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Final Paper: Benefits of Exergames

In our modern, fast-paced, technologically driven society, it has been increasingly difficult to not only set aside time, but to also find suitable means of pursuing regular physical activity as a part of a healthy and balanced lifestyle.  Video games have generally been stereotyped as a static activity that encourages and leads to unhealthy lifestyle habits, with the youth of America spending hours sitting in front of a television screen.  However, over the past decade, exercise video games or “exergames”, that track physical movement in some manner, have presented an effective option for those seeking alternate forms of physical exercise, as well as rehabilitation exercise.  Widely accepted across most all platforms of today’s video game market, exergames that are available today capitalize on the successful features that drive the appeal of video games, and present an option for not just gamers, but people of all generations to participate in physically demanding activity.

While most people today relate exergames with the popular releases of such games like Nintendo’s Wii Fit, exercise video game have been around for almost three decades.  One of the first systems to dive into the exercise gaming market was Atari back in 1982, with the release of their Atari Joyboard for the Atari 2600 gaming system (Jonhson).  Other notable advances in motion based tracking in video games were releases made by Nintendo in the late eighties which included the ’88 Power Pad, featuring a sensor based foot mat with games such as World Class Track Meet, and the ’89 Power Glove which has been characterized as “too sophisticated” for Nintendo’s target consumers (Johnson).  While most of these early exercise gaming platforms and games were limited to their market successes, these systems advances acted as the building blocks to the exercise gaming platforms and games e have available to us today.

As the major gaming industry unveiled its next generation consoles during the years of 2005 and 2006, which included the Nintendo Wii, Playstation 3, and the Xbox 360, exercise video games also began to evolve in tune with their consoles.  One of the principle releases in the realm of exercise video games the Nintendo Wii Fit device, which features a balance board with such game mode selections as strength training, aerobics, yoga and balance(Wii Fit Facts).  The emergence of the Wii Fit system and exercise games of similar natures sought to combat the commonplace stereotype of the static gamer, in a modern society plagued by rising obesity rates and the struggle to keep not only today’s youth, but people of all generations physically active.

With the development of these exercise video games, it has been a common assumption that exercise via an exercise video game could not be as affective or produce the same results as more traditional forms of exercise such as running on a treadmill or cycling.  This has spurned a countless number of studies in this field; comparing and analyzing data and information that may better quantify the potential benefits of exercise video games.  One such study, taking place in a laboratory type setting, compared three forms of physical activity, one of which was through the use of Nintendo’s Wii Fit system, while the other two were the more traditional forms of exercise, running via treadmill and a stationary cycling machine.

Through the conduction of this study, one of the benefits witnessed through the use of the Nintendo Wii Fit system was a consistent lower perceived rate of exertion values, while the calculated heart rate of the participants of this physical exercise study remained the same as the previously mentioned forms of exercise (treadmill and stationary cycle).  This is an important result, as this shows the potential of exercise video games, such as the Nintendo Wii Fit, to achieve the same if not better results during physical activity, while providing a better sense of enjoyment through the video game interface, as evident in the participants reported exertion while performing physical activity via the Wii Fit system (Devereaux, pg139).  Exercise video games, like the Wii Fit, capitalize on many on the successful attributes of static video game play in order to encourage an effective session of physical activity.

As the use of the Wii Fit system caused the users to participate in physical activity at lower apparent exertion rates, it is important to consider the effects of “game flow” in these exercise video games have on the gamers.  Integral to the success and prolonged use of a video game, game flow is the ability for the user to become fully immersed in the aesthetics of the game, allowing for a rewarding and gratifying experience.  In another form of exercise based gaming, various dance themed games have been developed and make up a significant portion of the realm of exercise video games.  While some of these dance themed games enjoy varying successes in terms of yielding effective exercise results, it is apparent that in game flow plays a quintessential role in the vary success and rate of effective exercise experienced by the user.  Such dance based video games as the cross-platform, open source game StepMania have been seen to allow users to experience a state of game flow, and thus attaining higher levels of energy expenditure and more effective physical activity (Bronner).

However not all exercise games have been show to produce the same levels of success as StepMania, such as the exercise game Dance Central developed for the Xbox Kinect, where such in game aesthetics as load time and difficulty navigating through menus resulted in the diminished ability to obtain a sense of in game flow (Bronner).  In order to attain more effective and prolonged use of these exercise games, there are many facets and aspects that developers may need to take into account when creating games and technologies for these motion tracking based video games.

While certain aspects like loading screens and menu navigation certainly impact the users experience when utilizing these types of games for physical activity purposes, studies have shown the stress placed on how these games track motion, and the correlation between how motion is tracked versus the perception of enjoyment or game flow value.  When comparing the way motion is tracked, studies have shown that full body tracking motion gave gamers a higher level of enjoyment versus games that utilized single limb motion tracking, while simultaneously producing similar heart rate levels during physical activity  (Thin).  Such data must be taken into account while developing and designing games, as this stresses the need for balance between the skill level of the gamer and the perceived challenge of the exercise game (Thin).

Another area of concern when considering the potential of physical activity through exercise video games is the appeal to users for continued use of these devices over a long period of time.  In a study conducted over the span of six weeks comparing traditional cycling on a standard bicycle with exercise on a GameBike via Playstation2, a television monitor, and a game compatible with the GameBike controller system such as Gran Turismo or Need for Speed, the outcome showed that the participants in the exercise video game group attended more than 71 percent of the scheduled session while only 42 percent of the sessions were attended by the traditional cycle group (Rhodes, 633).  This information is prevalent in demonstrating that exercise video games can effectively present an appeal that allow individuals to continue to pursue exercise in a manner that more traditional forms of exercise have lacked over the years.

Continuing on the video game twist on traditional cycling, many gyms across the country have incorporated a new technology with the standard stationary cycling machine seen in the gym.  Known as the Expresso Bike, this technology adheres a computer monitor that not only allows the user to navigate and cycle through over thirty potential virtual environments, but also is one of the most successful examples of incorporating a sense of competition in its users.  The Expresso Bike allows you to compete against others in the gym at the same time, or you can compete against your friends through the integration with social media sites like Facebook and Twitter (Saenz).  Also incorporated in this device are different mini-games that continue to encourage competition, such as a mode that allows users to cycle after moving targets (Saenz).  This device designed by Interactive Fitness Holdings is an advancement in gym technology that capitalizes and incorporates concepts of exercise video games that encourage users to not only participate in physical activity, but continually push their efforts in a positive direction.

Not only do the aesthetics, appeal, and attributes previously discussed of video games in general affect a positive alternative option to achieve exercise activity, but the cost effectiveness of these systems as compared to more traditional gym and fitness equipment.  While equipment like treadmills and stationary cycle machines can run into the thousands of dollars, exercise video game systems like the Nintendo Wii Fit can be purchased for roughly a couple hundred dollars.  Cost effectiveness is defiantly one of the attributes attached to exercise conducted with these systems, as they present a lower cost to start up and maintain than more traditional gym equipment.

Aside from utilizing exercise video games to achieve daily physical activity as part of a healthy lifestyle, these types of games may also be of importance when presenting alternate methods of performing rehabilitation type exercises for certain types of injuries.  In studies regarding patients who suffer from brain injuries that have affected their ability to balance, as well as ability to walk, and issues with falling, video games utilizing pressure based balance boards have been show to positively enhance the rehabilitation process of these afflicted patients (Betker).  Not only do the physical benefits of rehabilitation exercises via video games demonstrate the potential of these systems, but the ability to easily transport these exergames and program them for the specific needs of a given participant make exergaming a potentially revolutionary concept for the health and medical field (Betker).

In such specific cases as a 41-year-old patient who suffered from a closed traumatic brain injury and was unable to do more than twenty to thirty seconds of standing balance exercise, the ability to pursue rehabilitation via an exercise based video gaming altered completed.  Upon completion of this program, this particular patient was able to increase not only the duration of his rehabilitation sessions from ten minutes to forty minutes, but also maintain a standing balance position of up to ten minutes (Betker).  This drastic improvement through the use of video game based exercise methods demonstrates the great potential for the implementation of systems like these in the health field.

Another area in the medical field has been the implementation of exercise video games in the rehabilitation process of ACL tears, a common injury among many sports athletes.  Such athletes as the National Football League linebacker Kenny Pettway have taken advantage of these exergames and have gone on to be a spokesman for the benefits of rehabilitation through exercise video games stating, “It’s more challenging.  It’s a little bit more fun because you’re playing a game and trying to beat your score.  At the end, it gives you a graph and matches your scores up from the previous weeks.” (Lemus).  Progress with the continued use of these games has seen impressive improvements with the rehabilitation process of theses kinds of ACL tears, with participants such as Pettway being able to move without crutches after a couple of months of participation in these programs (Lemus).

In conclusion, it is apparent that exercise video games not only have played an impactful role in the pursuit of regular physical activity as well as rehabilitation with injuries, but also will continued to alter and present alternative methods of physical exercise in the near future.  In a society plagued by rising obesity rates and constant challenges to attain recommended levels of physical activity, it is important to consider all types of exercise video games as potential outlets to the more traditional methods of exercising.  With the coming of the next generation of consoles into the market place, so to will exercise video games continue to develop and present an option to promote a healthy lifestyle.

Works Cited

Betker, A., T. Szturm, Z. Moussavi, and C. Nett. “Video Game–Based Exercises for Balance Rehabilitation: A Single-Subject Design.” Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation 87.8 (2006): 1141-149. Print.

Bronner, Shaw, Russell Pinsker, and J. Adam Noah. “Energy Cost and Game Flow of 5 Exer-games in Trained Players.” American Journal of Health Behavior (2013): 369-80. Print.

Devereaux, Julie. “Comparison of Rates of Perceived Exertion between Active Video Games and Traditional Exercise.” International SportMed Journal (2012): 133-40. Comparison between Nintendo Wii Fit Aerobics and Traditional Aerobic Exercise in Sedentary Young Adults. Web. 24 June 2013.

Johnson, Joel. “From Atari Joyboard to Wii Fit: 25 Years of “exergaming”.” – Boing Boing Gadgets. N.p., 2008. Web. 27 June 2013.

Lemus, Richard. “Medical Reports: Video Game For ACL Tears.” Medical Reports. Janna Owen, 2009. Web. 27 June 2013.

Rhodes, Ryan E. “Interactive.” Health Games Research. N.p., n.d. Web. 27 June 2013.

Saenz, Aaron. “Video Game Exercise Bikes Ride onto the Social Network | Singularity Hub.” Singularity Hub. N.p., 2010. Web. 28 June 2013.

Thin, Alasdair. “User Experiences While Playing Dance-Based Exergames and the Influence of Different Body Motion Sensing Technologies.” User Experiences While Playing Dance-Based Exergames and the Influence of Different Body Motion Sensing Technologies. N.p., 2013. Web. 27 June 2013.

“Wii Fit Facts.” GamerFitNationcom Wii Fit Facts Comments. N.p., n.d. Web. 27 June 2013.

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