Thursday, April 24, 2014

Gaming and Exercise: A Marraige We Should Insist Upon

I'm not much of a gamer.  As a child I never owned an Atari, but I did own a Nintendo Entertainment System and played Super Mario Brothers and Duck Hunt quite regularly.  Yet, when I hit that magical age of puberty I didn't seem to follow most of my friends' on their paths into video game-world.  I'd play Mortal Kombat with a friend, but I'd just sit and mash buttons hoping against hope I could defend myself against the hours he spent learning button combinations for super moves.

I could never get into the first-person shooters like Duke Nukem or Quake like other friends.  They enjoyed the community aspect of the online-play Quake had to offer, and the ability to mod the games to start fights within said community.  Instead, my game of choice typically seemed to be simulation games (e.g. Sim City).

When I hit college, I found that I could spend a good deal of time playing games like Age of Empires or The Sims.  However, I never actually played these games.  I had more fun creating the characters in The Sims and then using cheat codes and mods to create fantastic houses for those characters, but I never actually played the game as it was intended.  It simply couldn't hold my interest.

Sometime back then a friend recommended to me that I purchase The Elder Scrolls III:  Morrowind.  I did.  I installed it and started playing and lost interest in the first four hours.  Having an open world like that with very little in the way of "structured play" left me to wander into places my character was not ready for.  I was attempting to take on creatures that would kill me with a breath instead of following the prescribed storyline.  That seems to be my nature.  I don't like to color inside the lines.

So, I put Morrowind away, along with the rest of my games.

Sometime later I found myself diagnosed with cancer and undergoing chemotheraphy and radiation treatments.  About that same time, Assassin's Creed was released for PlayStation 3.  I spent much of my down time from my disease playing the game, and I actually enjoyed it.  I liked the "structured freedom" of the game play.  I could go to any of the areas within the game and do things, but there was also an obvious story to follow along with.

During my time with cancer, however, both my medical doctor and my acupuncturist were hounding me about needing to get more exercise.  They weren't telling me I needed to run a 5k or anything, but they did want me to be out walking, at the very least, to help keep my immune system up and keep my muscles from atrophying.

So, I divided my time between playing my game and walking around town, and when I was through with treatments (and was able to get back to work) the gaming went by the wayside and I took up exercise in earnest.   I went through three rounds of P90X, two rounds of Insanity, and then started developing my own exercise routing based on the guidelines of the phenomenal Mike Matthews.

I felt great.  I looked great.  I started running five miles every day and mixing that in with my weight training.  It was awesome!

And then I moved.  I started working twelve to sixteen hour days the summer after my move, and my exercise routine fell by the wayside as well.  Summer flew past in a whirlwind of activity and when autumn finally came I was ready to start working out again.  I ran a little bit, pulled some weight, but simply didn't have the focus or ambition to continue.

I was laid off all winter, which afforded me plenty of time to finish my novel (of which you can read more about here), but because winter can be mind-numbingly boring around here a friend and colleague lent me The Elder Scrolls V:  Skyrim for PS3.

I was leery at first because of my experience with Morrowind, and my overall attitude toward video games (they can be fun, but typically don't hold my interest).  It sat on the entertainment stand for most of the winter.  I didn't actually put it into the PlayStation until late February or early March.  I almost wish I hadn't tried it at all.

I didn't do anything else for two months.

I felt like a lazy bum, sitting on my ass all day long staring at the television, playing some (albeit awesome) video game.  The drive to get back to exercise was still in me, but my focus had shifted from novel-writing to game-playing and I still couldn't concentrate on the weights.  I was cooped up inside with three feet of snow on the ground, so I could go running, and every time I picked up the weights, my brain would flash images of Draugrs and Dragons, and before I even knew I had started the game up, I was playing and the weights were sitting in the middle of the floor.

Needless to say, I was addicted.

Then, sometime in late March I had a thought.  I'm one of those "complete everything" kind of game players, so I was looking to finish every single possible quest and build my character's level up to the 252 minimum needed to fulfill all of the skill perk points.  To that end, I decided that I would no longer quick travel anywhere.  I was going to go over land to increase my experience points, and as I did this my own feet started moving on their own.

As my character walked or ran along the roads of Skyrim, so too did my own feet walk and run in place in the middle of my living room.  Before long I was moving my Six Axis controller with every sword swing just to get my arms moving as well.

And that's when I was struck with (what I think is) the greatest idea since the Atari.

We all know about the Wii Fit.  We know there are pads out there one can purchase to play Dance Dance Revolution.  We also know that the Wii and the PlayStation (and probably xBox, though I'm less familiar with that console) have the ability for motion controlled gaming through infrared sensor technology.

Why can't we develop a gaming system that utilizes a floor mat and a motion sensitive controller that requires the player to physically move his or her body in space in order to control the character he or she is playing?

Could you imagine playing Skyrim, and in order to move your character you have to walk or run in place on this mat?  In order to swing a sword, you'd have to swing your controller?

Of course, doing this would probably require some sort of virtual reality head gear (otherwise how could you turn your character's body).  But that technology already exists, and has been extensively redesigned and redeveloped into something awesome.

I don't know.  Perhaps there are already people working on this.  It seems like the next step - not just for immersive gaming, but also for exercise.  Many people exercise in front of the television.  P90X and Insanity are both home exercise programs.  And many more people lose interest in that kind of exercise because it's always the same - always repetitive.

With America's seemingly steady rise of obesity (though there are studies that would argue this is a problem), wouldn't it be great if everyone would want to exercise, could have fun exercising while doing something they would probably do anyway?  Halo of Call of Duty would be perfect platforms for this type of system simply because of the physical nature of the characters.

Needless to say, now that spring has finally arrived and the snow is melted, my time running in place while playing Skyrim has prepared me to get back into my exercise routine.  The game has been put away - sadly unfinished - but the weights are out, the pavement is dry, and the air is crisp and cool.

I might go back to Skyrim one day, but for now I'm content to be in my own forested area, running through the trees in this world.  Maybe by the time I get around to picking up the next Elder Scrolls (not that online version though - I don't do online gaming) there will be a console system that works like I've envisioned.