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Exergaming or exer-gaming (a portmanteau of "exercise" and "gaming")[1] is a term used for video games that are also a form of exercise.[2] The genre has been credited with upending the stereotype of gaming as a sedentary activity, and promoting an active lifestyle.[3][4]

The genre's roots can be found in games released in the late eighties, including Power Pad (or Family Trainer) for the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) and Foot Craz for the Atari 2600, although both had limited success.[5] Konami's Dance Dance Revolution was cited as one of the first major successes of exergaming; when it was ported from the arcade to PlayStation, it sold over three million copies.[6] In the 2000s, a number of devices and games have used the exergame style to much success:[7] the EyeToy camera has sold over ten million units,[8] while Nintento's Wii Fit has sold in excess of 21 million copies.[9] The term exergaming entered the Collins English Dictionary in 2007.[10]

The genre has been mooted as a way to improve users' health through exercise,[6] but few studies have been undertaken to measure the health benefits. Smaller trials have yielded mixed results and have shown that the respective traditional methods of exercise are superior to their video game equivalents.[11]

} Exergaming contains elements that were developed in the virtual reality community during the 1980s. The pioneer in this area was Autodesk, which developed two systems, the HighCycle and Virtual Racquetball. The HighCycle was an exercise bike that a user would pedal through a virtual landscape. If the user pedaled fast enough, the virtual bike would take off and fly over the landscape. Virtual Racquetball tracked the position and orientation of an actual racquet that was used to hit a virtual ball in a virtual environment. This environment was shared with another user equipped with another tracked racquet, allowing the two users to play each other over phone lines. In both systems, the users could wear the VPL eyephones, an early Head-mounted display (HMD), that would provide more immersion for the user. [12]

The first true attempt at what would later be called Exertainment was the Atari Puffer project (1982). This was an exercise bike that would hook up to an Atari 400/800 or 5200 system.[13][14] Forward speed was controlled by pedaling while steering and additional gameplay was handled by a handlebar-mounted gamepad. The machine was nearly ready for production with several games (Tumbleweeds and Jungle River Cruise) when Atari declared bankruptcy and the Puffer project was abandoned. Nintendo also dabbled in this space with the Power Pad in the late 1980s.

The first exergaming system released to the market was the 1986 Computrainer. Designed as a training aid and motivational tool, the Computrainer allowed users to ride through a virtual landscape generated on a Nintendo NES, while monitoring data such as power output and pedaling cadence. The product had a price that was far too high to be considered as an entertainment product, but was affordable by dedicated athletes. The product continues to this day, where it now runs using Microsoft Windows compatible software with extensive graphic and physiological capabilities.

Also released for the NES in 1986 was the Family Trainer, which focused on entertainment rather than exercise.

About the same time as the Computrainer, Concept II introduced a computer attachment for their rowing machine. This has become their eRow product and is used for both individual motivation as well as competition in "indoor rowing leagues"

During the 1990s, there was a surge of interest in the application of "virtual reality" technologies to high-end gym equipment. Life Fitness and Nintendo partnered to produce the Exertainment System; Precor had an LCD-based bike product, and Universal had several CRT-based systems. The Netpulse system provided users with the ability to browse the web while exercising. Fitlinxx introduced a system that used sensors attached to weight machines in order to provide automated feedback to users.

The most sophisticated of these entries was the Tectrix VR Bike. Developed originally by CyberGear Inc., The VR Bike allowed users to pedal through a number of virtual environments as well as engage in single and multiplayer games. It was joined later by the VR Climber.

Three issues combined to ensure the failure of these systems in the marketplace. First, they were significantly more expensive than the equivalent models that did not have all the additional electronics. Second, they were harder to maintain, and were often left broken. Lastly the additional expertise required to operate the software was often intimidating to the users, who shied away from the machines out of fear that they would look foolish while trying to master the machine.

Until 1998, nothing significant happened in the field of videogame exercise. Hardware was still too expensive for the average home consumer, and the health clubs were gun-shy about adopting any new technology. As high-performance game console capabilities improved and prices fell, manufacturers once more started to explore the fitness market.

In 1998, Konami's Dance Dance Revolution was released. It was highly effective—exercise-wise—and very cost effective and so brought exergaming into the mainstream. In 2000, UK startup Exertris introduced an interactive gaming bike to the commercial fitness market. The 2005 release of the EyeToy: Kinetic, brought the first—multi-function—exergame hardware into the home market. Making the players physical movements into the game's controller. 2006 Saw the launch of Gamercize, combining traditional fitness equipment with games consoles. The minimalist approach allows game play to continue only when exercising, turning all game titles into potential exergames. Next on the exergaming revolution was Nintendo's 2006 Wii, bringing acceleration detection into this emerging trend with the Wii Remote. In late 2007, Nintendo released the exergame Wii Fit, which utilized a new peripheral, the Wii Balance Board. All four of these approaches to exergames have been documented and compared by VideoJug in an information film.[15]

The PCGamerBike, showed up at CES in 2007 where it received an Honoree Award. It differs from other exergaming devices in that its pedal motion can be mapped to any key on the keyboard. It also has a precision optical encoder which enables it to detect the slightest forward and reverse pedal motion. Another move in this field was made by the Fisher-Price Smart Cycle.

Gamercize played on PlayStation


Recent activity

Exergaming came to the mass media attention at the Consumer Electronics Show when Bill Gates showcased the Exertris Interactive Gaming Bike in 2003, and the following year the same show hosted a pavilion dedicated to video game technology that also worked as sports and exercise equipment. Exergames "evolved from technology changes aimed at making videogames more fun."[16] The latest evolution of exergaming technology tracks full body movement in 3 dimensions, and provides accurate measurements of reaction time, acceleration and deceleration quickness, and movement speed and power. These systems are primarily used in rehabilitation and sports training facilities, but are finding their way into some fitness centers.

Examples of Exergaming Devices include: PCGamerBike, NeoRacer, Dance Dance Revolution, EyeToy, some Wii games, Gamercize, Cybex TRAZER, wii jOG, Powergrid Fitness Kilowatt, EA SPORTS Active, and the FootPOWR computer peripheral.

Examples of Exertainment include: Lightspace Play Floor, PlayMotion, Yourself!Fitness, Expresso Fitness S2, Wii Fit, and Sportwall.

Using the Wii is seen as more being more physically demanding than sedentary game consoles,[17] but a study published in the British Medical Journal[18] found that while playing the Wii uses significantly more energy than playing sedentary computer games, the energy used when playing active Wii games is not of high enough intensity to contribute towards the recommended daily amount of exercise in children.[19]

The energy expended with exergaming devices such as PCGamerBike, NeoRacer and Gamercize, that combine traditional cardiovascular fitness machines with gaming, has not been questioned. The effectiveness of maintaining interest in exercise using traditional fitness machines has been examined with Gamercize and found to be six times more sustainable than exercise alone. [20]

Benefits of exercise on mental ability and productivity are in the early stages of research, but indications from using Gamercize with a computer have been reported as providing a 17% productivity improvement.[21] Combining cardiovascular exercise and balance practice has been shown to increase academic success among students in grades K-12. According to the 2009 Active Healthy Kids Canada Report Card on PhysicalActivity for Children and Youth, children who are physically active perform better in school than those who are not. Interestingly, academic performance improves even when academic learning time is reduced to allow time for physical activity. ,[22]

Design Trends

When making an exergaming system, the manufacturer of a consumer product must make the decision as to whether the system will be usable with off-the-shelf games or if custom software must be written for it. Because it takes longer for a user to move their entire body in response to stimulation from the game, it is often the case that dedicated software must be written for the game to playable. An example of this is Konami's Dance Dance Revolution. Though designed to be played by users moving about on a specially designed dancepad, that game can alternatively be played by pushing buttons with one's fingers using a standard hand-held gamepad. When played with the dancepad at higher levels the game can be quite challenging (and physically exhausting), but if the game is played using the buttons on the hand controller, none of the sequences are physically limited.

Newer systems such as Project Natal, the EyeToy and Wii use alternative input devices. The EyeToy uses image analysis to extract the motion of the user against a background and uses these motions to control the character in the game. A specifically-designed exercise game Kinetic, superimposes animated objects to be punched, kicked, or otherwise interacted with over a video image of the user. The Wii and Playstation3 both incorporate motion sensors such as accelerometers and gyroscopes into the hand-held controllers that are used to direct behaviors within the game. New and existing exergame products are being listed and maintained on the educational wiki site

Exergame resellers have developed fitness centers and specialist room designs with programmes that focus entirely on creating environments for young people using exergaming for fitness. Exergaming can be found as part of larger fitness facilities or dedicated gyms[23].

Additional reading

  • Eyetoy Kinetic - Thin AG, Howey D, Murdoch L & Crozier A (July 2007). Evaluation of physical exertion required to play the body movement controlled Eyetoy Kinetic video game. Life Sciences 2007, SECC, Glasgow, Scotland.
  • Wii Sports - Professor Tim Cable (February 2007). School of Sport and Exercise Sciences, John Moores University, Liverpool, England.
  • Exertion Interface - [1]


  1. ^ Gaming gets in shape. BBC Sport (2006-08-22). Retrieved on 2009-08-08.
  2. ^ Considerations for the design of exergames (2007). ACM Digital Library. Retrieved on 2009-08-08.
  3. ^ Lewis, Nick (2009-06-19). Exergaming'may combat kids' sedentary lifestyles. Calgary Herald. Retrieved on 2009-08-08.
  4. ^ van Aarem, Amy (2008-01-10). 'Exergaming' helps jump-start sedentary children. The Boston Globe. Retrieved on 2009-08-08.
  5. ^ Bogost, Ian (2005). The Rhetoric of Exergaming. The Georgia Institute of Technology. Retrieved on 2009-08-08.
  6. ^ a b Star, Lawrence (2005-01-15). Exercise, Lose Weight With 'Exergaming'. Fox News. Retrieved on 2009-08-08.
  7. ^ Armstrong, Rebecca (2007-07-17). Couch athletes: how to get fit from the comfort of your sofa. The Independent. Retrieved on 2009-08-08.
  8. ^ Kim, Tom (2008-11-06). In-Depth: Eye To Eye - The History Of EyeToy. Gamasutra. Retrieved on 2009-08-08.
  9. ^ "Financial Results Briefing for the Three-Month Period Ended June 2009" (PDF). Nintendo. 2009-07-31. pp. 8. Retrieved 2009-07-31.  
  10. ^ Wags and hoodies make dictionary. BBC News (2007-07-04). Retrieved on 2009-08-08.
  11. ^ Daley, Amanda J. (August 2009). Can Exergaming Contribute to Improving Physical Activity Levels and Health Outcomes in Children? [[Pediatrics (journal)|]], vol. 124, no. 2 (pp. 763-771). Retrieved on 2009-08-08.
  12. ^ Howard Rheingold. "Virtual Reality" pp188-189 Simon & Schuster. 1991. ISBN 0-671-77897-8.
  13. ^ "AGH's Atari Project Puffer Page". Archived from the original on 2009-08-27.  
  14. ^ "What Was The Top-Secret "Puffer Project"?". Archived from the original on 2009-08-27.  
  15. ^ VideojugsSam (2007-09-11). "How To Use Video Games To Keep Fit (Beauty & Style: General Workouts)". Retrieved 2009-08-27.  
  16. ^ Tara Parker-Pope. "The PlayStation Workout: Videogames That Get Kids to Jump, Kick and Sweat." Wall Street Journal. October 4, 2005. Retrieved on December 1, 2006.
  17. ^ Jamin Warren (November 25, 2006). "A Wii Workout: When Videogames Hurt". Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 2008-01-16.  
  18. ^ Graves L, Stratton G, Ridgers ND, Cable NT (2007). "Comparison of energy expenditure in adolescents when playing new generation and sedentary computer games: cross sectional study". BMJ 335 (7633): 1282–4. doi:10.1136/bmj.39415.632951.80. PMID 18156227.  
  19. ^ "Wii players need to exercise too". BBC News Online. 21 December 2007. Retrieved 2009-08-27.  
  20. ^ National Obesity Forum "TV/video games and child obesity". September2007
  21. ^ "Report of BBC TVs Sunday Life into exercise at work". 27 January 2008. Retrieved 2009-08-27.  
  22. ^ Dr. Mark Tremblay (June 23, 2009). "Canada Connects Physical Activity to Academic Success". Ontario Physical Education and Health Education Assoc. Retrieved 2009-06-23.  
  23. ^ Youth movement: California gym targets teens with video games and trainers. Associated Press (2007-07-31). Retrieved on 2009-08-29.


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