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Exergaming Enters a New Realm

Exergaming is entering a new realm. People from all over the world are taking part in exergaming tournaments, and U.S. fitness centers are at the forefront of the new trend that marries technology and physical activity.

The first international exergaming tournament was held in June, when children ages 12 to 14 from the United States and the United Kingdom (U.K.) participated in a Pro Evolution Soccer tournament using Xbox 360 consoles. The tournament, organized by the U.K.-based company Gamercize, was televised live via the Internet. The effort was deemed a success, but fitness facilities don't need an international connection to host their own exergaming tournaments. They may, however, need a bit of inspiration and some fancy footwork to avoid potential pitfalls.

Finding inspiration

Every artist needs a muse, and while every exergaming tournament doesn't need inspiration, it sure helps. The Olympics inspired XRtainment Zone's, Redmond, Calif., annual XRGames Olympics. It attracted more than 60 kids to compete in events like GameBike races, virtual snowboarding, a Dance Dance Revolution dance off, and the SuperXRGame "pentathlon," comprised of five exergaming events. Winners in each event received trophies and all participants were entered in a raffle for prizes.

"In the few tournaments we've seen here, we've noticed a very interesting phenomena with those who enter," says Ernie Medina Jr., CEO and co-founder of XRtainment Zone. "Whenever we announce a tournament, the kids now have a new and exciting goal to train for. And train they do, just like any other kid in a traditional sport." Of course, the key to exergaming's success is that it attracts people who aren't necessarily good at traditional sports. Technology attracts a different demographic - one that typically avoids athletics and any form of competition that doesn't involve their thumbs.

Tournaments keep interest high

Technology may be the path to reaching this new market, but, like every other fitness tool, it's not a silver bullet. It may be the most exciting trend to hit fitness facilities in years, but even exergaming gets old. "This may come as a shock to those who aren't doing exergaming on a day-to-day basis, but the newness of exergaming actually does wear off," says Medina.

"It seems to be common knowledge that children do get bored regardless of an activity if it is just the same thing day after day," agrees Lisa Hansen, co-director, XRKade Research Lab at the University of South Florida, Tampa. "We all get bored, yet adults can persevere through things based on the outcomes they know they need or want to receive. Children play games or play in general because it is enjoyable and intrinsically motivating - not because they will lose weight or improve health status. Therefore, when a game gets boring, they stop playing. That is why the video game industry is booming - they play, play, play and then buy, buy, buy more games."

Medina agrees: "Unless you get new games in, kids can actually get bored." That approach to buoying interest in exergaming can get expensive, and it's doubtful that it would be a long-term solution to the inevitable boredom. "The challenge is this: How do we keep our members engaged, since they aren't going to reach their health outcome by playing on the GameBike for a month or two?" says Medina.

Hansen believes the answer lies in careful application of two factors: competition and education. "Knowing how to implement the games and have various classes, competitions, parties, etc., is the key," she says. "Programming in fitness clubs and curriculum in educational facilities is the key." Exergaming tournaments are the cornerstone of exergaming programming. They attract a large number of participants, and have a high level of excitement that is easy to maintain because a tournament is finite and takes place over a short period of time.

Medina is a firm supporter of tournaments, and has a lot of experience hosting them at XRtainment Zone. "I believe that tournaments offer something that will keep [kids] 'hooked' into exergaming for the long haul," he says. "Sure, there are those few who will do the exergame for the pure joy of it, or to better their personal record, but the majority of kids aren't so intrinsically motivated, and need some form of extrinsic motivation to keep them going."

Competition

There are some potential pitfalls to hosting exergaming tournaments. One of these is focusing on the competitive aspect of the tournament. "Tournaments imply competitiveness, with inherent winners and losers," says David L. James, MSc., president and CEO of FUZE Fit For a Kid!, Los Gatos, Calif. "I oppose this, with respect to youth, unless there are clear expectations and values that can wrap the tournament in an envelope of fun without prejudice."

"A lot of people don't like competition, but the reality is, healthy competition keeps things interesting, keeps people motivated and adds that extra push to keep people doing things that they might not want to be doing," says Medina. "Healthy competition can give us that extra drive to do what we know we should be doing anyway." Competition is part of every tournament, and fostering an atmosphere of healthy competition is complicated, but essential.

Many children who would be attracted to an exergaming tournament are already good at video games, but have little experience with physical activity. Alienation - rather than a new interest in fitness - is a possible outcome. "Kids - particularly kids who may already be in the midst of behavioral or weight-management issues (and, hence, the ones we want to get moving constructively) - often do [not] have ... the ability to handle the 'competition,' where ... there are winners and losers," James says.

"When children experience success when moving their bodies, they will be more likely to voluntarily engage in it again," says Hansen. Being on the losing end of a game can have the opposite effect. "Unfortunately, too many times, we force them to play or exercise inappropriately (making them compete, making them play a game where they lack the motor skills, etc.) and they do not enjoy the experience. Whether it be the lack of competence with the skill of the game or fear of failure when competing, the negative experience turns them off from being active."

One possible solution, says James, is to focus less on competition and more on team building. "It is ... our responsibility to create games that reduce the very nature of competition and channel it into teamwork, personal success, achievement [and] goal-orientation. [That way,] we create an inclusive environment that does not, from the outset, eliminate the very audience we are largely aiming to help," he says. "I especially like the potential for family based programming (i.e., mom and son vs. father and daughter) or [a] neighborhood ... group vs. a second neighborhood."

Player support

Another challenge to hosting an exergaming tournament is staffing it correctly. James points out that there is a high need for player support in an exergaming tournament, which may involve players who are not experienced athletes. "Kids who are [engaged in an exergaming tournament] for motivation, inspiration, fun and outcomes largely often do not have it," he says. "As technology envelopes us every day and we embrace exergaming's positive attributes, we need to recall that we are not simply operators of the latest and greatest (and expensive!) equipment," says James. "At the core, we are coaches, mentors, teachers and, ultimately, leaders whose custodial responsibility is helping kids and teens develop and hold onto a healthy lifestyle. How we get there is up to us, and we have many, many tools at our disposal."

Tools for the future

When done correctly and with consideration for participants' unique needs, exergaming tournaments can help technology become one of the most powerful tools available to the fitness industry. "One day, exergaming will have its own leagues and tournaments. Kids from all walks of life will be training at home, in their schools, rec centers and in businesses," Medina predicts. In fact, plans are currently in the works for the formation of the World XRGaming League, with its first international exergaming tournament to be held sometime this fall. "The overweight kid who hates PE and regular sports might just see himself as a 'virtual athlete' or an 'XRGaming athlete' because he loves video games and will enter the local tournaments," says Medina. The era of the technological athlete isn't here yet, but it may be soon, thanks to conscientious and motivated fitness facilities dedicated to taking the "virtual" out of "virtual reality."

Interactive/Entertainment Directory


Cardio Theater
800 776-6695; www.cardiotheater.com
Cardio Theater offer choices of wired and wireless entertainment systems, and freestanding 15-inch Personal Viewing Screens (PVS) or 12-inch PVS that integrate directly into the Precor Experience cardio line to allow exercisers to connect their personal entertainment players to cardio equipment screens. Cardio Theater systems are built to meet demands of harsh fitness facility environments, and offer dual analog/digital tuners.

Cybex International
888 462-9239; www.cybextrazer.com
The Trazer is a computer-based system that uses movement tracking and virtual reality technologies to create programs that measure functional and sports performance skills. It measures agility, coordination and balance, reaction time, quickness, speed, movement power and optimal center-of-gravity control. The Trazer also estimates calories used and, if used while wearing a Polar or Polar-compatible heart rate monitor, measures average and peak beats per minutes. Performance training games are Trap Attack, Jump Explosion, Spike Dodge, Goalie Wars and Fun Fusion.

Expresso Fitness
888 528-8589; www.expressofitness.com
The new S2u virtual reality-enhanced stationary cycle integrates fitness and computer systems, and offers customized programs to motivate riders. It has an integrated design, advanced drive train technology and new game options such as Expresso Chases. The first Expresso Chase, titled Proving Grounds, takes place in a fantasy world based in ancient Asia. Riders pick up coins and chase dragons to score points. The S2u features state-of-the-art software, a 17-inch high-contrast LCD screen, steering, shifting and customization options.

Hyperfit Inc.
www.hyperfit.com
Hyperfit's Fitness Arcade designs and manufactures commercially compatible, user-friendly, interactive play devices - from its All-Digital Floor & Laptop Dance Dance Revolution video gaming controllers to all-vinyl group Play Pads. Its eco-friendly products are made using 100 percent sustainable and recyclable materials. Hyperfit is committed to a 100 percent "Made in America" policy, and uses only domestic companies and materials in its manufacturing processes.

iTECH Fitness
303 371-5800; www.itechfitness.com
iTECH Fitness supplies interactive fitness and exergaming products and services, and developed the active gaming brand XRKade. The company was founded on the principals of making fitness fun by developing interactive fitness, exergaming and entertainment solutions. Products and services include a signature line of active gaming equipment, an active gaming programming certification and a mobile active gaming solution (XRKade Zone). Products include XR-Board, iCX, DDR, GameBikes, 3 Kick, Trazer, SU2, SR2, Lightspace Play, Wallspace, MX-10, GameCycle, Flight Simulator, Dance Game and Treadwall.

Kidzpace Interactive
800 668-0206; www.kidzpace.com
Kidzdance is an arcade-style dance pad that requires the user to match on-screen cues. The system interfaces with PlayStation 2 and XBox, allowing the user to play a variety of games using the interactive screen and floor mat. The Kidz Sport Bike is designed for children ages six through 12, and offers the experience of controlling the cycle through a video-gamed course. The player is required to pedal and steer (which powers the system) through a choice of PlayStation 2 games.

Konami Digital Entertainment
888 212-0573; www.konami.com
Dance Dance Revolution (DDR) is an interactive, 3D dance video game that uses popular music, incorporating more than 300 songs and 2,000 dance steps. DDR also features animated on-screen dancers. Users simulate the dance movements displayed on the video screen while moving onto lit panels on a floor plate.

Life Fitness
800 634-8637; www.lifefitness.com
In a partnership with Apple, Life Fitness' new iPod-integrated 95 Series Treadmills feature iPod integration, a Virtual Trainer, USB connectivity for personalized workouts and graphic workout landscapes displayed on an LCD screen. With the option of two models, the 95Te with a 15-inch integrated screen or the 95Ti with an optional 17-inch attachable TV, users can control entertainment and workout content, as well as watch TV.

Motus USA
866 668-8766; www.motususa.com
The M660BUL Series upright cycle has an integrated Samsung LCD TV display. The entertainment controls are separate from the unit's operating functions, allowing users to view entertainment options and workout statistics at the same time. Programming consists of 10 preprogrammed workouts, and five customized, goal-oriented programs, such as cardio, heart rate or weight loss. Features of the cycle include an EZ Walk-Through design, gas/pneumatic seat adjustment, racing handlebars and telemetry heart rate monitoring.

MYE Entertainment
800 779-6759; www.myeclubtv.com
The Fitness Download Station service from MYE Entertainment and Netpulse has a touch-screen kiosk that works with MYE FitP3 digital players, enabling users to download cardio training, motivational programs and music. Programs from trainers and fitness-focused beats-per-minute music providers are automatically uploaded every month. Facilities receive unlimited downloads for a monthly fee, and there are no servers to purchase or maintain.

Source Distributors
800 872-1105; www.gamebike.com
GameBike and GamePad use a plug-and-play mechanism to plug into console games including PlayStation, Xbox and GameCube. The GamePad plugs into Dance Dance Revolution software, and is a 3-foot square surface composed of rubber material. Its polymer base with urethane-encased and nitrogen-filled switches has been tested to withstand greater than 450 pounds of force. The GameBike is a fitness computer with adjustable resistance. The steering mechanism allows riders to pedal and steer through console games.

Sportwall International
800 695-5056; www.sportwall.com
Sportwall International (as XerGames Technology) manufactures, sells and supports exergame equipment. The company packages its products with XerGames programming and curricula for cardiovascular fitness, neurological efficiency, core strength, speed, agility and motor skills training to offer turnkey commercial systems to the fitness, physical education and medical/rehabilitation industries.

Technogym
800 804-0952; www.technogymusa.com
The Active Wellness TV for Excite cardiovascular equipment is a touch screen LCD interface that orients users to their desired workout and entertainment selection. The Context Aware feature ensures that only the necessary buttons appear on screen to operate training information, TV channels and external media devices. The Active Wellness TV integrates with iPods, and users can play videos, select play lists and control volume through the touch screen.
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