In Fitness, a High-Tech 'Revolution'
Friday, April 28, 2006
Though traditional video games have encouraged the 168 million Americans who play them to sit motionless on a sofa and let the onscreen polygons do all the heavy lifting, "Dance Dance Revolution," or "DDR" as it's called, has been the leader of a growing number of games that demand physical exertion for virtual rewards.
As one of the most popular games in this emerging genre, Konami Digital Entertainment's "DDR" has sold more than 4 million copies in the United States since March 2001. With this blockbuster franchise, Konami has released 10 different games with updated music for virtually every console out there, including PlayStation, PlayStation 2, Xbox and GameCube. (Nintendo shipped a Mario-themed version.) "Dance Dance Revolution," which is a translation of the popular arcade game that includes a colorful glass dance floor, is simple to play but difficult to master. Players plug in the dance mat (there are a variety on the market for about $30) and step on the appropriate square when the symbol comes across the screen. Each song -- and there are a variety of pop, dance and rock tunes -- brings a new challenge, and the game allows two players to compete simultaneously.
"The physical interactive nature of the game meant that people were going to get exercise as they played," says Jason Enos, producer of the franchise for Konami, in an e-mail interview. It's "easy to forget you're getting a workout while you play."
It's that unique ability that has caught the attention of schools, doctors and researchers that are using "Dance Dance Revolution" to fight obesity and inactivity. The game even includes a workout mode that counts down the calories burned while playing.
"You certainly don't have to play this mode to get a workout, but this mode allows people to attach personal fitness goals while they play the game and count the calories they burn," Enos says. "People can even track their results over a period of time and compare their progress . . . or see how their 'DDR' workouts equate to other exercise activities, such as jogging, jumping rope and swimming."
On the West Coast, 24 Hour Fitness clubs have installed "DDR" games, dance pads and consoles in 15 Kids' Clubs. By next year, all 765 public schools in West Virginia will have "Dance Dance Revolution" games and dance mats available for students from elementary to high school to play before and after school, as well as part of physical education classes. (The state has the highest obesity rates for children in the country.)
Another device spreading the joys of fitness to gamers of all ages is Sony's EyeToy, which has a number of different games available. The EyeToy, which has sold more than 2 million units in the United States since 2003, is a camera that operates as a sensor and connects to a PlayStation 2. It inserts the gamer into the action on screen. When the player moves his or her arms or legs, the in-game character reacts to that movement. EyeToy games include "Sega Superstars EyeToy," which combines gameplay and a workout, and "Kinetic," which focuses on exercise.
Most sports video games replicate the on-field action without requiring the physical activity of swinging the baseball bat, driving the golf ball or maneuvering the snowboard. That's changing with new game peripherals that allow gamers to interact using real equipment. Qmotions has released a number of devices that plug into consoles or PCs that work with existing golf, baseball, racing, skateboarding and snowboarding video games. Players can hone their hand-eye coordination with products such as Qmotions-Golf ($200) and Qmotions-Baseball ($150). The Xbox baseball kit comes with a home plate and a 27-inch foam-covered bat. When players swing at the virtual ball in Electronic Arts' "MVP Baseball" games, sensors detect the motion and send it into the virtual field. Players control base running by tapping one of the four bases on the home plate.
Golf simulators for game consoles are a growing niche, thanks to the huge number of golfers who play Electronic Arts' "Tiger Woods PGA Tour" games. Electric Spin has the Golf LaunchPad for PS2 ($200) and for Mac and PC ($250), which works with Sony's "Hot Shots Golf Fore!" and EA's "Tiger Woods" games. Like the Qmotions device, players can use their own clubs indoors to hit a tethered ball. Sensors analyze the hit and send the virtual ball into the game screen. Mad Catz has "Real World Golf" for PS2 or Xbox ($70 each) that comes with a miniature golf club and a game. The included game offers 10 18-hole courses, a driving range, pitching and putting areas, and mini-games for up to four players. This game also comes with video tutorials that teach proper stance, grip and swing.
With next-generation consoles such as Xbox 360 in stores and PlayStation 3 and Nintendo Revolution shipping in time for Christmas, even more physical fitness games are on the horizon.
John Gaudiosi covers the video game industry for the Hollywood Reporter, Wired, Playboy and Yahoo! Games and reviews video games for The Washington Post.