Hold the phone! I know what you are thinking. Could gaming lead to a more active lifestyle….is she totally crazy?! But here is the thing…I’m talking about active gaming here.
We all want to lead healthy lifestyles. If you’re a parent, you’re also going to want your little ones to lead healthy lifestyles. This is understandable. We want ourselves and those we care about to be as safe, fit, comfortable and happy as possible.
We also want to lead the longest lives possible. So, it’s not all too surprising that the introduction of video games caused a little panic in regards to how these consoles could impact our overall health and wellbeing.
When consoles were first released, many children would spend most of their free time playing outdoors and, inevitably, getting plenty of exercise. The introduction of consoles saw many begin to spend more time indoors, seated in the same position for hours on end.
As obesity began to rise across the nation due to various factors, video games have often found themselves roped into the causes of a lot of childhood obesity and adulthood obesity. But are games really all that bad in terms of discouraging an active lifestyle?
Believe it or not, recent years have actually seen the tables turn in terms of gaming and activity levels thanks to active gaming. Let’s take a moment to look at how active gaming could actually – and surprisingly – help to contribute to your recommended one hundred and fifty minutes of physical exercise every week!
VR (Virtual Reality)
Not all too long ago, VR was something that was hugely futuristic and deemed impossible or the stuff of science fiction films. But nowadays, it’s a reality and you can actually buy VR consoles for your own home. Put simply, VR stands for “virtual reality”.
A VR system or console will give you an experience of something that doesn’t really exist. VR consoles will allow you to interact with a 3D world through a head mounted display and clever use of input tracking. Sound will also be incorporated to create a more immersive experience.
You can walk around these simulated worlds and undertake activities as if you were really inside the game. This is odd, of course. It was mocked in an early episode of the Simpsons, where Bart asks to go on the Yard Work Simulator at the local fair. Why would you want to do something that you can just do in real life, but indoors and through a simulation that isn’t real? Well, there are countless benefits of VR that can actually be great in terms of physical activity and exercise.
An early example that gained great success was the Nintendo Wii and Wii Sports. Released in 2006, the Nintendo Wii is a home video game console that includes the Wii controller, a handheld pointing device that detects movement in three dimensions.
While this didn’t provide a fully immersive virtual reality experience, you can use your remotes to control characters on screen who then mimic the movements you carried out. Wii Sports is an extremely popular game that actively encouraged fitness, as you carried out physical tasks and activities to help your player win the games on screen.
This virtual form of exercise has been deemed as good as the real thing, encouraging people to be active in their living rooms. This is great, as it encourages fitness without people feeling forced to go to the gym, fitness classes or sports clubs. Instead, people began to actively enjoy exercising, as there was the fun gaming element behind it, and people would hit their fitness recommendations voluntarily and happily!
More up to date VR games that encourage fitness can include games like Beatsaber. This encourages players to immerse themselves in a game where you slice blocks representing musical beats with a pair of contrasting colour lightsabers. This encourages physical activity and encourages you to continue long after you may have given up in the gym, as you have the challenge to beat and are having fun!
AR (Augmented Reality)
Another great form of active gaming that has encouraged fitness has been AR. AR stands for “augmented reality” and provides you with an interactive experience of real life environments, enhanced with computer generated objects that do not actually exist in that environment.
Pokemon Go is perhaps the best known example of this! Pokemon Go is an app that can be downloaded to your phone. When you open the game, your front camera is activated, meaning you can see what is actually in front of you in real life on the screen. However, as you walk around, Pokemon can appear on your screen, as if they were in your real life environment. You then complete the game by catching them.
This is simple. But it has encouraged countless people to leave the house and to get out and about when they might not have been active otherwise. The game encourages plenty of walking and can easily help you to hit your recommended daily 10,000 steps. Other AR games, such as Harry Potter AR, have experienced success too!
Sports video games are a great example of active gaming with how they get people into sports that they may then try out in real life. They also help to keep people engaged with sports while they are out of season. If someone particularly enjoys playing a sports video game, they’re much more likely to be inclined to get out and about and try it out themselves in real life too! This can be great, as not only do they have a hobby in the video game, but they will have a more physical hobby as a result too!
Remember that we don’t only have to focus on our physical health and wellbeing when it comes to living the healthiest life possible. We also need to prioritise our mental health and wellbeing too. Scientific research and societal progression over the past few years have seen much of the stigma surrounding mental health and mental health conditions lift.
We’re now much more comfortable talking about issues that impact many of us, such as depression and anxiety, and many of us are actively looking for ways to ease symptoms of mental health conditions and improve our overall mental wellbeing. Lately, people have been questioning how video games impact our mental health as well as our physical health.
There have been various reports and stories of video games negatively impacting mental health. Some will claim that gaming has contributed to their anxiety, depression and other conditions. In 2018, the World Health Organisation officially listed gaming addiction amongst its list of recognised mental illnesses.
However, often, the negative impacts of gaming have been caused by an addiction to gaming, not the games themselves. This is why it’s important that you monitor your gaming use and ensure that you’re not gaming excessively or becoming reliant on gaming for emotional or mental stability or happiness. Set a time limit on the amount you can game each day. This will help to establish healthy boundaries and reduce excess.
Now, onto the positive impacts of gaming on mental health. Many people vouch that calming games have really helped them to get through difficult phases or periods of mental health. The skyrocketing popularity of Animal Crossing during the Coronavirus pandemic this year seems to be proof of that.
The pandemic of 2020 has been difficult for many of us, isolating us from our loved ones, removing our day to day distractions or commitments such as work, socialising and hobbies. This has been extremely difficult for many of us and has taken its toll on the nation’s mental health.
Games like Animal Crossing have provided many people with a therapeutic escape from the stresses and troubles of real life. It provides you with an environment you can control and where you can feel secure, as you build islands and ensure the day to day life of their inhabitants are positive and safe.
It has also opened up social opportunities, with people socialising through the game, helping to eliminate feelings of loneliness and isolation. All in all, this has proven a real life raft for many people’s mental health during an extremely difficult time.
As you can see, there really is a lot to take into account when it comes to talking about games and health. Sure, it can be easy to see people sitting gaming and to automatically think that games are not good for their physical health and that people are just being static and stagnant rather than out and about. But on the flip side, if used in the right way (and I do very much stress that) they can encourage activity, improve mental health and they can generally help people to be happier individuals with better overall wellbeing.