Warning: I am by no means an expert on fitness, or in anyway qualified to give fitness advice. Everything beyond this point is entirely my own opinion. The articles intention is to help correct some common myths, that are at times prevalent in our view of fitness, and perhaps perpetuated in fitness games as well.
Trying to incorporate fitness into games is nothing new. If you walk into a games shop, you’ll still likely be able to see pre-owned wii fit copies, UFC personal trainer, Zumba and a whole host of others that probably aren’t worth mentioning.
About a year ago I was a total stranger to fitness, the closest I got to being in shape was the odd bit of riding a unicycle and I by no means did that often enough to qualify as having an “active” lifestyle.
Then I went to university, and after Christmas my flat mate pushed me into getting a gym membership and hitting the weights. From then I slowly transformed from into a fitness nerd. I couldn’t get enough, I couldn’t stop learning about every little bit of dieting I should be doing, correct form for all the various lifts. How often I should do each, how many reps, what days do I do what and so on.
Getting fit, is something that I had always wanted to do, but lacked the motivation it seemed, and this is where the problem with fitness games start to creep in.
Problem number one: Motivation
Motivation is the number one thing games should be good at in theory. A game can do wonders for you, it can track your progress so you don’t have to. Problem is, the games don’t seem to know what to track. Some will track calories burned and some will track how many times you smashed an imaginary box.
Some like Ubi’s new fitness game Shape Up, will track the number of steps or press ups, which while showing how great you are at slamming your feet at the floor, doesn’t actually tell you anything hugely useful other than you’re getting better at it. It might be the right motivation for some, but for me when I have tried games like this, I have no other way to gauge my performance other than through this game. I can’t know how far I can now run, or how much heavier stuff I can lift in real life thanks to all those push-ups.
So really, you need the game to know what the goal of a person is, to give them the right routine and the right motivation. If the persons goal is to look better, they will likely need to do more than burn calories and do lots of things really quick. They will need to build muscle to replace the fat they are losing unless their goal is to look like a famine victim , which means doing say 3 sets of 8 slow press ups instead of as many as possible in a minute, because that builds endurance. For an extreme comparison, look at marathon runners versus sprinters, one focuses almost entirely on endurance, the other on how powerful their legs are.
If the goal is to run further than before, a game will have a hard time beating running or an actual treadmill, some of which already even include game-like calorie tracking and different “levels”.
Problem Number two: Burn those calories!
Something interesting about these games obsession with calorie counting, is that they ironically tend not to teach you anything about it. After all it’s entirely useless burning a couple of hundred calories in twenty minutes if you go and eat a twix with twice what you burnt in it afterwards.
If you happened to use a fitness game to lose weight, it won’t stay like that unless you keep on doing the routine. If you stop the routine, and don’t adjust your calorific intake accordingly, you WILL put the weight back on very quickly.
Diet is 80% of fitness, sadly, and so knowing what to eat is important. If you want to do the tons of press-ups and sit-ups method some games suggest, you’ll burn muscle just as much as fat if you don’t get enough protein in your diet, which leads to that famine look.
But who wants to play a game where you learn about what to eat? So alas it’s overlooked.
Problem Number three: Dem abs
A big selling point of fitness regimes to which games are actually surprisingly less guilty of. In fact I haven’t really seen a game which out right sells itself on the six pack obsession, which I am glad about. However, I will mention it regardless, because it is an annoying myth in fitness.
You will NOT get a six pack and burn belly fat doing sit-ups. Abs are built in the gym, but they are revealed in the kitchen. What does that mean? Basically if you want a six pack, doing ab exercises will help build it up like any other muscle. However, just like any other muscle, you already have one.
“What? But I can’t see it?” That’s because it’s under belly fat, so to get it to show, you have to burn that fat away, hard. It’s not an easy task, and is rarely achieved through anything other than a very controlled diet and a good exercise regime. You won’t get abs in 3 weeks, despite a shady websites claim.
This is something games could excel at, they already get the calorie burning right (important for burning fat) and the motivation (giving you routines and scores on how well you’re doing, so you are motivated to keep it up). Yet because all of the games seem to omit something important on gimmick, they never provide anything well rounded.
Problem Number four: Gimmick
All fitness regimes you pay for, rely on gimmick. They have to, they need to sell a product. No one will buy my game, “Well rounded workouts to help you reach your goals through hard work and strict dieting”.
Games often rely on fitness fashion, when Zumba got big, we got a Zumba fitness game (likewise with yoga games, and the UFC one).
You see some odd regimes these days, from ones which sell on special forces level of fitness (tacfit) to embracing your inner animal for a workout (primal, animal flow) or just because it’s insanely hard (insanity).
You need gimmick to make something which has actually been around for hundreds of years, sound new, different and on the cutting edge. Why would you buy old timey workout regimes, when you can have the one that this ex navy seal says made him better at pulling peoples heads off.
Again, because of this gimmick, they don’t tell you that in order to pull that guys head off, the navy seal also did lots of other training with things like weights, running and dieting. They know you won’t buy the game, if you think it’s going to be anything other than easy.
Shape Up’s gimmick, is that it is fun and to be honest it looks like it will be a little bit fun. Yet it won’t probably won’t get you in the best shape, it’ll make you better at the game for sure. The problem is, in order to make it fun, Ubisoft will most certainly cut out and omit other details that stop it from really being a game about fitness.
Problem number five: You
This is the biggest problem fitness games and regimes everywhere face, and it’s not necessarily even your fault. Unfortunately as with a lot of physical things in life, we aren’t all born equal. Some of us will no doubt be better at building muscle and burning fat. Some of us will burn fat no problem, but struggle to build muscle and vice versa.
This is really where genetic science and things like body type come into play. These games tend to give everyone the same routine, or routines with different levels of difficulty. Yet if you get loads of people to try it, you will find that people struggle to get different results. This is down to a ton of different variables, that I have kind of listed above. It can be to do with your diet, your current body fat levels, muscle mass, endurance and more.
How to fix it:
I’ve spent the last 1300 words talking about what’s wrong with fitness games, and in parts fitness in general. It’s not that I don’t like fitness games, in fact it’s because they are truly squandered potential.
Fitness regimes really struggle with the issues above, and are limited usually by their dvd format. Something which apps are changing, but games can do better.
Simply put, imagine fitness games that tailored routines to you, told you what you needed to do after you gave it your true goals and helped you reach that goal with personalised nutrition ideas and games.
That’s a really basic thing, that games could already do now, where it gets really exciting is the future.
We are already seeing game “controllers” which sit you on a treadmill with a gun of sorts and an occulus rift, that’s already a fitness game there isn’t it?
Imagine ARMA games in the future, which actually require you to go through boot camp, so you’re in good enough shape to compete in online battles? It wouldn’t be for everyone sure, but I think the fact fitness games are still being made, show’s there is a market out there. In my opinion, it’s just not being done right yet.