Are Games and Workout Machines Crossing Over?

Will Your Next Game Console Make You Sweat?

A recent article about exercise equipment with gaming features caught my eye recently: Nexersys, a new Austin-based workout machine maker, is pointing out that videogames and exercise equipment are reaching convergence. It’s worth taking a look at this crossover phenomenon.

Fitness is a huge industry, and entertainment is already trickling into the gym. People want flat-screens on their treadmills to take their minds off their workouts. Other gym equipment taps into natural competitive instincts with simple videogames.

At the same time, gaming has always been a hotbed for accessories that extend the fantasy, from lightguns to plastic guitars to the Wii Fit. Maybe a device like Nexersys’ iPower — a striking simulator with seven punching pads and an LCD monitor that provides training and feedback — is the next stage in the crossover.

Action Games Are Getting More Active

Have you been jumping up and down in front of your TV lately? A lot of folks have been, now that Sony and Microsoft have tossed their motion-sensing input systems into the market.

One caveat in the “gaming workout” or “exercise gaming” sector is the form factor. It’s hard to control safety and ergonomics when gamers can be playing in all kinds of environments. Nintendo certainly experienced some amusing embarrassment in this regard when reports of Wiimote-flinging destruction caused them to issue safety wriststraps.

Traditionally, these kinds of games have been a better fit for the arcades, simply because the equipment for sensing a game player’s movements wasn’t available on a computer or game console. Dance Dance Revolution, Time Crisis, House of the Dead, all arcade draws. The arcade was the home of novelty input devices. Now, as arcades are fading into oblivion, that barrier has been shattered.

A Better Experience?

Although there’s a masochistic pride in mastering the universe with two tiny plastic joysticks, I believe most gamers would rather dominate with lifelike actions than with a controller. Some would argue that motion sensors and “exercise gaming” are the next stage in a button-mashing, casual-gaming flaming descent into the Great Sellout. However, these new methods of gaming are new and — in the case of the Wii, Kinect, and Move — tantalizingly well-distributed. If the market is big enough, these games can be as hardcore and diverse as any we’ve experience with a controller or keyboard. Motion-sensing gameplay has the potential to introduce all kinds of new ideas and gameplay.

At some point, though, the pleasure in realism starts to break down. Few gamers want to run 26 miles at Murchison High to get the track and field high score in their Olympics game. And should games require players to crawl on their hands and knees to sneak up on foes in the next Metal Gear game? Would you ask your mother to crawl around to play a game? Would you want your Nexersys machine to punch back? It’ll be interesting to see how game designers handle this problem as the games mature.

Will Nexersys and other workout hardware makers like Bowflex and Nordic Track horn in on Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo? I wouldn’t put money on that particular angle. But if Tony Hawk can make his own custom skateboarding controller, why can’t these muscular brands get in on the action?

Who knows. Maybe the next time we hear about “gaming” and “exercise” in the same breath, the story won’t be about childhood obesity but instead life-transforming fitness.

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