Are the new generation of active video games good for children?
Rearchers are busy working to find out if they actually encourage physical activity. To get an idea of what they are likely to find, we can turn to work that has shown that video games are capable of getting players up off the sofa. Dance Dance Revolution (DDR), where players step on a special mat in response to on-screen prompts, has been successfully used in schools, homes and after-school programs to encourage
exercise. Playing DDR for 45 minutes has been found to raise heart rates to a level indicating increased metabolism and calorie burning. For the active video games to be equally successful, they must require consistent and relatively strenuous
movements-not just simple arm swings and wrist movements.
But DDR was not the first attempt to get kids up and active as part of a video game. The Nintendo Entertainment System, released in 1985, had a mat accessory and games that had the player run, jump and do aerobics. The games that used the Power Pad, however, were never very popular as they lacked the engaging qualities of better designed games.
With the power of the new generation systems like the Nintendo Wii, there is the potential to have games that
synthesize the appealing qualities of video games with
controls that demand high levels of physical activity. However,
if the active games rely on the novelty of the movement instead of on good game design, young people will revert quickly to the sedentary games.
The potential benefits of active video games are why we shouldn't group all video games into a category of unhealthy behavior. The content of the games as well as the type of
interface will determine the health outcomes. Encouraging
overweight patients to reduce their overall time with video games may no longer be as advantageous as in the past.
With the advent of high quality, active video games comes
the potential to use them in the treatment for obesity, rather than simply blaming them for contributing to the epidemic.
It's still useful to keep in mind, though, that some video games kids a chance to act out extremely violent acts. Research has repeatedly demonstrated that violent video game play increases young people's aggressive thoughts and behaviors.
On the Wii, actual stabbing and punching motions can replace simple button presses. Going through the motions of the
violence may have a stronger influence on later behaviors than traditional violent video games, but research is necessary before we know if violent games presented in this manner have such severe negative consequences.
- David Bickham, PhD, research scientist, Center on Media and Child Health