Fit Gamer: Fit Game Divide

Season 1 – Week 2

The recent news has been full of the government’s incentive to splash out on fitness programs across the country. But without motivating people to engage with their new equipment it could all be for nothing. Let’s review the situation and consider some alternatives.

Keeping fit is all about attitude. Any personal trainer can build an exercise program to suit your physical ability, free time and personal circumstances. But to succeed you need a good positive attitude. My first fit gamer article attracted a lot of people from the USA, so I thought it only polite to take a look at how they have approached fitness gaming. It turns out they are one step ahead of the UK here.

Here in the UK fitness gaming is an alien concept, I doubt if anyone in a position of power could even imagine the concept exists. While in the US, video games are used to dance, cycle, step and balance the nation to health. I spent some time reading up on the UK’s fitness focus to get a better picture of what do we do this side of the pond?

This week £120 million has been announced to make municipal swimming pools free for the under 16 and over 60s, although no new facilities are planned. Earlier in the year, £235 million was announced for 3,500 new open spaces, although existing spaces are underused and not maintained. Add another £75 million in advertising spend for the proposed awareness campaign and that is a substantial amount of cash. One has to wonder exactly what any of this can achieve for the health of the nation.

As a personal trainer I get to meet a lot of people and I know that the last thing body sensitive people want to do is go swimming in public. A lot of parents are not all that comfortable letting their kids out late into the evening to parks that become beacons for teenage gangs. Add in the dark evenings, poor UK weather and the time taken up by school’s home work and exam revision and you can see why kids would rather play Xbox than play outside.

Don’t get me wrong, I am all in favour of swimming – it is the best form of all round fitness – and more open spaces will always be flexible and welcome. But this doesn’t address the big problem – the lack of uptake. The current spending isn’t in touch with what people want. Just look at Wii Fit as one example of how people would prefer to get fit; with fitness video games.

If I had this £430 million of public money to spend I’d use the ideas from the USA. People are becoming very unfit and fat all over the western world, but recent news from the states shows their obesity rates are actually falling in some areas, reversing a 20 year trend. Fitness gaming plays a large part in Americas success and they even have a special word for it to – “exergaming”.

My first spend would be £61 million to kit every school out with exergaming accessories. Video console fitness has proved a big success in the states, with dance mats being rolled out across whole regions. Kids love games and in my experience will keep fit while they play, without any prompting or complaining. Actually they love the idea and can’t get enough fitness gaming! I would put PS3’s and 360’s in every secondary school and PS2’s and Wii’s in every primary school.

Next would be dedicated exergame gyms, for people not in school. Fitness gaming is a sport, and it’s one you can be good at without having to spend years in training. Don’t forget the average age of a gamer is 30, so these gyms are going to appeal to the masses and generate viral awareness without costly TV advertising.

£128 million could create fitness gaming rooms in municipal leisure centres across the county. In America there are hundreds of privately funded specialist gyms for fitness gaming and also non-gaming machines with a fun approach to fitness. Over the other side of the Atlantic the YMCA is introducing fitness gaming into its centres, and getting a great response. If any organisation knows about what young people want, it’ll be the YMCA.

This adds up to just £189 million pounds and delivers a network of fitness gaming in schools and public places that will give people a start into healthier living. Everyone would be able to improve both body image and fitness ability, making them more likely to use the other sports facilities that exist today. As Nintendo only needed $40 million to launch Wii Fit as one of the fastest selling games of all time, I would spend an equivalent £20 million on advertising and awareness.

Now that leaves me with £221 million left. Call it a round £220 million I can give back to the taxpayer. I think my fee is reasonable, don’t you?

Luke Pyper – The Fit Gamer


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