Skip to main content

Virtual Sports, Real Fitness

Visalia Direct: Virtual Valley
March 2008 Issue
February 10, 2008

Virtual Sports, Real Fitness

Middle schools are using the video game Dance Dance Revolution as part of gym class. Senior citizens are forming bowling leagues that compete using Nintendo Wii Bowling. Virtual activities that once exercised nothing more than thumbs are turning into real workouts and real fitness.

Reports of teens shedding pounds playing video games have appeared in several newspapers, as well as being featured on CNN. The University of Tennessee is even studying the effectiveness of using Dance Dance Revolution to help motivate severely obese adolescents.

I admit that I won’t be using “DDR” until there is a “Classic Rock” edition, but some of the other virtual activities I have seen recently have me intrigued. In fact, I’m starting to think there are some benefits to the virtual world.

Recently, I wandered into one of those stores that specialize in expensive toys for adults. Normally, I sit in one of their heated massage chairs, imagining I could afford the robotic chess set with an arm that moves the pieces. Not this time. They had indoor golf for your house. This was amazing.
You use your real golf clubs and real golf balls, indoors. A net stops the ball, with special sensors measuring the direction and speed of the ball. The results of your swing are displayed on a television. It’s like any video game version of golf, except for the price. For “under $4000” the salesman in French cuffs told me, you get the basic setup and one course.

 Another December foggy day? No problem. Too hot in August for an afternoon tee time? No problem. You can play golf anytime, on any major course in the world. I admit, I’m not a golfer, but something this cool might convince me to try.

I do own an exercise bike, though, and the I-Magic Fortius cycling simulator is astonishing. You place your real bike frame in a special mount and then “ride” your bike on famous trails, through real cities, or even in the Tour de France. Unfortunately, the salesman couldn’t tell me the price. “It’s just a demonstration model, for now.” My wife is probably glad to hear that.

I absolutely love cycling in the foothills around Visalia, but cycling does include some risks. A few years ago, I managed to need surgery after a bike ride to Badger. Clearly, the I-Magic with a simulator of Sequoia or Yosemite would be great option, especially during the winter months.
Would having an I-Magic be any better than my “plain” exercise bike with its multiple training programs? Probably not, assuming I rode the same amount of miles through similar virtual terrain.

But, wouldn’t the I-Magic be motivational?

That’s the question physicians and psychologists are asking about DDR and the various Wii sports. Do these games motivate more activity than basic exercise equipment? I believe they might.

With the Wii costing less than other video game consoles, it’s no wonder my students are jumping, pitching, and swinging. I’m more impressed that their grandparents are doing the same.

One reason these games are different is that they are social. When I talk to my students, they talk about getting together to dance, bowl, golf, or play tennis with their Nintendo Wii consoles. Unlike the first-person shooter games with lots of violence and no socially redeeming qualities, the Wii is bringing real humans together.

They say it is easier to exercise with a partner, and my own experience is that activities are a lot more fun with a group. Whether it is working as a team or competing against a friend that is the attraction, the Wii brings humans together. It’s no accident the game unit’s name is pronounced “we” — Nintendo was on to something special.

I’ll admit to struggling with the Wii when I tried a version of miniature golf. Using a motion-sensitive controller to swing a club takes time to master, but even my attempts to putt were entertaining. The Wii gives you the ability to laugh at yourself. Honestly, it’s hard to look serious when you are “putting” with something that looks like a television remote.

Physical therapists are now using the Wii because of that little remote control. The device is light, almost too light. For people with serious injuries that affect range of motion, the controller is invaluable. Instead of struggling to move small weights, physical therapy patients can focus on movements. Exercises with swinging arms, rotating hands, and bending elbows must sometimes be done repeatedly during such therapies. I know, because I have had this form of boring physical therapy. I don’t think I ever did the required number of repetitions.

Now, imagine the same therapy, but with a virtual bowling ball. Not only is the patient still swinging his or her arm, the patient is enjoying it. Instead of quitting before the suggested number of repetitions, the patient might bowl for thirty minutes. This makes the Wii pretty special.

For senior citizens forming bowling leagues and holding Wii nights, there is a chance to be a kid again. I’ve watched grandparents playing with the Wii retail displays. They look around, as if trying to make sure no one sees, then they proceed to play tennis or bowl. They smile and laugh. I’ve also seen a few ask about buying a Wii “for the grandchildren.”

I will admit, I have not seen these shoppers purchase Dance Dance Revolution pads. I suspect this might be because our parents and grandparents actually knew how to dance and didn’t need lighted pads to guide them. Still, I’m sure there will be an edition for every generation.

A student has informed me that she buys every new “mix” of DDR. Apparently, you can buy everything from Disney soundtracks to disco editions of DDR. She dances in her apartment, along with a roommate, when it is too cold to jog or go to the campus gym. I asked her if she ever feels silly dancing to Disney songs as a college student.

“Feeling silly is part of the fun,” she reminded me.


Popular posts from this blog

Comic Sans Is (Generally) Lousy: Letters and Reading Challenges

Specimen of the typeface Comic Sans. (Photo credit: Wikipedia) Personally, I support everyone being able to type and read in whatever typefaces individuals prefer. If you like Comic Sans, then change the font while you type or read online content. If you like Helvetica, use that.

The digital world is not print. You can change typefaces. You can change their sizes. You can change colors. There is no reason to argue over what you use to type or to read as long as I can use typefaces that I like.

Now, as a design researcher? I'll tell you that type matters a lot to both the biological act of reading and the psychological act of constructing meaning. Statistically, there are "better" and "worse" type for conveying messages. There are also typefaces that are more legible and more readable. Sometimes, legibility does not help readability, either, as a type with overly distinct letters (legibility) can hinder word shapes and decoding (readability).

One of the co…

Let’s Make a Movie: Digital Filmmaking on a Budget

Film camera collection. (Photo credit: Wikipedia) Visalia Direct: Virtual Valley
June 5, 2015 Deadline
July 2015 Issue

Every weekend a small group of filmmakers I know make at least one three-minute movie and share the short film on their YouTube channel, 3X7 Films.

Inspired by the 48-Hour Film Project (, my colleagues started to joke about entering a 48-hour contest each month. Someone suggested that it might be possible to make a three-minute movie every week. Soon, 3X7 Films was launched as a Facebook group and members started to assemble teams to make movies.

The 48-Hour Film Project, also known as 48HFP, launched in 2001 by Mark Ruppert. He convinced some colleagues in Washington, D.C., that they could make a movie in 48 hours. The idea became a friendly competition. Fifteen years later, 48HFP is an international phenomenon, with competitions in cities around the world. Regional winners compete in national and international festivals.

On a Friday night, teams gathe…

Edutainment: Move Beyond Entertaining, to Learning

A drawing made in Tux Paint using various brushes and the Paint tool. (Photo credit: Wikipedia) Visalia Direct: Virtual Valley
November 2, 2015 Deadline
December 2015 Issue

Randomly clicking on letters, the young boy I was watching play an educational game “won” each level. He paid no attention to the letters themselves. His focus was on the dancing aliens at the end of each alphabet invasion.

Situations like this occur in classrooms and homes every day. Technology appeals to parents, politicians and some educators as a path towards more effective teaching. We often bring technology into our schools and homes, imagining the latest gadgets and software will magically transfer skills and information to our children.

This school year, I left teaching business communications to return to my doctoral specialty in education, technology and language development. As a board member of an autism-related charity, I speak to groups on how technology both helps and hinders special education. Busin…