Later, that old Nintendo gave way to a series of ever more sophisticated consoles and a cornucopia of video and computer games. I remember my son turning to us with a grin during one of our lesser nags about gaming time and asking sarcastically, “What is this ‘outdoors’ you speak of?”
So I couldn’t ignore the irony in the April 30 announcement that the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition had decided to team up with the Entertainment Software Association to demonstrate “how to use video games to promote physical activity.”
Times, as they say, do change.
You probably remember the President’s Council as a periodic fixture of gym class. The government agency, started during the Eisenhower Administration, sponsored those sit-up, push-up and pull-up tests that could earn you a certificate of some kind. (I can’t actually remember taking the test, however. Maybe my teachers decided I was hopeless.)
The organization is still doing the youth fitness test, Executive Director Shellie Pfohl told me. But this is 2012 and kids are spending 71
2 hours a day in front of computer, television and video game screens, she said. “We need to meet kids, especially, where they are,” she said. “We want to turn that passive screen time into active screen time.”
“If we can connect movement with entertainment, and hopefully add some education in there on top of it, it’s a wonderful way to meet kids where they are, to speak their language.”
Of course, the council’s partner in this marriage has been doing that for years. There are so many active video games on the market now that the term “exergaming” entered the lexicon a few years ago. Today, you can find Wii bowling in assisted-living facilities and Dance Dance Revolution in West Virginia schools.
The American Heart Association has already teamed with Nintendo. The managed-care giant UnitedHealth Group announced last week that it believes “the intersection of health and video gaming holds enormous potential benefit for individuals, families and the entire health care system.”
So perhaps it was inevitable that the venerable government organization and the trade group that has its hands on the controls of today’s youth entertainment would get together. Under the plan, kids can earn their Presidential Active Lifestyle Award (PALA+) certificate by using active games to help them get 60 minutes of exercise, five days a week for six weeks. Adults must move for 30 minutes a day. There is also a nutrition component to the challenge (hence the “plus” in PALA+).