This Year Will Be Different: Fitness Games That Don't Require a Console

Posted by | January 14, 2016 | Feature, Mobile, Opinion | No Comments
exercise

Resolutions. Come January first, a lot of us like to sit down and make them. We call them resolutions, suggesting that resolve—the act of will and commitment—is the single most important factor in meeting our goals. If we could only scrounge up the willpower, then we could easily stop buying expensive coffees, train for a 5K, or banish caffeine from our lives forever. Right?

Wrong. Because while it’s wonderful to take time to review our commitment to major goals, it’s naive to imagine that resolve and willpower are the only tools we need to actually meet those goals. And when we try to achieve a long-term goal without a realistic plan to address barriers and pitfalls, we are very, very likely to fail.

The barriers we face can be both physical and psychological. Like a lot of people, I’d like to incorporate a lot more physical activity in my life to help with stress relief, stamina-building, and general health goals. And one of my biggest barriers to achieving that is boredom. So anything that can help me fight boredom while I’m exercising is welcome.

Enter a new generation of games. Whereas in the past, game systems that incorporated physical movement like Wii and Dance Dance Revolution have required console access and equipment, newer games have evolved to take advantage of widespread availability of smartphones.

Zombies, Run! is the best-known fitness app and is available for both Android and iPhone. While Zombies, Run! was first introduced in 2012, it went free-to-play in 2015, making it the most easily accessible option for new users.

I tested out Zombies with a friend, and the app passed the first test—we both made it out the door be-sneakered on a cold January morning. I’m not in what you’d call marathon-ready condition, so I appreciated that the audio adventure both urges you to speed with the sounds of slavering right behind you and explicitly supports going at any pace that works for you. I saved actual running for bursts of speed when the zombies were getting close and walked briskly the rest of the time. It made for a workout that let me work up a sweat without feeling exhausted or in pain for the rest of the day.

The voice acting was well done, and I quickly came to care about the characters who were guiding me through my mission. Game elements like collecting supplies felt motivational without being intrusive. The app syncs with an external playlist so that you can listen to your music in between the radio transmissions that relate to your mission. More, it was actually fun!

Motivation Is Key

This is crucial, according to Imaginactive Fitness founder Adele Kirby, whose audio fitness adventure, Apocalypse Survival Training, is currently in development after a successful Kickstarter.

“We need exercise to tick more boxes than just ‘I exercised. It was hard.’ If exercise can tick other personal priority boxes (i.e. I saw friends; I had fun; exercised my brain/imagination; I made progress; I am proud; my body works better; I feel better) it becomes much more desirable. It becomes beneficial to our lives beyond being something we ‘should’ do to lose weight, as self-flagellation after making poor eating/drinking decisions, or because family/friend/health professional told us we needed to do it.”

Kirby’s project was inspired by her desire to share her love of fitness with an audience that ordinarily responds more to classic gamer stimuli: “AST was a response to many of my geek friends envying my love of exercise but unable to share it. They kept asking me to ‘make exercise fun’ and combine my writing with fitness work in a way they could find accessible. That’s how I started developing the concepts that would later become Apocalypse Survival Training—by combining elements they already enjoyed (story telling, entertaining characters, driving music, SF/fantasy tropes, the hero’s journey) with exercise.”

Many fitness apps also pull in another pleasurable element of the gaming experience: cooperative play. Teemo, available in the Apple store, allows users to build teams to take on missions. Reviewers have described it as an excellent way to involve the whole family in fitness activities. Cooperative systems build in the additional support of social accountability, giving one more nudge to the reluctant psyche. And FitRPG, a game that incorporates FitBit use, also lets you compete with friends, if that’s more the type of incentive you need.

You will need resolve to reach your goals, and willpower too. But a little bit of fun might just be the tool you didn’t know you needed to cross “boring” off your list of excuses for not exercising.

Sophie Weeks

About Sophie Weeks

Born in Phoenix, Arizona, Sophie Weeks received a Masters degree in English Literature from Mills College in 2006 and completed her PhD in Victorian Literature at Rice University in 2013. Sophie resides in Payson, Arizona with two furry miscreants, who are wanted in multiple states for criminal adorableness. She is the author of Outside the Spotlight, Unsettled Spirits, and The Soured Earth. To connect, visit her website at sophieweeks.net