Friday, July 09, 2004
the video game junkie in your life is becoming a full-time
couch potato and packing on pounds, have no fear. A new trend
has gamers shaping up while they play.
The latest fad combines video game technology with fitness,
requiring players to jump around to score points instead of
just moving a joystick or pushing a button.
In Dance Dance Revolution (search) (DDR), players get down to the
music by following the pattern of arrows that appears on the
screen and hopping on the corresponding arrows on a floor pad.
A company called Sportwall International has developed games
that have kids running back and forth hitting lighted targets.
And some arcade games get players to duck and move like their
“You’re literally controlling the game with your whole body
and not just your fingertips,” said Chris Baker, assistant
editor at Wired magazine. “It’s definitely a new
genre that will probably get bigger.”
DDR, for its part, has developed an almost cult following
of fans, many of whom lost a significant amount of weight
playing the game.
Mel Baltazar, 27, said he was drawn to DDR because he likes
music-based games — but after a while noticed an unexpected
"In the first four months or so, I lost around 30 pounds,"
said Baltazar, of San Jose, Calif. "In about six to eight
months, I went from 280 to 230. I play nowadays to keep in
shape more than anything."
DDR fan Melody Hawman, 26, also shed pounds while she
played, going from about 220 to 143 at her lowest weight.
"I'm significantly lighter than I was when I wasn't
playing," she said. "You're not just using your hands — you're
actually getting up and doing something."
With the obesity epidemic in America reaching epic
proportions and video games, the Internet and television
accused of being among the culprits, entertainment that
combines physical activity with technology could be the wave
of the future.
“We have to give them the computer game packaged with their
physical fitness otherwise they’re not going to be
interested,” said Sportwall founder and CEO Cathi Lamberti.
“Kids have changed. They have been taught how to be
entertained and seduced by technology.”
But the interactivity of the Web has left gamers
wanting more out of their favorite hobby.
"There's that stigma that people who play video games are
slobs who just sit on the couch," said Baltazar. "In DDR, it's
more of an interactive experience where you're putting
yourself into the game."
To date, Konami Digital Entertainment, which
distributes DDR, has sold more than 6.5 million copies
worldwide and 1 million in the United States. The Web site http://www.getupmove.com/ documents the
stories of youths who have lost weight using the game,
which retails for $39.99 without the dance pad and
$59.99 with it.
“This is a game that defies all the other games out there
because the person has to get up and do the work,” said Jason
Enos, a product manager for Konami Digital Entertainment -
That’s one of the reasons movement-based video games are
becoming so popular.
“It’s one thing that parents like,” said Baker. “I’m sure
parents would rather have their kids doing that than simply
watching TV or playing a [regular] game or surfing the
The Sportwall systems — which include ScoobieBall for
toddlers and small children, SmartBall for school-aged kids
and Sports PC for budding young athletes — are popping up in
schools, fitness clubs, parks and even fast food restaurants.
They are currently not for use in private homes, but the
company is developing home systems.
In ScoobieBall, kids play in a portable enclosed
playground: both music signals and voice prompts guide
them to lighted targets, which they hit with balls to score
points. In SmartBall, kids hit targets that light up to show
letters, numbers, colors and geometric shapes. And in Sports
PC, young athletes hit tennis balls, basketballs and baseballs
against a wall, aiming for the circles that light
Lamberti said the Sportwall games are in 100 schools and
100 McDonald’s restaurants to date and help to improve kids'
“The lifestyle is fast food and no exercise,” she said.
“Technology has bred people to relate to the world in a
different way. We have to deliver fitness in that way, or
they’re not going to do it. It’s as essential as