Perceptual Computing and Exergaming: It’s a Match

What is “exergaming”? According to Exergaming Australia, it’s a whole new way to combine fitness with technology:

“Exergaming is more than a combination of just “exercise” and “games,” since such a definition would include football. Instead, it is an activity that combines exercise with electronic game playing.  

By "exercise" we mean any activity that increases heart rate via muscular exertion. So while playing Dungeons and Dragons may indeed quicken your pulse, most of the heart-rate increase results from the excitement of the game rather than muscular exertion. By “electronic game,” we mean an activity played using either a computer, game console, or other electronic interface that has rules, goals, and feedback….The imperative with defining exergaming, is to recognize  its two synergistic components.

 1.      Video/Digital [Multimedia] Gaming: An activity that involves interaction with a user interface to generate sensory feedback on a      multimedia device. The gaming platform is irrelevant, it can be of any origin and form (console, PC, mobile phone, portable gaming device  etc).

2.      Exercise: Physical activity that is a planned, structured movement of the body designed to enhance physical fitness.”

 While the term “exergaming” is relatively new, the practice of active exercise while engaged in video gaming or onscreen play has been around for a while. An article in Boing Boing details the history of exergaming in the last twenty-five years, going from the Atari Joyboard (a wobbly emulator for slalom skiing games) right on up to Nintendo’s Wii Fit, which comes with a polished balance board for personalized training. Most of these offerings are a poor substitute at best for the “real thing”; the real thing being actual, non-computerized, exercise. However, with the advent of more sophisticated sensors, technology, and support for the practice of exergaming, this looks like it’s about to change.

Effects of exergaming on children

A study recently published in The Journal of Pediatrics titled “The Effect of Exergaming on Vascular Function in Children” looked seriously at the effects of exergaming on children.  Fifteen kids between the ages of 9 and 11 played 15 minutes each of Kinect Sports: 200m Hurdles ( for the purposes of the study, this was considered to be “high intensity”), Kinect Sports: Ten Pin Bowling (low intensity), as well as taking a 15 minute graded treadmill exercise test. The children’s energy levels and vascular response to each exercise was measured carefully. After concluding exercise, the team was able to conclude that high intensity exergaming was equal to doing “off line” exercise of moderate intensity. "Higher intensity exergaming may be a good form of activity for children to use to gain long-term and sustained health benefits," said study author Louise Naylor, a sport science researcher at the University of Western Australia.*

 According to statistics, less than 50% of boys and 28% of girls are actually meeting the recommended minimum exercise guidelines. There is an epidemic of child obesity in the U.S, as detailed in a fact sheet from the Center for Disease Control:

  • Childhood obesity has more than doubled in children and tripled in adolescents in the past 30 years.
  • The percentage of children aged 6–11 years in the United States who were obese increased from 7% in 1980 to nearly 18% in 2010. Similarly, the percentage of adolescents aged 12–19 years who were obese increased from 5% to 18% over the same period. In 2010, more than one third of children and adolescents were overweight or obese.
  • Overweight is defined as having excess body weight for a particular height from fat, muscle, bone, water, or a combination of these factors.3 Obesity is defined as having excess body fat.
  • Overweight and obesity are the result of “caloric imbalance”—too few calories expended for the amount of calories consumed—and are affected by various genetic, behavioral, and environmental factors.

 Exergaming technology

Certainly, exergaming is not meant to be a panacea for any fitness issues. However, it could provide a meaningful, effective means for encouraging children to become more active.  And with more and more devices and technology aiming to make us all get off the couch, exergaming is set to make an impact. There are several systems/designs/technologies in the exercise game ecosystem from which to choose from:

  • Smartphones:  The app economy shows no sign of slowing down, and fitness apps are among the most popular. As app designs become more sophisticated, look for smartphones to provide apps that get you moving.
  • Wii Fit: As mentioned above, the Wii Fit uses a balance board along with a selection of remotes that translate real live movement (running, jumping, boxing, yoga) into game play.
  • Playstation: This console provides a wide range of titles for exercise, including volleyball, dance programs, tennis, etc.
  • Kinect: A standout in the field of exercise gaming, the Kinect offers hands-free gesture tracking in order to make exercise as realistic as possible.
  • Perceptual computing: While the field of perceptual computing is relatively new, this technology is forging new ground in human and computer interaction. Using voice control and hand gestures to power apps and devices, perceptual computing is set to be the next big wave in exergaming.

Perceptual computing – good fit for exergaming

Perceptual computing is especially intriguing as used in exergaming simply because of the virtual possibilities. A recent contest sponsored by Intel®, titled Ultimate Coder Challenge: Going Perceptual, focused on seven developer teams working to create the “ultimate” in PerC apps. One contender, Lee Bamber, created a virtual teleconferencing app that transported participants into a 3D space. Imagine that same technology applied to exergaming:

‘I can imagine the development of upmarket fitness gaming centres where you can work out through playing games with other people – running races together, two people playing on a virtual football team – all without needing to bring any equipment.’- Linden Dale Gander, Future of Fitness

In addition to the Ultimate Coder Challenge, there’s also the Intel Perceptual Computing Challenge, which challenges coders all over the world to forge new ground by integrating voice control, gesture control, facial recognition, and augmented reality within PC apps. Exergaming offers a whole new realm of possible exploration and ideas integrated into the rapidly developing perceptual computing movement, especially as body movement – hand gestures, body gestures, eye tracking, head tracking – is one of the key components of what makes up this exciting technology.

Is exergaming a fad? The term “exergaming” might not exactly roll of the tongue, but the activity of making gaming time as engaging and interactive as possible while exercising is certainly here to stay. What kind of perceptual computing exercise apps can you imagine? Let’s hear your ideas on exergaming in the comments below.


* Andrew Mills, Michael Rosenberg, Gareth Stratton, Howard H. Carter, Angela L. Spence, Christopher J.A. Pugh, Daniel J. Green, Louise H. Naylor. The Effect of Exergaming on Vascular Function in ChildrenThe Journal of Pediatrics, 2013; DOI: 10.1016/j.jpeds.2013.03.076


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