It’s not always easy to find the motivation during cold winter months to make your way outside to exercise. So, there could not be a more ideal moment for the launch of the fruit of a recent collaboration between Nike and Microsoft Kinect: Nike + Kinect Training, a custom home training program (yes, it’s a training program, and not a « video game »).
Nike’s dabbling in the video game market comes to no surprise when one observes their global strategy over the past couple of years to become the most advanced of the major sports brands in the digital sector. Early to pinpoint the huge impact that Smartphones and social media could play in the practice of sports, they have been developing hardware as well as software that all works together, accompanying you before, during and after your run/workout, to making the whole experience more motivating, more social, more targeted and fun (the Nike + Community now has more that 7 million members).
Following this logic, Nike + Kinect Training uses “Fuels” to mesure your progress throughout the training program- the “Fuel” being the unique and proprietary Nike metric launched along with their Fuelband in early 2012. It is “the ultimate measure of your athletic activity” based namely on research in “oxygen kinects”. So, whether you are walking around town wearing the Fuelband or playing with Nike + Kinect training, your fuels will be synchronized on the Nike + website.
The Nike + Kinect Training program benefits from the credibility and quality of the Nike brand as well as the comptability with an already extensive digital athletic experience. The game is pretty. Fancy working out in a huge sunlit New York City loft? The two coaches that you will spend the game with, actually ressemble their in-game avatars – which takes away a bit of the creepiness from getting body advice from someone who’s body is only virtual. The movements are fluid, and there seem to be quite fewer bugs than we have seen on similar games.
This is, of course not the first “Exergame” (exercise + gaming) for Kinect, but it is probably the most serious from an athletic point of view, and the most graphically attractive, with a real goal to differenciate itself from more casual sports games, such as Zumba Fitness - the the runaway hit of 2012, based on the hugely popular Zumba fad – but that seems geared uniquely toward female players. Another memorable Kinect training game is UFC Personal Trainer. A game that is pretty intense in terms of athletic value (and apparently is also a real life changer, if one chooses to believe the promo video) but seems would mainly appeal to a particularly niche audience, with a training program based on work-outs by professionnal MMA fighters.
Athletic based gaming seem like the most obvious use of the movement tracking technology of the Kinect and its competitors – but contrary to common knowledge “Exergames” were not born with the Wii Fit (which has actually now sold over 27 million copies sold worldwide, and will no doubt continue on the path of success with the upcoming launch of Wii Fit U).
More or less successful attempts to merge gaming and exercise – two concepts that initially seem incompatible – can actually be traced back to the very beginning of video games.
At the very beginning was Spinnaker Aerobics for Atari, launched in 1984, a game in which the player could follow a tiny pink stick figure made of about ten pixels moving around on the screen along with some explanatory text telling you what exercises to do. “You Can Choose Your Own Exercises!” was the main selling point.
Then, came Bandai with Dance Aerobics and Family Trainer for NES, released in Japan in 1987 and Europe / USA in 1989. A huge innovation for the time, because it was the first integration of an interactive aspect – thanks to the use of the « Power Pad » controller (which was actually reedited for the Wii twenty years later!) Resembling a Twister game, it would allow the player to control their character by stepping on colored, numbered circles on a plastic mat.
The 2000′s were the time of an explosion of music and danced based Rhythm games, which were proof that you can be Rock Band champion with no idea of how to play a real instrument or become a Dance Dance Revolution megastar with no concept of rhythm. Winning depends on great technique (placement, pressing the button at the Exact Right Moment). Take a quick look at some of the grand champions of Dance Dance Revolution, and you’ll understand that despite the hours of practicing, the game is not exactly producing graceful dancer types…
That is where the main difference lies between these games and “training programs” like Nike + Kinect Training – where an actual physical effort is necessary to advance and complete missions. No tricks or good gaming technique can apply here.
Think of it as a motivational and organizational tool, as a supplement to your everyday workout program. The personalization is well construed – with an individualized work-out program that is created after a long, in-depth analysis of your physical capacities, and input on your goals and amount of time that can be spent weekly on achieving them. The exercises are real : planks, squats, push-ups, lunges… Things you will be able to re-do at the gym, or wherever you are (unlike the “mini-games” in a lot of fitness games, like simulating “washing windows”). The advice from your coach is thus even more valuable, because you’ll be able to take it with you on any workout, even when you aren’t playing.
One thing you will have to watch out for is space… Make sure you have a couple square meters to move around in in front of your TV, less because the exercises need space, but because the Kinect has a hard time “seeing” you, if you are too close to the screen.
To learn more about the history of Exer-games, read this amazing piece of archives from a 1985 issue of Atari Magazine. The article explains a variety of new ways to “stay in shape with your computer”. Its pretty fascinating to see the how deep the pre-iPhone origins of the association between sports and hi-tech go…