Last month I had the honor of presenting the opening keynote at the Games for Health Conference in Boston. Even though I no longer fit the prime demographic of a “gamer” the audience must have connected with what I had to say on the topic of video gaming and health. I’ve since been invited to do a keynote at the Games for Health Conference in Europe in November.
Yes, video games can be good for health and the opportunity to improve one’s coordination, fitness level, weight, memory, sense of well being, and more are all possible outcomes from playing well-crafted video games on some of today’s best video game platforms. Not only does this apply to gaming itself, but I’ve also been astonished by all the health applications and innovations being developed for Microsoft’s Kinect sensor (for Xbox 360 and Windows) as demonstrated by some of the companies that recently participated in Microsoft’s Kinect Accelerator program.
Today, Microsoft is releasing Kinect PlayFit – a new fitness dashboard on Xbox LIVE that lets players track the calories they burn while having fun with Kinect. The new dashboard joins a growing number of titles and experiences that use Kinect as a fitness tool. I was delighted when our Interactive Entertainment group asked me to review Kinect PlayFit and comment. Check out the article below, and let the games begin!
Bill Crounse, MD Senior Director, Worldwide Health Microsoft
Burn Calories on Kinect, Track Them With Kinect PlayFit
Microsoft today unveiled Kinect PlayFit, a new Kinect fitness dashboard on Xbox LIVE that lets players track calories burned across multiple Kinect games. Available as a free download from the Xbox LIVE Marketplace, the app calculates and aggregates the calories players burn so they can track their progress over time, see how they rank against friends, and earn Xbox achievements.
Kinect PlayFit lets players track their calorie burn across multiple games.
The goal of the app is to motivate families to get off the couch and reward them for having fun, said Chuck Frizelle, executive producer for Kinect PlayFit.
“We’re trying to show that Kinect is not only fun but healthy for you, too,” he said. “Ultimately, Kinect PlayFit is a motivational tool. We want to motivate people to change their behavior and be more active.”
Kinect PlayFit will track fitness progress across a dozen games at first, with more titles to come later, Frizelle said. The dashboard lets players view their daily, weekly, monthly, and overall calorie burn totals, and Xbox leaderboards offer the chance to compare progress with friends and the overall Xbox LIVE community. Players can also earn up to 20 Xbox achievements, including bonus avatar awards, and post them on Facebook.
Kinect PlayFit joins a growing number of games and experiences such as “ Kinect Sports ,” “ Zumba Fitness ,” and the upcoming “Nike+ Kinect Training” that highlight how Kinect is bringing fitness into the living room, said Dave McCarthy, general manager for Kids and Lifestyle Entertainment in Microsoft Studios.
“With our new fitness dashboard, we are acknowledging that Kinect games are a legitimate part of an active lifestyle,” he said. “If you just want to be active and celebrate that, and maybe have fun and compete with your friends, Kinect PlayFit really opens up a whole different world for you.”
Ultimately, Kinect PlayFit is a motivational tool. We want to motivate people to change their behavior and be more active.
Chuck Frizelle, executive producer for Kinect PlayFit
Like Frizelle, McCarthy views the fitness dashboard as a motivational tool. The key features – rewarding players for their time and effort with achievements, giving them challenges, and comparing their calorie burn totals with friends –make Kinect PlayFit a healthy parallel to the joystick-based-gamer score.
“We thought we should embrace the fact that there’s a bunch of different ways people can see fitness and reward all sorts of different scenarios,” he said. “Because, whether you’re dancing or fighting with a lightsaber, they’re all good in terms of being active and getting people off the couch.”
Many Xbox users look at a title like “Dance Central” as a fitness experience as much as entertainment, Frizelle said. And longtime video game skeptics – be they parents, teachers or medical professionals – are starting to recognize that’s a good thing.
Xbox leaderboards offer the chance to compare progress with friends and the overall Xbox LIVE community.
“As a physician, I’m excited about anything that gets families engaged and people off the couch, jumping around playing together,” said Dr. Bill Crounse, M.D. and Microsoft’s senior director of worldwide health. Historically, video games have been criticized for turning people into couch potatoes, he said. But attitudes are changing. According to a recent United Health Group survey, the majority of consumers believe that physically active video games can complement traditional exercise, he said.
Crounse thinks PlayFit’s approach delivers on that front. “We know that when it comes to fitness and weight loss, incentives and feedback loops are extremely important. Games like PlayFit offer that: you have natural feedback loops to keep track of what’s going on; I can measure my progress; I can make decisions about my calorie burn and what I eat; and I can engage and challenge others to work with me.”
He added that the device’s impact on health is spreading beyond entertainment as Kinect for Windows pushes the platform beyond the living room. Developers are now tapping the Kinect capabilities for a wide range of health scenarios, including home physical therapy and remote patient monitoring, which could play a role in the ongoing discussion around healthcare reform.
“Technology and solutions like Kinect could help with healthcare’s ‘triple aim’ of improving care quality, making it available to more people, and reducing the cost,” Crounse said.
Still, the emphasis on Xbox remains as an all-up entertainment device, McCarthy said. But he expects fitness-related titles and experiences to expand: “In my mind, PlayFit is like the initial seed for a tree that can grow in a bunch of different and interesting directions like more partners, more functionality, and more device support in the months and years ahead.”