It's been a while since I've embarked on a quest to find the best exergame aka geek friendly exercise, and throughout the course of my journey I've tried out many different games (mainly on Playstation 2 and Nintendo Wii), so I thought I'd do a little overview of what you can expect to gain from different types of exergames.
Casual Exergames: Lots of Fun with Friends
Examples: Wii Sports, Mario Cart Wii
Most Wii games fall into this category and I would also include games supposedly more focused on exercise, like Wii Sports. These games count on a limited amount of moves, and you don't even have to invest a lot of effort into the right moves to make it through the game. The focus is on fun rather than burning calories and these games usually won't hold your attention for long.
So, don't be fooled by the Sports in the title; these games won't really prepare you for any real sport, but the plus side is that they really are a lot of fun to play when you're having friends over!
Medium Intensity Exergames: Balancing Fun and Exercise
Examples: Dance Dance Revolution (DDR), Eye Toy Kinetic, We Cheer, Wii Fit
The games in this category can be quite demanding, especially if played on higher difficult levels, although they sometimes don't get your whole body moving (for instance, We Cheer is mostly a good exercise for your arms). But be prepared to spend a lot of time navigating menus, choosing exercises, songs and what not. Also, be prepared to invest some time in making sure your moves are detected properly, which can be quite frustrating and can spoil your immersion in the game. However, if everything works fine, these games provide a lot of fun and some exercise, but a lot of time is lost on pointless tasks (and if you're out of luck, a cumbersome navigation through menus).
The bottom line is: if you invest enough energy in these games, they can make you sweat, but you have to play these games a whole lot (read: at least an hour per session) before getting any real results.
High Intensity Exergames: Emphasizing Exercise
Examples: My Fitness Coach (Wii)
Interestingly enough, the highest intensity exergame I found for the Wii doesn't even use the motion sensing abilities of the Wiimote or the Wii Balance Board. It's just a continuos exercise routine that really gets you moving around. It's up to you to make sure you're doing the right thing, but if you're interested in getting fit, you should have the motivation for that anyway. What I like about My Fitness Coach is that you only have to choose the duration and daily focus of your workout, and everything else is done for you. No wasting time on menus, you're just asked to assess the difficulty of the workout after completing major sections, so that the next workouts can be adjusted accordingly. A great feature is also that you are asked to do a Physical Challenge every 10 workouts, so you can really track how your workout affects different parts of your body.
All in all, My Fitness Coach is a real exercise that will can have real effects on your fitness level if you decide to stick with it. And it's a nice way to get prepared for more difficult forms of exercise if you're starting from scratch.
Leaving the Game Consoles: Nothing Beats the Real Deal
Nike+ iPod Sports Kit a try. While it's not a true exergame, it's a great gadget that can keep you motivated and provides real-time feedback during your runs. After every run, I love to see how the latest run compares to previous ones, compete in different online challenges with or against other runners and set personal goals to beat.
As you can see from my profile, I haven't been using Nike+ for long, but I find it very easy to decide to go for a run after seeing how close I am to a goal or how other runners are beating my distance. Nike+ brings elements of games to real exercise and that I think is the winning combination.
Exergames: Easy Start and a Filler Activity
So, what exactly is the role of exergames then? Are they worth it?
If you're looking for something that will help you to get up from the couch, I'd suggest starting with some of the Medium Intensity Exergames I listed and then progress to Higher Intensity or outdoor activities. Having fun can really make you appreciate exercise and I found less intensive games like Wii Fit to be a great way to get used to regular workouts, but you'll probably soon feel the desire to progress to something more demanding (especially if you want visible results).
Apart from providing an easy start, exergames can also provide you with an exercise option on days when you feel like taking a little break, but still want to workout. For example, my current workout routine includes Nike+ running around 3 times a week and My Fitness Coach in between to strengthen specific body muscles. And when I just feel like having fun, a dose of We Cheer can also provide some light exercise.
To sum it up: exergames do have some positive effects, but don't rely on exergames alone to get fit. I can certainly recommend using them as a fun way to encourage and maintain regular exercise - but don't forget that there are also gadgets like Nike+ that can make serious outdoor activity more enjoyable.
Note: This is just an archive post. The blog has moved to a new home at blog.ialja.com, where you will also find a copy of the entire blog.