, S. and Callies, R. (2016). Challenges in Virtual Reality Exergame Design. 1st ed. [ebook] Sydney: Australian Computer Society, pp.1-8. Available at: http://crpit.com/confpapers/CRPITV162Shaw.pdf [Accessed 19 Sep. 2016].