It’s not unusual to find that most people that play video-games are not particularly keen on the idea of doing physical exercise of any kind. You’ll find that quite a lot of them are satisfied with just exercising their hands with a controller. However, it’s often the case that the reason behind this runs deeper than a simple dislike of doing any physical activities.
Speaking from experience, I was someone who as a teenager was not only what would be classified as overweight/obese, but an easy target for the other fit kids to mock during physical education classes and in the changing room. It got to a point where I would actively avoid going to physical education classes by finding places to hide in, such as the library. This targeted harassment meant that I used many outlets such as games to not dwell on the various insults that would be hurled at me whenever I was forced to do a physical education class.
In recent years, a fascinating new trend started to emerge where companies decided to make better use of how physical exercise could be done with games hardware. Although exercise games software had been released in the market since the likes of Yourself! Fitness had been released on the PlayStation 2, it never seemed to gain the attention of the general public in quite the same way as in recent years.
With the release of the revolutionary Nintendo Wii, Nintendo had opened up a new world of opportunities for those who found it difficult to do exercise. Although I had lost a significant amount of weight after a growth spurt in my late teenage years, I still lacked the confidence to exercise in public, let alone finding the motivation to do it. The release of such titles as Wii Sports and other motion supported titles meant that me and a lot of other Nintendo Wii owners were suddenly using more than their hands for playing games. However, it was not until I tried Wii Fit at a public demonstration, used to drum up attention for its release, that I truly felt like I had started to find interest in doing physical exercise.
I wasn’t alone since the Wii Fit and its ingenious balance board hardware was sold out for weeks after launch. Suddenly, the latest fitness trend wasn’t the latest exercise DVD released by a celebrity. Instead it was a game aimed at those of us who didn’t feel quite so confident about doing exercise. Like many others, I found myself enthralled by its yoga and cardio programs. I would enthusiastically check back on a regular basis to see if I could improve different factors such as posture and how many calories I burned.
To put it quite simply, Wii Fit managed to slowly help me to build up my confidence in my capability in doing exercise. It did so in an ingenious manner as well, since it still felt like I was playing a game because of the various stats and gamer friendly interface elements. The rise of popularity in exercise games with the general public saw the release of many other games with tougher exercise programs that no doubt helped others from similar backgrounds as mine.
Although the trend has mostly died by now with Nintendo seeing diminishing returns with the latest release of Wii Fit on the Nintendo Wii U, there is no doubt that it proved that video-games could be used to encourage people to exercise. Whilst a significant portion of its users might have tucked away the Wii Fit balance board in storage or any other games related exercise equipment, it probably had long-term effects for some of its users.
The prolonged use of Wii Fit made me curious to try joining a gym after it helped me to build up the courage to do so. As luck would have, the gym happened to have an excellent number of classes and yoga was one of them. Whilst the relatively simple poses that Wii Fit taught me and its slow paced nature definitely didn’t prepare me for the intensity of doing yoga sequences for an hour, it was the main reason that I decided to give it a go. Now over a year and a half later I am still practicing yoga and feel like it’s one of the best decisions that I’ve made in my life. Not to mention the various other classes and equipment that I make use of on a regular basis at the gym to continue to challenge myself. If a game about doing exercise can have this effect on someone who was so adverse to doing it, then imagine how many people the likes of Wii Fit and EA Sports Active have managed to reach out to.
What is so great about making use of these fitness games is that they don’t force the users to work on certain sports. At school, teenagers are often forced to do popular sports like football and basketball and this is absolutely fine for those that enjoy it. Those that don’t are left with a negative view of exercising and fitness games might help to change that because they also show that doing exercise can be fun. Also, many of the activities that can be done in these games are usually avoided by men and so it could make it easier for them to try them.
Which is why doing an activity like yoga is perfect for some since it’s not about being the best at doing every pose, but instead it’s finding a reason to come back to the mat – it could be to find inner peace or just to work on being more flexible. If a game like Wii Fit can show people this and potentially get them to start exercising out in the real world, then it’s more than enough proof of the positive impact that games can have in people. It will certainly be interesting to see how this trend evolves in the near future.