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Last Updated: Tuesday, 22 August 2006, 17:10 GMT 18:10 UK
Gaming gets in shape
Iain Mackenzie
Technology reporter, BBC Radio 1 in Edinburgh

Artwork from Dance Dance Revolution
Players try to copy onscreen dance steps in Dance Dance Revolution
Sullen teenagers in darkened rooms have been the pasty-face of gaming since Pong first went ping.

Beyond exercising the thumbs it has never been a hobby known for its health benefits.

However, that's starting to change, according to Ben Sawyer, founder of advocacy and research group Games for Health.

"A video gaming system can make exercise more dynamic, more fun than DVDs, video tapes or going to the gym," he said.

"It is the way a certain generation will choose to follow an active lifestyle."

The phenomenon is known as "exer-gaming", a combination of exercise and gaming.

Brain power

There are already several titles on the market which make gamers work-up a sweat.

In Konami's Dance Dance Revolution, players try to copy dance steps shown on a screen by jumping around on a controller mat.

Screen shot of Prof. Kawashima's Brain Training: How Old is your Brain?
Brain Training is a portable workout for your grey matter

Sony's EyeToy camera for the PlayStation 2 also encourages users to control the action by leaping about their living rooms.

Physical gaming is about to get even bigger, with both Sony's PlayStation 3 and Nintendo's Wii consoles featuring movement-sensitive controllers.

"All the reports from everyone that's played with the Wii say you definitely get tired," said Mr Sawyer at the Edinburgh Interactive Entertainment Festival.

Games for Health doesn't just concern itself with physical fitness. According to Mr Sawyer, players' mental well-being can also benefit.

"Games can be used as personal therapy. Used in conjunction with a therapist, they might help you with a phobia, such as fear of spiders, fear of flying or fear of driving."

Psychiatrists in the United States are using games to help treat post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in Gulf War veterans.

We can potentially have a situation when we can play our way to better health
Ben Sawyer

"What they've done with PTSD is take off-the-shelf games and modified them so they can gradually guide the soldier through a war environment and provide them with therapy.

"The therapist can scale that environment up and down and decide how realistic they make it look."

Complete workout

The current popularity of brain-training games, especially on Nintendo's DS handheld, also falls within the category of games for health.

Players perform a series of mental challenges such as high-speed arithmetic or memory tests.

Some research has suggested that playing titles like Big Brain Academy and Prof Kawashima's Brain Training: How Old is your Brain? could even delay the onset of Alzheimer's disease.

Ben Sawyer believes such games can be used as part of a wider lifestyle improvement.

"The growing consensus on brain health is that it's a combination of being socially active, being physically active and being mentally active.

"We've got exer-gaming so we can make you physically active, we've got brain-gaming so we can make you cognitively active. Then with massively multi-player gaming in virtual worlds we have the social activity."

"We can potentially have a situation when we can play our way to better health."


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