Exergaming and Physutainment

Posted: 07.10.12

The above video is of me getting my daily exercise playing “Rowing Simulator 2012”. The feel of pulling through water, the sound of the liquid displacement, and the visuals of the beautiful scenery all make for a vigorous, yet relaxing and healthy exercise.

Not only can I select the type of boat and environment that I row in, but thanks to the head tracking feature, I am able to look around in full six degrees of freedom. You may notice the movement of my head and also me turning to check my course on occasion. Other single player features that I like are the ability to row with an AI crew, racing against AI boats, and the “ghost race” where you row against yourself with a side by side slightly transparent image of your best previous time.

For multiplayer I like meeting up with another rower via the multiplayer interface that matches you with people of similar pace and endurance. Rowing with another human powered virtual boat next to you is really neat and of course the VOIP system allows you to chat with your exercise partner. The multiplayer crew setting is really challenging and requires precise coordination amongst all the crew. The developers were smart to auto-detect latency in people’s internet connections and the game injects an AI rower if there is internet lag or a player quits.

My only criticism of “Rowing Simulator 2012” is that it does not exist. I made all this up. This video is indeed me rowing in front of my television on my new rowing machine. However the image on the screen is simply a YouTube video I found by searching for “first person rowing” or something like that. Where are the advances in Exergaming? First a few words about terminology. I created the word “Physutainment” about seven years ago for games that involve movement but are not necessarily meant to be an exercise routine. The Nintendo Wii, Sony Move, and Microsoft Kinect all have games that fall under this category. “Exergaming” is a term that I apply to games that are completely built around serious exercise. The aforementioned platforms have delved into this area as well with the Wii Balance Board and a few Kinect and Move titles. However more serious development is needed.

The first thing people might question about this technology is the expense of dedicated Exergaming equipment. The $600 rowing machine is not cheap. However a $100 a month gym membership can add up very quickly. Add to it gas and parking and also the dedication needed to stay in that persistent routine, and exercising at home all of sudden becomes very attractive from financial, time management, and health perspectives.

So let this be a call to the exercise equipment industry to incorporate Bluetooth radios into the computers for bikes, rowing machines, running / elliptical machines, etc. This will allow game developers to create titles that can receive data from the machines using a console or PC accessory. One small step for technology and potentially one giant leap in the quest for personal health and fitness....