Fighting the flab

We’ve all been guilty of gorging on artery-choking slop after a night on the ale.

It’s one of the satisfyingly defiant joys of living in an age when getting told to avoid fatty food makes those indulgences even more appealing.

But it’s a dangerous game to play. Too many visits to the local takeaway leaves you flabby, pale and – quite frankly – less likely to get laid.

So by combining the once-sedentary pursuit of gaming with a spot of exercise makes perfect sense – a trend that began not with Wii Fit, but titles like EyeToy: Kinetic and the flurry of dance mat games that emerged on consoles around the turn of the century.

It may have taken Nintendo to really galvanise this genre, but more publishers are donning their gym kit and releasing titles that require more than a tricky end-of-level boss to make players sweat.

My Health Coach: Manage Your Weight is one such title – and Ubisoft UK brand manager Ombeline Wallon believes this can open a whole new market.

This is a new area in gaming,” she tells MCV. These titles can resonate with a population that is much wider than gamers. Healthy gaming titles advertise a totally different aspect of gaming. It’s not only about the graphics and immersive experience, it is about ease-of-use and real-life benefits.

This can appeal to a much wider part of the population. Consoles like the DS and Wii are clearly offering new opportunities and consumers of all ages and genders are becoming aware of this.”

Atari’s Family Trainer is perhaps Wii Fit’s closest cousin, and considering the success of Nintendo’s hit title, that’s no bad thing.

I believe we are seeing a shift of perception in gaming, as more games are including social features such as multiplayer and community modes,” says Atari Europe marketing manager Lionel Arnaud.

This shift is partly thanks to new hardware, such as the Wii. This is why we decided to make Family Trainer for the Wii, as the main audience of the hardware is similar to the audience we want to reach.”

And while it has taken us a while to catch up with other media when it comes to self-improvement, it seems that momentum is building, says Ubisoft’s Wallon. A lot of the topics we are now tapping into have existed for years in other media, mostly books and magazines.

Consoles can add interactivity and fun to the mix as well as portability with the DS and PSP. They can make learning a language, managing your weight or quitting cigarettes more engaging and accessible.”

Atari’s Arnaud is in agreement and admits there are new areas to explore: We need to be where our audience is and the more parent-friendly content means that we must explore new avenues outside of just the specialist press and traditional outlets.

Core-focused games tend to target a particular audience, usually male and in their late teens through to early thirties, whereas Family Trainer aims for all.”

Turning the old sterotypes on their head, healthy gaming is another valuable piece of ammunition in the fight against the outdated perception of gaming as an activity for lazy loners. And it’s starting to actually work.

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