Picture a gamer. Go on, you can even stereotype all gamers everywhere. What do you imagine? A guy, sat in his underwear surrounded by Mountain Dew, pizza and Cheetos? I don’t blame you. Gaming is hardly the most active of things to do. But some of us do want to keep healthy, in whatever state we are currently in. And the two main keys to losing weight and keeping fit is changing your diet and exercising. The diet I can’t help with. And nor can games. But how can you get gamers away from their screens and moving? Give them games to play.
From pedometers to fully fledged gyms, there are a million and one ways to exercise. How do you make it relate-able and enjoyable for a gamer? Let’s take a look at a few ways I’ve personally used to get fit. And still use in some cases. I’m not particularly fit, and dont enjoy working out very much. But the following are some of the easy, low cost and (so far) effective ways I’ve used to get me moving.
I’ve played my fair share of Pokémon in my time and I eventually got my hands on the remakes of Gold and Silver (HeartGold and SoulSilver). These, when bought new, come with a pedometer, called a Pokéwalker. Said pedometer, via infrared, gives you the opportunity to take one of your beloved Pokémon with you wherever you go. It’s the closest we’ll get to actual Pokémon. While it counts your steps, your Pokémon wanders around a given area (chosen by you) gathering ‘Watts’, a currency of sorts, with which you can attempt to find items and other Pokémon. When you finally come back to your DS and upload your Pokémon back, it will have levelled up and brought with it any other beasties and items you may have found along the way. The more steps you walk, and the further you’ve played in the game itself, the more areas you unlock to find new things. It’s nothing fancy, it’s nothing too clever for its own good, and it won’t magic away any wobbly bits. But what it does do it simple and neat. It makes you want to walk a bit more, to help level your team up (even if it is slow). And in doing that, you up the chance of you getting more stuff, including Pokémon. And who doesn’t like that?
As ever, there are a few drawbacks; you can only level up your Pokémon once per download to the pokewalker so there’s not really much of an incentive to use the device, and you have to keep uploading and downloading the poor Pokémon to the Pokéwalker every day to get more level ups. The amount of time it takes to get new areas (and therefore new Pokémon) is ridiculous – unless you play through the game quickly, you get stuck at a certain area until you beat the Elite Four, and there’s no reference to this anywhere. And the Pokéwalker only works with HeartGold and SoulSilver, so your new shiny X and Y Pokémon can’t come with you.
It’s still a neat little gadget, and if it gets people moving a little bit more, then it’s doing its job. It’s a great way to get kids moving around, and if you’re getting HeartGold or SoulSilver anyway, it’s neat to have something a bit different to take with you when you can’t take your DS.
Ah zombies. Aren’t we bored of them yet? Until we find a new topic for films, books and games to focus on, they’re here to stay. And with that I introduce Zombies, Run! It’s an app for iOS and Android that places you in a zombie apocalypse, asking you to run (or walk) around gathering supplies, helping people and slowly unravel a story. Set out as missions, you pick your little adventure for the running/walking session, set it to play a playlist of music if you want, and stick your headphones in. Using accelerometers or GPS, your device tracks how long you run for, where you run (if GPS is on), how many steps you take and even triggers zombie chases which require you to pick up the pace. The missions can be set as half hour or hour long (deciding how many songs play between each story piece), and also come with ‘radio mode’, where you listen to an in-app radio station.
So how does this help gamers who want a push? It gives them a reason to keep walking. After all, who wants to be eaten by the undead? By providing missions and a story, there’s reason to go for a half hour walk every so often. And if you get into it (like me), you’ll perhaps then do another one while you’re out and the sun is shining. When you’re done with the running and walking and avoiding zombies, all those supplies you pick up need divvying up between the different bits of your base. Bandages go to the hospital, clothes to the housing area and food to the food stores. You get the idea. As you find more supplies (by walking more), your base expands and improves to accept more apocalypse survivors.
What’s nice about Zombies, Run! is that one you’ve pressed start mission, you can put your device in your pocket or armband or whatever and leave it. It speaks to you when you pick up supplies; the whole thing is fully voice acted. And if you’re anything like me, you start talking back to the characters. It doesn’t change anything, but it does a fine job at setting the scene and walking you through the end of the world. It’s your Dead Rising, your Skyrim, your Assassin’Creed, but in your ears. You can be outside and moving while still playing a game.
Zombies, Run! is available for further investigation here: https://www.zombiesrungame.com/
If going outside isn’t your thing, you can always get that Wii out (after all, it was used for that family get together and put away again, wasn’t it?). The Wii. Highly successful, but largely resigned to cupboards and attics a year after purchase. But it does have the Wii Balance Board, and Wii Fit. It’s a bit of an outlay, more expensive than the things I’ve mentioned so far, but good for vampires and Brits (it rains most of the year). You can play it naked if you want. I don’t advise it, but you could do. The Wii Balance Board is essentially a large chunk of plastic and electronics, which come together to be able to sense your weight and movement whilst on it. It can sense which side of your body you place most of your weight, and when combined with Wiimotes and the nunchuck (the main Wii controllers), enables you to play through a wide range of activities that aren’t particularly strenuous, but are a good starting place for someone to start working on their wobbly bits.
These activities range from catching fish and juggling to jogging and yoga, with strength training thrown in for good measure. There’s something in it for everyone. It’s where I started when I wanted to exercise but couldn’t go out, or wasn’t up to much. But what does it have for a gamer?
In contrast to Zombies Run!, Wii Fit goes for the old school high score approach to its mini games. By doing the games and exercises better, you get higher scores, which encourages you to do it more to get the score higher. As you play you also earn coins, which are banked in a piggy bank. After long enough playing (and therefore earning enough coins), you level piggy bank up. Whilst you exercise, Wii Fit also keeps track of roughly how many calories you burn, and has a handy chart equating different calorific amounts to actual food. It’s always good to know when you’ve burned off a bacon sandwich.
Of course, there are far more ways for gamers to get their gaming fix while exercising – these were just a few of the ones I use. There’s plenty of dancing and exercise games and apps for a variety of formats – Kinect for Xbox in particular (I don’t have one). And perhaps in the near future we’ll get virtual reality down pat and be able to be in game whilst actually just walking around the house. The closest I’ve seen so far is a combined use of the Oculus Rift and a kind of treadmill, which allows you to actually walk around in Skyrim. Well not actually but you know what I meant.
Keeping your brain fit
Of course an important part of keeping healthy is keeping our brains and mind healthy. I’m sure we’re all aware of brain training games to keep our memories ticking over and whatnot. But what about mental health when it comes to things like anxiety, stress, depression and other problems? Well the world is waking up to the use of gaming in helping mental health problems. Three in particular have come to my attention recently.
One I already knew about and have played so I shall look at that first. Depression Quest. Not intended to help fix depression, but for others who don’t suffer it better understand how it is to not be able to get out of bed. It’s a text based online game, with some music, but does a good job at portraying the cycles you can get into with depression. As you read and click through, you begin to see options crossed off, meaning your choice of action is increasingly restricted to ‘which is the least worst and uses less energy’. It’s simple but useful. Anything that helps lift the stigma and increases an understanding of mental health issues is only a good thing. Have a go here: http://www.depressionquest.com/
What else? Superbetter. Superbetter is a website that can be used by anyone, is free to use (as far as I know) and ‘gamifies’ the process of becoming ‘SuperBetter’. Using the ideas of RPGs, the site breaks down the process into quests, which you can complete and earn points in physical, social, mental and emotional resilience – tools we all use and need to keep ourselves healthy. The quests are real life tasks, like writing yourself some positive post it notes, but ones that help you deal with whatever thing you want to become Superbetter at. There are obstacles to face and big bosses to fight, and it all seems a bit silly and complicated at first. A bit like an actual RPG. But press a few buttons, accidently sell all your equipment, and you soon work out what you want from it.
If it sounds like something you’d find useful, you can find it here: https://www.superbetter.com/sign_in
Finally, I’d like to mention a game that’s looking for backing on Kickstarter, called Nevermind. It’s a horror game that is really best explained by the creator, so give the link a click: http://www.nevermindgame.com/Nevermind_Kickstarter/Nevermind__The_Game.html
Watched it? Good. Now I’m not one for playing horror games – I’ll watch them, but I don’t tend to play them. But I’m intrigued by this one. The concept that it gets scarier as you get more unnerved is interesting. As an anxiety sufferer, if I can’t get a panic attack or anxious thoughts under control, then it gets out of control and gets harder to bring back to normal. And in horror games, that makes sense. The more frightened you get in reality, the more likely it is you’re going to become more jumpy and easily scared. If it gets it’s funding, it’ll be an interesting game to use to help some people get their brain back under control. I’d give it my monetary support if I had the money. And if everyone can experience what it’s like to not have control, it’s only going to reduce the stigma and increase understanding.
Anyway. I hope this post was interesting to some of you. I quite enjoyed writing it. I haven’t really played any games worth reviewing (it’s mostly been completing games I hadn’t finished) but I’d started using a few apps to get me moving. If any of you have a good game or app or something that is worth a look at, whether for fitness or mental health, let me know in the comments!