Exergaming: A Worthy Exercise Alternative?

Nintendo’s release of the Wii Fit in May brought the up-and-coming gaming genre of exercise gaming, or exergaming, into the spotlight.

Suddenly, it seemed, Nintendo was challenging the long-standing stereotype of the out-of-shape gamer sitting on the couch eating potato chips. But is this new trend a valiant attempt by gaming companies to increase public health awareness, or an unnecessary tangent to the original purpose of video games?

The Wii Fit is effectively a balance board, capable of reading movement and shifts in your center of balance. It reads your weight and body mass index, and can even give you a Wii Fit Age, which tells you the physical age of your body. The numerous activities range from skiing and soccer to running and push-ups. Strength training and yoga exercises are also on the Wii Fit’s activity list; the Wii creates a 3D rendering of the ideal body position for users viewing these options.

In connection with Wii Fit’s mid-May launch event in New York, Nintendo donated US$5 to the American Heart Association for every person who jumped on the Wii balance board — up to a total of $25,000 — a move that celebrated its growing community of health-conscious videogamers.

With the Wii Fit, Nintendo is bolstering its appeal to children and families, underscoring its wholesome “fun for the whole family” image.

Innovative Applications

However, Nintendo isn’t the only organization focusing on the future of exergaming. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) recently announced the first round of grants that will go to 12 research teams.

Totaling more than $2 million, these grants will go toward research on a broad spectrum of health-based topics, from “how motion-based games may help stroke patients progress faster in physical therapy to how people in substance abuse treatment can practice skills and behaviors in the virtual world of a game to prevent real-world relapses.”

The RWJF is examining the beneficial effects of gaming to patients suffering from obesity, addiction, balance deficits, cystic fibrosis and diabetes. In all of these cases, patients need some sort of exercise program to increase their quality of life.

Exergaming may be a useful alternative to certain types of physical therapy, adding fun and an interactive element. The use of video games as healing tools is a good form of treatment in many contexts, and continues to help patients in need of alternatives to conventional approaches.

Fitness for Zombies?

The Wii Fit, however, seems to have small advantages over normal exercise for most people. In fact, disguising a balance board as a substitute for a healthy diet and exercise routine seems a disservice to Wii consumers.

The Wii Fit is limited to plyometric exercises in which the emphasis is on the operation of the balance board over the user’s movements.

The Wii Fit is also a solitary means of exercising. Other forms of physical activity involve interaction and social connectivity, while the Wii Fit gives users another reason to stay connected to a flashing screen.

With the Internet, TV, video games and computers, Americans don’t need to add exergaming to the list of things to keep you inside the house on a nice day.

1 Comment

  • While this article did a nice job mentioning the RWJF’s grant, it also brings up the usual criticism of exergaming, usually based on reading reviews of other people and not based in real-life experience.

    If Mr. Bills spent a few days at our family fitness and wellness center, the XRtainment Zone, he would see how he was off on several points. Exergaming doesn’t have to be solitary and can be very physically active. (One doesn’t call b-ball solitary based on their childhood experience playing PIG by themselves in their driveway.)

    Those of us who actually use exergames in the real world, with real people and patients, instantly see the benefits that exergaming has in getting the hardest-to-motivate kids (and adults) to be more physically active. They are also usually the ones who need it the most.

    We are also doing research to prove these points and benefits of exergaming.

    My recommendation is to actually see how exergaming works in the real world before criticizing it. You wouldn’t be the first author to retract their original statement!

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