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Combating Child Obesity: Helping Kids Feel Better by Doing What They Love
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Combating Child Obesity: Helping Kids Feel Better by Doing What They Love

June 10, 2008 Article Start Previous Page 2 of 5 Next

A Brief History of Exergames

We understand that a problem exists, but what can be done about it? I won't bore you with a comprehensive history of exercise-based games (exergames), but products have been released since the eighties that merged movement and gaming like Nintendo's Power Pad. The majority of existing (and defunct) exergames are either sports-related or training simulators.

Despite the blockbuster success of a few products such as Dance Dance Revolution (see DDR champs in action), there seems to be a social stigma with most exergames that prevents them from being more fully embraced to transcend generations like such classics as Super Mario Bros., Legend of Zelda, and Final Fantasy.

Let's assume that DDR has defied this stigma, at least from a sales perspective. The core gameplay of the original game and its dozens of spin-offs is essentially "Simon Says" with vertically scrolling arrows. The player is limited by the very specific commands that the dance calls for: step left, right, forward, back, etc.

This simple gameplay works brilliantly for this type of game. After all, the player is learning how to move in rhythm with a pre-determined musical track, so the designers spell out an effective way for them to succeed.

This specific control provides feedback to the player, ultimately resulting in a letter grade for their performance. Still, underneath the surface, DDR simply uses a waterfall of arrow commands, limiting the possible choices and creativity of the player.

Nintendo's World Class Track Meet

Another pioneer of exergaming is Nintendo's World Class Track Meet Power Pad game. The player was confined to a straightforward track and could only move forward by running in place. This made sense for that type of game.

Why would anyone ever want to go backwards or turn in a 40 yard dash? All you have to do in a race is run (or jump, in the case of hurdles). These were extremely limited controls, but like DDR, it made sense for the context of the game.

An Exercise Epic?

With these two examples in mind, what if it was possible to move beyond the restrictions that have been assumed by existing exergames? What if a game was built in the vein of a Zelda or Dungeons & Dragons epic with free navigability and exploration? Could we take inspiration from the action-adventure genre to create an active-adventure? This is exactly what our team is trying to do.

The seven members of our team come from diverse backgrounds, but we all agree on one thing: we love the experience action-adventure video games can provide. While we all grew up playing different games, we took our disparate perspectives and agreed that there has never been an exergame that molded traditional elements of adventure gaming with active "exercise-based" inputs.

According to the ESA, over 40% of game sales are accounted for by action, adventure, and RPG-style games. Furthermore, many RPG fans are in dire need of additional activity of some sort, as the very nature of RPGs consists of countless hours of sitting still.

This goes to show that there are plenty of non-sports gamers longing to escape to fantasy worlds, so why has the action-adventure/RPG genre been neglected when it comes to exergames?

While there are always exceptions, it can be argued that many D&D adventurers dislike traditional organized sports and exercise. Perhaps this market has seemingly been ignored because there aren't any exergames that have been tailored to their tastes.

The stereotype of the lethargic adventurer sitting in a computer chair exists, but what if these gamers had a product to choose that would allow them to play with all the components they love in a game -- just in an active manner?

The success of the Nintendo Wii led us to believe that a game could be created that would successfully answer this question. The Wii remote allows a player to move their arm to swing a sword without pressing a button as in No More Heroes or Zelda, potentially simulating upper-body exercise.

Encouraging full upper-body range was a nice idea, but we wanted to differentiate ourselves further. After all, Wii owners now realize that they don't have to swing their entire arm to return a tennis volley in Wii Sports or finish off a foe in the Wii version of Dragon Quest Swords; a simple wrist flick will do, hardly replicating significant activity.

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