A Whole New Game

While catching up on my reading recently, I came across an article on Eric Kjellman, a guy who lost 140 pounds. During a nine-month period, Eric dropped from 380 pounds to 240, trimming his waist from 54 to 42 inches.

Eric's story is the type of tale you'd expect in a fitness magazine. But I didn't read about Eric in a fitness magazine. I read about him in a gaming magazine — The Official U.S. PlayStation Magazine, to be exact.

Finding a weight-loss story in a publication dedicated to video games is akin to coming across an article on the joys of sobriety in High Times. It seems like a paradox. Video games encourage the type of inactivity that leads to weight gain and obesity. So what was Eric doing in the magazine?

Well, believe it or not, Eric used video games to shed pounds. His weight-loss program included a change in eating habits and a game called Dance Dance Revolution (DDR).

An arcade game now available for the PlayStation, DDR — as the name suggests — gets players to dance. Rather than a standard control, DDR uses a special peripheral that players stand on. While blasting out a variety of club mixes, the game directs the player to “dance” by shifting his feet to different parts of the pad.

At its most basic, DDR won't do much to raise your heart rate. But the game does include a workout mode. When players select this mode, they enter their weight and desired workout time or calorie loss. The game handles the rest, displaying the calorie burn at the bottom of the screen.

DDR isn't the only video game that encourages physical activity. While visiting a friend's apartment, I played a game called Samba De Amigo. Available for the soon-to-be-defunct Sega Dreamcast, Samba De Amigo also works with a special peripheral: a pair of maracas. Players shake the maracas in time to pop dance songs.

As a I played Samba De Amigo, two things occurred to me. One, I realized that the game made me look like a complete goof (imagine Davy Jones of the Monkees — only without the boyish good looks and groovy British accent — and you'll get a picture of me holding a pair of maracas in my friend's living room). Two, the game becomes increasingly quicker and difficult as you progress; I found myself breaking a sweat while trying to shake the maracas faster.

I mention DDR and Samba for a reason. Video games are never going to go away. But if some video games are beginning to incorporate physical activity, maybe our industry can embrace the trend.

Got childcare? If your budget allows, why not invest in one of the video games that I just mentioned? A Dreamcast console, the Samba De Amigo game and the maracas peripheral will set you back a few hundred bucks. Expect to pay about the same for a PlayStation, a copy of DDR and the dance pad.

If you have a little extra money, pick up a second peripheral. Both DDR and Samba De Amigo support two players, so you can hold dancing and/or maraca-shaking contests.

Just imagine the fun that the kids will have playing video games which involve music, dancing and maracas. Meanwhile, they'll be learning to associate physical activity with fun.

Video games carry ratings (like movies), and both DDR and Samba De Amigo are rated E (for everyone). Still, it's up to you to decide if the games are appropriate for the youngsters in your club. If they aren't, buy the games anyway and let the grown-ups play. Plenty of adults (well, guys at least) enjoy video games. I do. That's why I was reading the PlayStation magazine in the first place.

Best regards,

Jerry Janda