Gaming’s hidden health agenda spooks the lard

For as long as video gaming has existed, there have been baseless attacks on the perceived unhealthiness of gamers. Whether it’s questioning bathing schedules, the ability to walk a flight of stairs without becoming winded, or drinking case upon case of Code Red Mountain Dew, enthusiasts of their respective systems receive their fair share of accusations. In an increasingly health-conscious world, it seems as though the system makers have bought into these generic complaints, and are attempting to do the unimaginable: transform the games themselves into an exercise routine.

There has been much discussion about the Nintendo fitness program — that is, the development of programs to simulate the excitement of squatting or breathing regularly. Last year, Nintendo debuted what is now being called the Wii Vitality Sensor, a device worn on the finger to detect heart rate and other “vitals.” With it, one could simulate the thrill of a hospital visit for a routine checkup.

One forgets just what the outside world looks like when thinking of exercising in front of the television. Why get on a treadmill when sprinting and hurdling over objects in real time is possible using Microsoft’s Kinect? (Formerly known as Project Natal.) More details emerged about the elusive device recently, and since then it’s been the topic of serious, mostly seated, discussion. But soon, sitting will be a thing of the past.

Kinect, a peripheral for the Xbox 360, is a rather alien looking device that allows a player to use the entirety of its body — rather than just the remote as in the Nintendo Wii — to control certain games and even the menu for the Xbox’s dashboard. A promotional video shows a seated person watching a movie streaming from Netflix. He raisees his hand to perform a sliding motion, which fast forwards the film without touching a button, as if both he and the system have the Shining. Would they have been able to foresee the conspiracy theories then?

Just as the hype about the Kinect began to escalate, the question of whether or not the system can actually work on a seated player arose, and Microsoft has been evasive in answering. How can one truly enjoy the game if flailing about is a requirement 100 percent of the time? Legs gone soft from years of disuse will suddenly be asked to control entire aspects of a game, from pretending to kick a ball to pretending to jump. (The jumping is real, the result is an illusion.) Will parents pretend to be proud?

Not to be outdone, Sony will soon release its own motion control device. Dubbed “Move,” Sony’s controller resembles a training toy for a dog, only this one can change color at will. Users can sword fight, play table tennis, poke at things and move other things. More to the point, it’s the Nintendo “Wiimote” with a camera for 3D interactions. Unlike the Kinect, there are no rumors about whether or not it works while seated; you simply point and wave, wave and point.

Come to think of it, the Move seems like the perfect accessory if you or a loved one are in the market for a sillier looking Wiimote. No word yet if a game will be available to train dogs. (Nintendogs is on the Nintendo.)

What with all of these options for bettering oneself, it appears as though going outside will become obsolete. Microsoft has announced a bundle package containing the new, slimmer 360 with the Kinect, and both Sony and Nintendo’s additions will be available shortly. Will these devices’ sole application be to turn gamers, nurtured on the cold comfort of stationary gaming, into all-flailing all-gyrating living room health warriors, or will there be actual unique gaming experiences born of this technology?

There are promising titles coming in the future, such as Ubisoft’s Child of Eden, exclusive for the 360, in which one uses the entire body for the purpose of shooting, making music or creating a baby octopus — it’s not quite clear.

Other systems allow games like SOCOM 4 for the Playstation 3 to be controlled by the Move, which would make for a bit more personalization, if that’s the kind of thing you look for in a war game.

Promises are always more interesting than the final result. Motion control has been a dream of children of the ’80s since, well, the ’80s. Now that it’s here, is it really all it was hoped to be? Only time will tell. In the mean time, why not try packing on a few more pounds to really stick it to the man?   

Chris O’Neal is a full-time English teacher from Camarillo living in Seoul, South Korea. He will return soon to hug his Xbox 360 and never let it go.

Chris.O’Neal13@gmail.com