Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Exer-gaming helps you lose weight while gaming

Exer-gaming or exertainment is a term used for video games that also make you exercise.

The hit product of this genre of games is the Dance Dance Revolution franchise (DDR) first released in Japan in 1998 as an arcade game. Over 90 different versions have been produced since then both as arcade and video games on Sony PlayStation (original and PS2), Nintendo GameCube and Microsoft XBox. The video game releases alone have sold more than 2 million copies. DDR arcade cabinets can be found in regular arcade halls and increasingly also in fitness clubs.

DDR is a rhythm game usually played on a dance pad with up, down, left and right panels. The dance pad is set on the floor - the arcade cabinets have elaborately constructed sets that incorporate the dance pads sometimes with hand rails. The game will display the arrows in ever increasing speeds on the screen. The player is then supposed to hit the panels on the dance pad with their feet as they appear on the screen. The arrows are synchronized to beat of the music played during gameplay, so if the faster the beat, the faster the arrows will appear and if there's a pause in the beat, the arrows will also pause. The gameplay is not entirely unlike the classic 80s party game Simon.

The State of West Virginia recently made a decision to purchase Microsoft XBox video game consoles and DDR games for all of its 765 public schools to fight childhood obesity.

While DDR is the most popular of the rhythm game genre, as these games sometimes are labeled, there are a wealth of options to choose from. Following is a short list of examples from most of the different sub-genres:
  • Britney's Dance Beat (yes, that Britney).
  • Drumming games, which include a drum controller. The idea is still the same as DDR's, but instead of hitting the dance pad with your feet, you hit the drums with your hands.
  • PaRappa the Rapper was probably the first rhythm game that attracted considerable support from gamers.
  • Space Channel 5 was an extremely popular rhythm game on the Sega Dreamcast game console.
  • Karaoke games are another popular rhythm game sub-genre. They can't really be labeled exer-gaming games though. Probably the most popular game in this genre is Karaoke Revolution.
Another major exer-gaming product group is exercising equipment incorporating games or connecting to video game devices. They either come with special software as in the case of the Peak Training System or various Tacx products designed for indoor cycling or just with the exercising equipment like The GameBike, which acts just like regular controllers on the PlayStation2 and XBox video game machines.

A very exciting new product group is made of devices that use digital cameras and motion recognition software to "see" how the players are moving and then translate them into movement of a virtual representation of the player. Applications range from virtual golf games and Kick Ass Kung-Fu to EyeToy (r).

Exer-gaming is one of the most quickly growing video game markets. The reasons are easy to understand when you look at the statistics of childhood obesity; 16% of boys and 14.5% of girls ages 6 to 11 were obese in 1999 and 2000. While going out for a quick jogging session might not appeal to children much, put them on a DDR dance pad with their friends, and the story is entirely different.

Here's an excellent roundup of exer-gaming.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Gaming for God - Christian online gaming communities

+CGO+ or Christian Gamers Online is a three hundred member online gaming community. The members are all actively religious Christians who love playing video games. For them online gaming is a great way to connect and communicate with fellow Christians, and also to spread the word of God.

Other Christian online gaming communities, such as Men of God International use online gaming primarily as a tool to evangelize. In fact, Owen Parker, of MGO, says "We're more than just a gaming clan-we're a full-blown ministry". They've essentially formed a virtual church with Sunday services, outreach programs and counseling services.

The emergence of these communities is explained by the increasing popularity of game playing and online game playing among Americans and especially young people. If there are missionaries in war torn places like Darfur and Afghanistan, why would online games be any different? Just like Parker of MGO explains,
taking the ministry to the network-connected masses is just culture catching up with technology.

An online adult gaming community I belong to has a number of devoted Christian members. They hold regular Play and Pray nights on XBox Live.

The person who started the Play and Pray nights works as a Pastor of Media at a large church in North Carolina, where he oversees all broadcast and worship media, and graphic design and publication teams. He writes about the Play and Pray nights:

I got the idea for ‘Play and Pray’ after I saw that several people in the online community I’m a part of were Christians, or at least interested in Christian things. I asked a few people if they would be interested in getting together before some games, sharing, and praying. We set a time and it happened. The Halo 2 Live interface really worked well, and when we got finished we launch into some custom games. We started meeting about once a week.

Later we started doing a Bible study as part of it. We even went through Rick Warren’s book, “The Purpose Driven Life”

The number of people who attending has ranged anywhere from 2 to 11. Not everyone who comes is a Christian, sometimes people just need some prayer and encouragement, or just to talk.

We are all just normal people with everyday problems, with one common factor: we love to play video games. The people who take part in Play and Pray get to know more about each other than their favorite gametype. They share real concerns and real joys. I have made some very close friends through this, even though I have never seen their face. The praying together brings us closer than simply playing together could.

It has never been my intention that this be anyone’s church. While this is a great thing, it can never take the place of attending church in person. That kind of corporate worship and interaction is just beyond the limits of the Live interface. But it is a very easy way for people who are interested in knowing more about Christ, but don’t want to go to a church, to be introduced to Christian ideas.

A regular participant in the Play and Pray nights writes:

The main reason why I decided to give Xbox Live a try was because I wanted to get away from the rest of the world for a while and just relax, let me mind go, and just enjoy doing something that I always have fun doing: playing video games. To me, it was just a great stress reliever. Well, that seemed to turn around very quickly when I realized that my competitive juices were probably going to get the better of me, and not only that, everyone else that I played with just seemed to take the game WAY too serious. I can't stand listening to people curse, take the Lord's name in vain, and just have a flat out disrespect for everyone around them. Not to mention the cheating, cheating, and more cheating.

I had searched for "Christian Gaming" sites before, but I never found one that suited me at all. It seemed to be all about PC gaming, which I have never been a fan of. Sooner or later, I came to find the "Play and Pray" meet-up that took place at different times of the week. I was tripping out. I had been looking everywhere for some fellow believers who I could just have a great time with, play games, and just fellowship in the Lord.

I have never been able to make the majority of the meet ups, but when I have, it's been a real blessing and a real fellowship. It was never fake. Whenever someone can get on a service like Xbox Live, and have prayer requests, prayer time and Bible study, you know that it's real. Not being able to see these people, you really have to listen to what they are saying, and you feel for them and hurt for them when they go through struggles. "Play and Pray" blended worship and gaming, and that's not a bad thing.

I am thankful for the Lord allowing me to find the "Play and Pray." I have met some amazing people who love the Lord and just want to serve Him. But, like anybody, these people go through struggles and pains, and to have a place like Xbox Live where we can connect and speak to one another about our problems, it's truly an amazing thing. I know for a fact that if I have something going on and I need prayer, I can send a voice message to one of these people and I know they will lift up prayers for me.

That's great, and it's something that I'll always cherish.