Earlier this year, a study published in the journal Pediatrics found that five games that are marketed with the promise of increasing players’ physical fitness produced no actual difference in activity. 78 kids between 9 and 12 were given Wii consoles, and then one group was given a couple of exergames while a control group was given “inactive” games like Madden and Mario Kart. The kids wore devices to measure their physical activity, and they kept logs of when they played.To be certain, the study was performed by a very accomplished group of researchers. The lead author, Tom Baranowski of Baylor College, is one of the most widely published researchers of health games. And this was a very well-designed study, printed in the foremost journal on children’s health.Nevertheless, the study should not be read to mean that games can’t affect physical activity and can’t have a positive impact on public health. That’s because it didn’t account for the most influential factor in a health game’s impact — its design. Five different exergames were included in the study:
Although all of these games are marketed with the promise of improving health, there’s no reason to believe that they’re actually designed to do so. If they can be sold on the basis of perception alone, that that’s all they really need to be commercially successful.And I don’t believe that these 5 games are sincere, well-informed efforts to truly motivate players to adopt active exercise routines. Dance Dance Revolution has players step backward and forward repeatedly, but the dances are not programmed with regard to the physical rigor of those motions. Many of the games in Wii Sports require very little body movement at all. Wii Fit has a few lightweight step routines, but the game as a whole doesn’t promote the kind of sustained physical exertion you would expect from a real trainer’s program.Design makes all the difference. Yes, Baranowski et al. demonstrates that the designs of these five games in particular have no effect on physical activity. No surprise there, I don’t believe that was the intention behind them. Games that are specifically designed to persuade players to get up and move, rigorously, on a long-term basis are much more likely to have a real imact on health. I don’t know of any exergames that are doing this really well right now, but it’s a great opportunity for designers who want to make a real difference.
- Active Life – Extreme Challenge
- EA Sports Active
- Dance Dance Revolution – Hottest Party 3
- Wii Fit Plus
- Wii Sports