If you're a gamer, you are in on a little secret. Things that you don't enjoy in real life can magically become fun in the context of a video game. I've traded stocks in Grand Theft Auto, farmed vegetables in Harvest Moon, and herded cattle in Red Dead Redemption. In real life these are chores at best.
But what is a chore in real life becomes incredibly satisfying on the timeline of a video game, where visible results are immediate and encouraging. This is how fitness games work. They're great motivators for when your body isn't sending you the rapid results you are hoping for.
Even as a teenager, I was not big on physical activities. I grew up in the woods hiking and climbing around, but I was never one to just go for a run. I'd rather sit and relax than jump up and kick a ball around. I assumed that this lack of interest was a natural inclination against 'exercise' of the type we learned about in school. I wasn't athletic, in my mind, so why would I exercise?
Enter a group of friends who had come to find absolute joy in what was the first video game that included intense physical activity to go mainstream in the US:
My friends had discovered the sheer joy that is tapping your foot around on a styrofoam pad to the tune of cloying pop music. That's right. At first you're confused why anyone would enjoy such a thing, looking on and listening to the pattering of feet on the game pads.
Then you try, and you fail miserably. Some of you may walk away here never to return. But if you can make it past that, you're on your way to the sheer addictive joy of Dance Dance Revolution.
DDR rewards you well once you get over the hump of beginning to coordinate your body and respond to the moving arrows. Your ratings for each step go from "Good" to "Excellent!", and soon your footsteps are falling in perfect beat with the music. You start shaking your hips along with the motions.
Sooner or later if you keep at it, your pants start shaking off. An hour or two of this per day during senior year of high school dropped pounds off of even my least active friends, and they were having a blast playing a fun game with friends and challenging themselves.
None of my friends would have classically been considered a rhythm game's target audience, but there we were night after night trying to see if we could get good enough to get perfect scores on 'Heavy' mode. So if you're looking for a fun and addictive game that will improve your cardio, give Dance Dance Revolution a try.
Then again, if you're a bit more serious about your fitness, you might try...
Dance Dance succeeds by not presenting itself as something that looks or feels like exercise. Nike+ Kinect Training is not for the same crowd.
Nike's game utilizes the Xbox's Kinect device to evaluate your physical performance. It's for the more serious seeker of exercise, and not only uses bodyweight exercises but also presents you with an opportunity to use free weights.
Where Nike's game succeeds is as an alternative to guided exercise videos. Imagine watching one of those now-aging exercise tapes with an encouraging trainer, except now they really are responding to you!
Beyond that this game helps teach you proper form, which can make all the difference to a beginner when it comes to preventing injuries.
Don't forget to try out the integration to the rest of Nike's athletic monitoring technology, progress in the game carrying over and affecting your Nike fuel score.
While Nike+ does offer a little bit by way of more entertaining exercises, it is still mainly focused around traditional exercise, and as such may be off putting for those who aren't really that into jumping jacks and pushups in the first place.
So let's get back to dancing...
The Dance Central series offers exercise in a similar fashion to Dance Dance Revolution, but this time it's more like actually dancing rather than rhythmically stepping around.
Dance Central's value for weight loss is seen best with the Xbox's Kinect device similar to Nike's offering. The Kinect will watch you dance on a range of difficulty settings while observing how closely you can emulate the moves shown on screen.
To anyone who has ever gone out for a wild night of dancing out of the blue, you know it's a lot more intense as exercise than one might imagine. Before long of flailing your arms around, you're working up a sweat, though you might not notice with all the laughing you're likely to be doing, because Dance Central is just plain fun.
Start playing it with a friend and stick to it and before long you'll notice your cardio increasing dramatically. With a huge variety of songs and artists to listen to, you'll also have a good amount of challenges lined up ahead. Once you feel your way around the game it's easy to set up a playlist of songs that you know will work you out.
While Wii's first motion controlled games were hardly athletic, with time and a few additional pieces of hardware, Nintendo did manage to bring a decent fitness game to the market.
Granted, you'll need to buy some things, like the Wii balance board as well as the fitness tracker. If you're willing to make the financial commitment however, Wii Fit U can help you develop your personal fitness.
Now unlike the other offerings on this list, some of these exercises are a lot less intense due to the nature of the balance board's capacity, but where this game lacks in intensity it makes up in its ability to measure you.
Because of these additional peripherals, Wii Fit U not only offers a variety of exercises similar to Nike+, but also has the ability to track your weight in the game as well as your footsteps outside the game. That makes this the only game that can come with you on your daily activities, even if it is just about getting that step count up.
The balance board offers more than just weight tracking too, it can really challenge many of the balancing muscles in your core and legs. Though that may not be major cardio, Wii Fit U does offer you the ability to tone those muscles, and as such is a great tool in any weight loss campaign.
If none of these options really do it for you, maybe you need to dive a little deeper...
In the more futuristic realm of Virtual Reality, there is a promising game that leaves people feeling like they're worked their upper body for a boxing match. It's another rhythm game, but this one will use any song from your computer that you can throw at it.
When you boot up that song, you have what seems like a simple challenge ahead. Punch orange blobs with your right hand, blue blobs with your left. Similar to guitar hero. But for anyone who has ever tried to hold even empty hands in front of themselves for long periods of time, you know it isn't as simple as it sounds.
Soon enough you're flailing desperately trying to keep up with your favourite tunes, sweating and feeling sore around the arms and shoulders. While this isn't the full body workout that other games might be, it's worth mentioning the sheer fun power of VR.
If you haven't taken the dive into VR, it's the thing that breaks down the barrier with fitness games. Audioshield is just one example, but many of them offer solid exercises. If there isn't a game on this list that does the trick for you, odds are you're going to find something within the realm of VR that inspires you to stand and move.
Now that you have an idea of what's available out there, get out and discover which ones motivate you, and see if you can't play away a few pounds off the waistline! Best of luck from Team NeuroGum, and if we missed any great fitness games spout off in the comments below.
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