The Evolution Of Exergaming And How It’s Kept Pace With Technology Advancements
Exergaming--sometimes known as gamercising or fitness gaming--is the use of video games as a platform for exercise. The concept has been around since the 80s, and it seems that exergames evolve in tandem with the advancing technology of the day.
Exergaming has roots in in the virtual reality industry dating back to the early 1980s. Many early efforts involved cycling machines combined with virtual reality. It wasn’t until 1987 that the first mainstream exergame was produced. Atari released in Foot Craze, but it was quickly overshadowed a year later when Nintendo Entertainment System released the Power Pad in 1988.
In the early 90s, a combining of technology and companies brought about the Tectrix VR Bike, which allowed user to pedal through numerous virtual worlds and engage in single and multi-player games. Advancement was fairly stagnant until 1998, when Konami release Dance Dance Revolution.
Dance Dance Revolution (or “DDR,” as many of us called it back in the day) was initially only available in arcades, and aside from being an intense cardio workout, it became a phenomenon among teens and mallrats as players added additional flare to the moves required by the game. Seeing an experienced DDR gamer engaged in a full insanity mode dance session is a spectacle to behold! Eventually, Dance Dance Revolution made its way to the PlayStation gaming platform with the addition of a dance pad, and it provided an equally intense cardio workout. The PlayStation version even offered a “cardio mode,” complete with calorie counter.
The early 2000s saw many new versions of the interactive gaming bike, including Exertis, which was introduced in 2003 by Bill Gates at the Consumer Electronics Show. This era served as a “pre-game” for the arrival of the modern exergame revolution as we know it. Which company was at the helm of this revolution?
Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) introduced the Wii remote in 2006, and interactive exergaming was never the same. A year later, NES released Wii Fit, fully embracing the idea of offering an entire gaming platform dedicated to exercise. The Wii Fit set the standard in acceleration deduction and video game based exercise.
In 2010, Microsoft’s Xbox 360 raised the bar again when it introduced the Kinect, which essentially made the user’s body the remote. This technology, combined with voice recognition made the Kinect the most advanced interactive gaming system of the 21st century.
It can be argued that modern mobile phone apps, like Pokémon Go, serve as exergames because it gets the user out of the house and moving. While these types of games are far better for your health than traditional, sedentary games, it’s doubtful you’re getting a “great” workout simply by strolling through the park (or your neighbor’s backyard) while looking for imaginary creatures.
So how effective is exergaming, then?
Studies have shown that when used at intermediate or high intensity, exergaming produces proven results and health benefits. This has led to an entirely new business entity in the form of exergaming gyms.
Companies like Sym Gym Studio recognize that traditional exercising is boring, and that combining your workout with video games is a fun way to get users to actually want to hit the gym! With an ever evolving lineup of games, Sym Gym Studio will not only provide its members interactive workouts, but also challenges, tournaments and online dashboards so that they can share their results with other members.
One thing is for certain, as gaming technology continues to advance, so too will the ways in which we incorporate it with health and fitness.
Weird and Wacky History of Exercise Devices
Exercise equipment is an interesting subject. I mean, you can sculpt an intensely chiseled physique using little more than heavy rocks and logs if you want to. That’s how primitive warriors did it, and there are many athletes today that swear by the same practice of doing nothing more than throwing around heavy, natural objects to achieve their workout goals.
So when did we, as a society, decide we needed new and increasingly bizarre devices to achieve physical workouts?
It’s hard to pinpoint the exact birth date of the “weird exercise equipment revolution,” but one thing is for sure, if you look back through recent history there’s certainly no shortage of strange and often comical workout fads. What follows is a look back at some of the weirdest exercise devices the human race has strapped onto their bodies in the last 100 years or so.
Dr. Gustav Zander was a Swedish physician, famous for being one of the originators of mechanotherapy. The “abdominal kneading machine” pictured above hit the “gym scene” around 1892, and was designed to deliver rock hard abs to its user, despite looking like a medieval torture device designed to disembowel those accused of witchcraft.
Designed to simulate horseback riding, the Wondercycle Exercisulator was meant to exercise all of the principle muscle groups, and is probably one of the more practical devices on this list. I have no idea what purpose the head strap serves--it either enables you to “feel the burn” more, or it prevents you from being able to look around the gym at all the folks who are probably making fun of you.
One of the better known bizarre fitness devices, these contraptions were a staple in 50’s television shows. In theory, all you have to do is lean back against the vibrating belt and the fat cells are jiggled away, leaving you with nothing less than a knockout figure.
The most mysterious item on the list, there’s not much information available on this gem of a workout device. I assume the idea was to simply step on the mat and then rip your foot back off again.
Pretty simple…as long as you don’t have a shaggy dog living in the house.
Perhaps the most famous of weird exercise devices, the Thighmaster has been around for 30 years and is still going strong. Endorsed by Three’s Company bombshell Suzanne Somers, this last minute Christmas gift is still available today for around $30.
Six pack abs without performing a single sit-up? Not exactly.
This “exercise” fad was originally (and still is…) used for medical rehabilitation, essentially to prevent muscles from atrophying. The intensity and frequency that you’d have to wear one of these things to achieve the kind of results advertised on television would be insane. I've tried one of these out before.
They hurt like hell.
This is basically the Swiss Army Knife of workout equipment. It’s like every physical activity known to man rolled into one device.
I just don’t get it. If you want to run outside, run outside. Or walk, for that matter. If you want to cycle, then cycle. If you prefer to stay inside and work the treadmill, have at it. Nothing good can come of this contraption. To me, it’s the equivalent of crossing the streams in Ghostbusters.
There you have it--a look at some of the more memorable exercise devices we’ve seen since man first decided to take the easy way out and replace good old fashioned work with machine assisted tomfoolery. It’s hard to say what the future of trendy workout equipment has in store, but with any luck we’ll continue to set the bar and then destroy it in terms of sheer ridiculousness.
C'mon, Really, Get off the Couch
I know a weekend or a night on the couch sounds great. You get home from work, grab a bite to eat from the fridge, hopefully if you have kids you at least say hi to them, and then you kick off your shoes to nestle up in front of the TV for the latest Walking Dead episode or House of Cards Marathon or maybe you prefer to spend hours playing Call of Duty. Hopefully, you at least have someone to join you in your sluggish pursuits as you melt into the couch.
It is so easy for us to get caught up in these same routines that we forget or don't bother to sneak in some form of exercise. Trips to and from the couch to the refrigerator or the bathroom hardly count as your physical activity for the day; for real, these steps probably don't even show up on your Fitbit.
But while these couch based activities do feel like a great way to unwind after a grueling day or work week, that time could be better spent doing something to improve your health or at least something that won't literally turn you into a lump.
But if you are like me, the idea of blankly staring at a gym wall or running on city sidewalks or in the rain or snow may be a serious deterrent from getting off the couch. This means that most of the time I choose couch potato with gusto. And that is why SymGym was created. Exercise shouldn't have to be such a chore and if you prefer to spend your weekend playing video games for hours, you still can, but it will require movement on your part, much more than dragging yourself to the fridge. So do yourself a favor and get off the couch.
The History Behind the Tortuous Treadmill
Have you ever wondered why running on the treadmill feels like torture? Why exercising on a treadmill makes minutes feel like hours?
The story begins nearly 4,000 years ago. Animal powered (and often times human powered) treadmills were used to lift pails of water and later were used to grind grain, hence the term mill. However, William Cubitt, the son of a miller saw an opportunity to exploit the free labor at the prisons and also realized the potential for the treadmill to be used as punishment to deter others from committing crimes. His treadmill required several prisoners who stood side-by-side on a wheel to continuously walk upwards in a monotonous and steady fashion. Prisoners often had to work six or more hours a day. In 1824, prison guard "James Hardie wrote that it was the treadmill’s 'monotonous steadiness, and not its severity, which constitutes its terror.'" In later years, the treadmill in prisons stopped milling products and the device was used solely for torture.
It wasn't until the early 1900s that the wealthy elite, with the time and money to spare, transformed the device into a version more recognizable to the current-day treadmill, but it wasn't until the late 1960s, that treadmills became available for purchase in the home. And yet, while the current day treadmill looks vastly different from the photo above, it still elicits the same feelings of monotony and torture.
Game Play with SymGym
SymGym's four independent movements are best controlled with games that incorporate its unique resistance element. Our challenge as creators is designing (and finding designers to create) custom games that work seamlessly with these movements and that add resistance as fit, such as games that incorporate running and jumping, pushing and firing, games that incorporate picking up and throwing, pushing or pulling.
Recently, our programmers have been building on Unity, a flexible and powerful development platform for creating interactive games. Below is a sample screen of a current, simple SymGym demo game built on Unity, a Space Invaders clone, and our online metric calculator and challenge board.
Though the game is simple, the movements are mapped in a such a way to use all four controls for a maximum workout. The arm bars in this case move the players space ship to the left and right, while the foot pedals when moved together or separately control the ship's firing. The faster the player moves either the arms bars or foot pedals, the faster the ship moves and the faster the bullets fly. SymGym's resistance scales according to the player's health, score, and firing repetitions. For instance, if you fire rapidly in succession, the resistance is increased to 100% and decreases gradually over time. By incorporating a variety in the game's resistance, we hope to keep players challenged and active.
But Exercise Is Boring...
Despite recent efforts by physicians, the public, the media, and the Flotus calling for an increase in physical activity, obesity rates are still rising. According to the CDC, nearly two-thirds of adults and one third of children and adolescents in America are overweight or obese and 28% (and rising) of Americans are sedentary, as stated by PHIT America, a movement for a fit and healthy America. Why is it that despite a growing awareness calling for Americans to get moving, are we still experiencing these climbing figures?
One answer to these figures is that exercise is boring, tedious, monotonous, dull, unimaginative, repetitive, uneventful and simply not fun. Most could go all day describing how much they loathe to exercise. And that is the problem. Of course, people want to get healthy, but finding the right motivation is key!. Current workout routines, gyms, even exercise classes fall short in motivating Americans to get moving. Repetitive movements without an immediate end-goal are often not enough to continually push people to move. This results in gym memberships going unused and exercise devices becoming closet extensions.
Those that still have the desire to get fit are left searching for the little tricks and cheats to make exercise fun, or at the very least to make it less boring. Countless articles exist offering tips to improve exercise including listening to podcasts or music, walking to the grocery store as an alternative, or as one astronaut was able to do, run on a treadmill for one orbit on the International Space Station.
One place to search for exercise tips and support is Reddit (/r/Fitness/, /r/loseit), an online forum, where registered community members can submit fitness, exercise, and weight loss related content including posts, tips, and questions.
For example, Reddit users provided these tips to the fitness and weight loss communities to distract or trick people into exercising,
"If you're like me, you probably hate the idea of running. Yeah, it's boring and tiring and all you're doing is slogging along hoping to burn some calories. I used to run the loop around my neighborhood but wouldn't get very far, since it was so easy for me to just stop and walk home. I'm able to now run up to 10 miles on any given day, and I forced myself to do this with one simple trick: Let's say your goal is 3 miles. Design yourself a route...that is 1.5 miles directly away from your starting point with no easy loop back. This way when you run that 1.5 miles you have to run (or walk) the 1.5 back." -ZeppelinJo
"I'm really into music so I like to save an album or try and treat myself with them. Make myself not listen to them until it is cardio time. It is the only way I can make myself look forward to getting on the treadmill." -tatortodd
While well-meaning in their intentions, these provide little help other than to provide distraction from exercise. The workouts themselves are still monotonous and repetitive. Redditor arcadiajohnson asks the million dollar question, "How do you keep yourself engaged while working out? Is there any secret workout that I should get on that turns monotonous movements into a fun game?"
Redditors were quick to give advice. Get Creative and Play! Find a body moving, heart pounding activity that you actually like to do! Think outside of the box and get moving.
"Get creative and try an exercise that's outside the box. Join an amateur sports team. Go rock-climbing. Take a dance class." -amgov
"I'm a video game dork, and back in college I worked an arcade. Went from 200 to 145 playing DDR. Now that I'm a grown-up (and back at 225...), I bought my own DDR machine from an arcade that was closing, and put it in my basement. A little extreme, but it's all about finding something you enjoy and embracing it." -ebooksgirl
"I play pick-up basketball instead at the gym. Not only is the act of traditional cardio boring, the people that do cardio are equally as boring. No offense to anyone that stays on an elliptical for hours. I did a cardio routine for about a month and in that month, not a single person talked to each other." -DemoFly
The point is, don't pick activities that are purely exercise if you hate those activities. Choose activities that you like to do, that are fun and keep your body and mind occupied. We all know that staying fit and active is not as easy as we'd like it to be, but it is time to finally change the way we think about exercise. By all means, getting daily recommended dose of exercise does not have to mean hours on the treadmill or on the elliptical, so find ways to incorporate movement without it feeling like exercise; play exergames, play sports, or play SymGym!