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Wii Women Want a Workout: Do Active Video Games Lead to Weight Loss?

Posted Jun 17 2009 6:32pm
Nintendo's Wii Fit marketed to women

Nintendo's Wii Fit marketed to women

In the last few years women have been on the mind of video game makers. This time around it’s no longer the super-sexed up cartoon versions of us with over-sized breasts and tiny waists, but women as video game consumers.

Active video games like the wildly popular Nintendo Wii Fit , which has sold over 18 million units since its March 2008 debut, are on a mission to help women lose weight while having fun – at least that’s what their marketing campaigns tell us. But these current exergames fall short by fitness and health industry standards.

In June 2008, the non-profit American Council on Exercise (ACE) sponsored a study of Wii Sports games like golf, tennis, baseball and boxing. While the study shows Wii Sports games provide a slight increase in calories burned over sedentary video games, only one game, Wii boxing burned enough calories (7.2 calories per minute) to be considered intense enough to maintain or improve cardiovascular endurance.

While numerous studies and reviews show most exergames don’t provide “substantial fitness benefits”, exercise alone is not the holy grail of a healthy life. Many of the active video games on the market today don’t combine the fitness and nutrition component to the degree that they could. Ubisoft’s My Weight Loss Coach encourages users to track their activities and diet, although it is more of a video journal than a video game. Social games like Dance, Dance Revolution engage women to increase their heart rate with a workout mode, but doesn’t provide any insight into healthy eating habits.

One exergame that hit the market last month - EA Sports Active – shows promise in bringing both an active life and healthy diet to the forefront. The platform allows you to not only track your fitness progress in the game, but the calories you expend when performing activities outside of the game like gardening and housework. In addition, a calorie tracker provides you with some insight into the world of healthy eating. It seems EA Sports has learned from the pitfalls of previous exergames and from the numerous health consultants they brought on board, including Oprah’s personal trainer Bob Greene. Yet many of the EA Sports Active games lack intrinsic motivation. If you hate running in the real world, most likely running on a virtual track won’t change that fact.

EA Sports Active gets advice from Oprah's Personal Trainer

EA Sports Active gets advice from Oprah's Personal Trainer

Elizabeth Lyons, a Ph.D. student at the University of North Carolina’s School of Public Health is studying the intrinsic motivation and presence in video games. The self-proclaimed “geeky-gamer” says that more realistic movements and immersive entertainment is required in active gaming for women to adhere to them. “Give us a reason to run – like being chased by ninjas or exploring a virtual Paris” said Lyons at the 2009 Games for Health Conference held in Boston last week.

In order to develop exergames that actually motivate, educate and provide women with an effective weight loss tool, the male-dominated exergaming industry needs more female video game developers to insert their unique point of view.  They need to win over fitness and health professionals who have been on the defensive about video games by reaching out to them for advice and knowledge.  Special attention also needs to be paid to the female consumers themselves. The newly emerged generation of women gamers and female video game reviewers, like those at Green Pixels , are vocal and not afraid to share their honest opinions.

Although any activity in a woman’s life is better than no activity, exergames are not yet a meaningful tool to help women lose weight.  If the video game industry can quickly act to fill the voids in their formula, there might be hope. Otherwise, exergaming will just become a fading fitness fad.

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