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Exergaming is a combination of video games and fitness routines where people must engage in physical activity to interact with the game. It is marketed as a way to keep people motivated about exercise and to create exercise routines for people who might not otherwise be active. Also known as exertainment, exergaming is a topic of debate among researchers. Some studies suggest that it does provide health benefits and can stand in for exercise, while others indicate that this is not necessarily the case.
The origins of exergaming lie in the 1980s, when several game companies produced games with interactive pads that users could run, jump, and dance on. In the 1990s and 2000s, exergaming developed by leaps and bounds, with gaming companies integrating virtual reality and exercise to create games intended to be realistic, as well as physically demanding.
A typical setup includes a gaming console and haptic devices that users interact with to cause things to happen inside the game. Users may ride a bicycle, swing a racket, run or dance on a pad, or use traditional cardiovascular fitness machines that are linked to a virtual reality environment. Some games monitor heart rate and reward people for hitting the target zone and staying there. Others may unlock new features as people exercise harder or faster, creating an incentive to put energy into the exercise.
Advocates of exergaming suggest that it can get people exercising when they might not otherwise be active enough, and that the use of rewards and incentives in the game encourages people to meet exercise targets. Studies have also shown that integrating video games into exercise routines with indoor exercise equipment can help people stay focused. People may be less likely to abandon a routine that requires using a treadmill, stationary bike, or other type of machine if they are playing games while they exercise.
However, the combination of video games and fitness has been questioned by some studies that have demonstrated that the games do not necessarily demand physical exertion. People may believe that they are meeting exercise targets by exergaming but will actually fall short with these games. Some researchers have suggested setting standards for exercise games, along with creating clear labeling so that people know how to get the most out of their games.