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Motion-sensitive games may be future of personal fitness

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With the current shift of video games towards motion-sensitive technology, the industry is hoping to get gamers off the couch as it looks to help them shed those unwanted pounds as well as the negative stereotype all too often associated with the industry.

For much of the populous, the most common image that comes to mind when asked to describe a gamer would be of a pimple-faced male teenager, sporting a pair of thick prescription glasses and donning an ill-fitting T-shirt over an overweight frame.

Throughout the years, this image has been regularly perpetuated by Hollywood and has even led some to question what impact gaming has on the overall health of our society.

Perhaps one of the more high-profile examples of this was during a speech to the American Medical Association in Chicago in June 2009, in which President Barack Obama said he felt as though video games were becoming an increasing factor in unhealthy and sedentary lifestyles in children.

“The second step that we can all agree on is to invest more in preventive care so that we can avoid illness and disease in the first place. That starts with each of us taking more responsibility for our health and the health of our children,” Obama said. “It means going for a run or hitting the gym, and raising our children to step away from the video games and spend more time playing outside.”

Regardless of how much stock people actually put into the notion of a correlation between video games and obesity, the reality is that the current landscape of gamers is comprised of an increasingly diverse demographic ranging from kindergarten students to academy-award winning actresses such as Jodi Foster, who has said she is an avid player of “Guitar Hero.”

Admittedly, much of the acceptance video games are currently enjoying in mainstream culture has to do with the relatively recent emergence of motion-sensitive gaming.

Not only has this new technology greatly expanded the audience for the industry, but it has also found a new way to make fitness fun in the process.

Quickly after its inception in 2006, gamers began to take notice of the amount of weight they were losing just by using the Nintendo Wii.

Unlike conventional controls, which typically only tested the dexterity of a user’s thumbs, the Wii’s utilization of full range of motion sensitivity got gamers off the couch and sweating up a storm as they swatted at virtual tennis balls in front of their televisions.

Seeing the potential for their latest generation console to be used not only as a gaming system but as a fitness device as well, Nintendo followed the release of the Wii with the “Wii Fit” video game and peripheral Wii Balance Board in 2008.

As of May of this year, more than 22.6 million copies of the game have been sold, making it one of the best selling games in history.

Nintendo has also added several other fitness titles to its lineup, including “Jillian Michaels’ Fitness Ultimatum,” “The Biggest Loser,” as well as “My Fitness Coach.”

The company’s handheld Nintendo DS also has a few selections with “Let’s Pilates!” reported to be a favorite of actress Angelina Jolie.

However, while Nintendo may have been the first to explore the capabilities of motion-sensitive gaming, the company’s chief rivals have not only been able to catch up to the Kyoto-based company, but in some respects may have even surpassed it.

In particular, the Kinect from Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT) has some saying the device may very well be the future of personal fitness.

Unlike the Wii or even Sony’s (NYSE: SNE) Move, which are still restricted by the need for handheld controllers, the Kinect utilizes a camera to track a player’s movement from head-to-toe in real time.

In the new title, “Your Shape Fitness Evolved,” players are led through a series of exercises that increase in difficulty as they progress.

However, unlike other fitness games, the tracking capabilities of the Kinect provide immediate feedback to the user when they are not in the proper position.

For example, during a stretching routine, should a player’s knees not be bent at the proper angle or should their arm need to be raised a bit higher, the game automatically informs the user of these corrections on screen, much like what a real personal trainer would do.

In the end, what many people envision for this technology is not unlike the iconic scene from “The Matrix,” where Keanu Reeves proudly boasts to Laurence Fishburne, “I know kung fu.”

While we may still be several years away from being able to learn kung fu in this manner, it’s definitely a great time to not only be a gamer, but to get in shape as well.

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