As a long time gamer, I’m overjoyed to see games moving into other areas of life through the process of gamification (check out this video to learn all about it). However, I’m left with a sense of un-fulfillment. I’m not here to question its effectiveness based on whether it passes or fails, but rather if it is always the best method.
There is no denying that the video games industry has exploded with growth and opportunities. Our own technology allows us the ability to do far more than we were able to even 5 years ago. Even so, I question the direction the industry is taking. In particular, I’d like to question the gap that developers are trying to bridge between video games and personal fitness.
Before I dive in, let me give a quick history of my personal health. When I was younger, I played sports and was fairly active outside. I was always in great aerobic shape even though my muscle development was never all that high. However, starting in late college, I stopped practically all forms of continuous exercise and over the next 5 years, my body continued to deteriorate where I lost most all of my aerobic endurance and gained 30-40 pounds. Since then, I’ve embarked upon a lifestyle change to get back into shape (as many of you who follow me on Twitter will already know).
That being said, let’s talk about the gamification of personal health and the use of video games as exercise. This blog is NOT to question their effectiveness. Having tried many of them, I can say that most of their exercise routines can be quite vigorous and challenging. After all, the key to any long term fitness regime is consistency which ultimately comes down to the person themself and not the game.
However, I wonder whether games are truly conducive to long term regimes and routines. From what I see, I don’t believe they are. I find that the novelty of them disappears at an alarming rate. When I talk to my friends who own a Wii balance board, EA Sports Active, or even games like Just Dance, etc, most will say that they use/play them infrequently. Again, this proves the importance of consistency. I don’t believe that the lack of use comes down to an error of the game, but rather our natural aversion to exercise.
I currently work out 7 days a week at the gym in our apartment complex. I have a standard time that I usually go to workout. Because of that, I usually see the same group of people in the gym. While I don’t know any of their names and they don’t know mine, we subconsciously hold each other accountable. When I came back from a 4 day vacation with my wife, I was asked where I was and what I had been up to my first day back in the gym. Not out of malice, anger, or judgment, but rather out of curiosity.
This is something that, as of right now, I don’t feel the industry can make up. Sure, they can move these games to a more community based system with other players online, but it still doesn’t compensate or compete with having that sense of community with real people in person, even if they are complete strangers.
However, you may disagree, so let me approach this from another direction. Video Games, by nature, are a very insular past-time and hobby. They generally require us to be in one place for prolonged periods of time. Don’t get me wrong, I’m no stranger to the 10+ hour marathon gaming sessions (much to my wife’s frustration at times). However, the gamification of fitness doesn’t help this inherent problem. Our bodies require things like sun, interaction with others, and time spent in other locations just as much for our physical health as our mental health. Fitness related video games largely keeps us insulated from the outside world. I feel the same way about home video workouts
To be honest, I don’t consider myself much of an extrovert. Truthfully, at the end of the day, I would classify myself as an introvert. This helps me in the sense that I can work from home without getting too stir crazy. However, I never knew that getting out for 30-60 minutes a day to exercise would have such a positive impact on my physical and mental endurance. I would no longer wakeup on Friday morning and realize that I haven’t been out of the house for a week or more.
Fitness video games, as they currently stand, cannot make up for this or offer a competitive alternative option. There are some small positive steps being taken like the built in pedometer into the Nintendo 3DS, but I don’t believe we’re seeing enough. Some non-game companies are implementing gamification in positive ways. For instance, the Garmin watch that I use allows me to set certain parameters that I try to match and/or beat. For instance, I can set my mile time at 10 minutes and it tracks how far ahead or behind I am. They force me to get out of my normal environment. Until the game developers can find a way to get us out of our element, I fear that their true potential will not be met.
Let me say this. If video games are the only way that you feel you will be able to exercise and get into better shape, then please do not let this blog discourage you from doing just that. I am not arguing against their effectiveness in helping people get into shape. However, I would encourage everyone to NOT overlook the power of getting out of the house and getting some exercise somewhere else. I also implore developers to try and find ways to allow gamers to use their games outside of the house and away from the TV. If we can find a way to truly bridge the gap between gamers and fitness, we may have the opportunity to help combat the overwhelming amount of obesity in our society.