What do holiday family get-togethers mean to you? Eating? Or eating, watching movies or sports on TV, playing board games, putting puzzles together, and more eating? Those time-honored family pastimes are always fun, but let’s face it, you end up sitting a lot. And eating at lot. So we got together with fitness and health expert Marilyn McKenna to test a few video games that the whole family can play—and that involve moving around.

Marilyn trekked over to our offices on a winter day to play three games: Disney Fantasia: Music Evolved, Dance Central Spotlight, and Just Dance 2015. Watch the video to find out which one was her favorite.

The Playtest

Simone and Marilyn started out by playing Disney Fantasia: Music Evolved on the Xbox One for about half an hour. They competed to hit the right cues with gestures and rhythm—sort of like a musical conductor does. They found that when you really get into it—swing your arms in big arcs, punch hard toward the screen—the game “definitely gets your heart rate up.” Players can experiment with lots of different kinds of music, from classical favorites like “Eine Kleine Nacht Musik” to classic rock like Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” to modern hits like Lorde’s “Royals.”

Next up was Dance Central Spotlight on the Xbox One. Marilyn and Simone really went to work on this game. The Kinect sees your whole body and shows you how well you’re mimicking the moves of the onscreen dancers. Upcoming moves are displayed, too, so you can keep up a little more easily. (Spoiler: Marilyn won this contest. She’s a good dancer!)

And last up was Just Dance 2015 on the Wii U. This game is upbeat and happy and it doesn’t take itself too seriously. Up to five players can play at once. One thing to watch out for is the platform. While the Xbox One (or 360) with the Kinect sees your whole body and scores you on your moves that way, the Wii U senses only the arm that holds the Wiimote. So theoretically you can move just your arm and still win. Nobody in Pixelkin’s test did that, but Marilyn and Simone did notice that their heart rates didn’t get as high with Just Dance as they did with Dance Central Spotlight.

The Takeaway

Before our play session, Marilyn had never played a motion game. Here are some of the reasons she ended up liking them:

  • They’re easy to learn. Even if you’re not doing everything right, you don’t have to worry about pressing buttons or learning combos. You just move your body!”
  • “They’re  fun. So often we forget how important fun and happiness are to our health. We’ve all known someone (and been someone) who started a new workout only to drop it after a week. Part of this is psychological—often when you make time in your schedule for a workout, you cut out something that you thought was fun or frivolous. But I don’t think anything fun is frivolous! It’s something that made you happy, so it was important to you! “
  • “You can play them when it’s really wet and cold out.”
  • “Some of these games are capable of offering real health benefits: increased heart rates, improving vascular health, and energy expenditure equivalent to moderate-intensity exercise.”

We would add that games are good for motivating you in the short term. When you go to the gym you know what your long-term goals are: more stamina, stronger muscles, etc. But it takes a long time for those results to show up, and in the meantime you have to keep sweating away. Motion games can give you real physical benefits, but you get immediate positive feedback as well. Maybe that feedback is a great score, or maybe you unlock a fun new song or perfect a dance move. Motion games may not be the best thing for your hardcore workouts, but they can sure fill a niche in your fitness routine.


This article was written by

Linda learned to play video games as a way to connect with her teenaged kids, and then she learned to love video games for their own sake. At Pixelkin she wrangles the business & management side of things, writes posts as often as she can, reaches out on the social media, and does the occasional panel or talk. She lives in Seattle, where she writes, studies, plays video games, spends time with her family, consumes vast quantities of science fiction, and looks after her small cockapoo. She loves to hear from people out there. You can read more about her at her website, Linda Breneman.com or her family foundation's website, ludusproject.org.