LEXINGTON — The entertainment value of many of today’s most popular video games often comes under heavy fire for causing some of society’s current and most serious problems, such as promoting violence leading to mass killings, to increasing obesity and the incidence of type 2 diabetes in children, a form of diabetes that in years past, only occurred in obese adults.
A plethora of literature exists on the unhealthy physical and mental effects of video games, but Anthony Limperos, assistant professor in the Division of Instructional Communication and Research at the University of Kentucky College of Communication and Information, is focusing his research interests on the impact exercise video games (commonly known as “exergames”) might have on people who use these types of media as a tool to lose weight and increase health.
“The phenomenon of working out with video games has become increasingly popular in recent years, leaving many questions regarding whether these types of video games can be successful in facilitating exercise or healthy behavior,” Limperos said. “Specifically, I’m interested in exploring how in-game features and user experiences contribute to motivation to play and possible health benefits of exergaming.”
Exercise videos have come a long way from the days of actress, activist, and exercise guru Jane Fonda’s ‘feel the burn’ workouts. Today, exergames are a growing trend, primarily for popular gaming consoles like Nintendo Wii, X-Box 360, and PlayStation 3. Limperos suggests that these games have the potential to enhance physical fitness and burn calories but the games are only as good as the person’s motivation to consistently use them as a form of exercise.
Over the past three years, Limperos has conducted four studies which have focused on understanding how different technological features of exergames contribute to the positive psychological and behavioral experiences such as enjoyment, learning of proper exercise technique, and motivation for continued play. His initial study compared two identical types of home exercise media — exercise DVD versus Nintendo Wii exergame — and found that people who played the exergame were more involved and enjoyed the experience more than those who exercised along with the DVD.
In a follow-up study, Limperos compared the Nintendo Wii versus the X-Box Kinect to further understand what features of the games contribute to positive user experiences and outcomes. Both have similar interactive features, but the X-Box allows people to actually see themselves on-screen while exercising whereas the Nintendo Wii does not. The ability of the gamer to see him or herself on-screen proved to be the differentiating feature as people who got to play the exergame on Kinect reported greater feedback, enjoyment, involvement and future intentions to use this media to exercise in the future than those who used the identical version of the game on Nintendo Wii.
Recently, Limperos demonstrated an exergame based on the reality TV show ‘Biggest Loser’ in his research space located in Breckinridge Hall on UK’s campus. Standing in front of a wide screen television, he followed the instruction of the exercise instructor on the screen. On-screen participants were standing behind the instructor, much like in a live exercise classroom. A smaller pseudo image of Limperos stood in the bottom right hand corner of the screen, noted by a bright red color indicating that he was not in motion. As he began to follow along with the instructor and move, his pseudo image turned green indicating that he was in motion.
The exergame draws the participant in making the experience interactive by giving words of encouragement or instruction. At one point, the on-screen instructor asks the question “How are you doing?” and three answers appear on the screen. Limperos replied out loud, “This is too hard.” The instructor replied: “I can see you are trying but you need to push more. Keep your abs pulled in strong. Keep your heart rate up. Try to punch out more.” When the instructor asked “Are you feeling it?” Limperos replied “Yes, I’m feeling it.” The instructor comes back with “Good, just keep at it. The more you move the more calories you burn.”
The interaction between the on-screen instructor and the participant is an important feature of the exergame and contributes to the enjoyment of the experience for the participant. Student participants in Limperos’ research have reported that the exergame provided a good workout. Limperos says that some barriers to exercise adherence in a more traditional exercise setting, such as a gym, include lack of efficacy or knowledge of proper exercise technique, general dislike for exercise, and the negative effect of comparing oneself to others. Limperos feels that exergames can help people overcome these barriers, leading to a better overall exercise experience.
Limperos has presented his studies on exergaming at national and international communication conferences. He plans to continue this line of research by exploring how narrative and different features of the exergames contribute to the game player’s enjoyment and other social and behavioral effects which may results from the game playing experience.