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Does This Controller Make Me Look Fat?

Posted by Renato Velarde

Change 4 Life may have changed it's tune on the heavy effects of gaming for kids.

You could stop playing any time you want, right? You could just put down the controller and walk away now…if you wanted to. YOU get plenty of exercise.

Who are they to tell you that you’re fat and play too many video games?

The past year or so has seen an increasingly heated exchange between the UK government and game developers trade association Tiga over the 'Change 4 Life' initiative. The initiative featured ads depicting stop motion figures of children playing Space Invader type games, and a boy holding what looks like a Playstation controller. They give grim warnings of premature death due to heart disease and obesity and the need to find a more active lifestyle. Obviously game developers and gamers alike were not pleased; recently Tiga has even filed a complaint with Britain’s Advertising Standards Authority over the Ads.

It looks like the UK government’s chief medical officer Liam Donaldson has conceded to a degree and admitted that "stopping children playing video games is unlikely” and has gone on to actually recommend that children be given game systems as a way to counter the sedentary lifestyle. While he does specify that traditional games can lead to obesity in children, he admits that interactive systems like the Wii and the Eyetoy can increase heart rate and burn more calories.

To look further into the matter he supported a study which began in Feb 2008 carried out by Game City, the Department of Health, and clinicians from Nottingham University Hospital. The study compared the energy expenditures of 15 children. At rest, playing sedentary traditional games, and playing interactive motion based games like Eyetoy and Wii Sports. Their heart rates were then monitored throughout a 10 minute sampling period to find that energy expenditure was about 42% higher with active gameplay over sedentary gameplay. Isn’t Science incredible? This is only the first phase.

Phase two has 20 children with weight problems introduced to dynamic interactive game systems as well as healthy eating advice and allows them to operate freely over a 12 week period with the help of parents to measure success within the comfort of the home environment. Results will be completed later this spring.

A little more than a year ago now, Chief Executive of McDonalds UK in a Times interview spoke defensively of Fast foods’ role in the Obesity epidemic saying "kids are sat home playing computer games on the TV when in the past they’d have been burning off energy outside.” Later that month the UK’s Dept of Health launched it’s £372 million strategy to battle obesity which included the £75 mil ad campaign that seemed to focus on gaming as a key cause and started the uproar.

I’d say the backlash from Game developers and fans has had an impact. It’s a question as old as time itself…or at least around 1980. Does gaming make for fat, lazy kids? In and of itself probably not. Sitting still doing anything for long periods probably doesn’t help, though. But then twiddling your thumbs in an empty room probably does more to promote getting you outside to play than any Tetris or Mario game ever will. I’m going to make a bold editorial stab here and say that video games are just fun. It’s just what kids do now in addition to some sports and junk food and if we’re lucky a little reading.

Until only recently technology and circumstance dictated that video games were designed to be played sitting down operating buttons with a couple fingers much like the internet and television. But unlike other forms of visual entertainment they inherently are meant as interactive pursuits.

The games industry is changing with some of these new technologies that allow for more interactive motion in games so why not move with the times, rather than fight them? It’s an important step for governments that really want to make a leap forward for public health to recognize this shift and foster a healthy relationship with these companies if they want to influence active, healthy lifestyles in children. This also means recognizing game design as an art, a form of free speech, and trusting professionals to do what they do best without undue heavy scrutiny.

The real challenge is to convince developers to actually make the active games worth playing. It’s amazing how people can fall 50 times over on a rocky path while the smooth one is right there next to them. The Wii has been out for over 2 years now and yet to tap into the exercise potential of traditional, butt-kicking games with a story. Oh yeah, exercise is for “exercise games”, running and fighting crazy people and then running some more is for “regular” video games, I almost forgot.

The interesting part is that Nintendo is making so much money from the new market they’ve attracted in "casual" or non-gamers, that they don’t need to cater the exercise games to the gaming crowd that arguably needs it most. So is Liam Donaldson that forward thinking as to promote or subsidize the development of some cooler games that get us doing more than Yoga with motion tracking? Probably not, sorry.


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User Comments (6)



Damo said:

It makes me laugh that the CEO of McDonalds has the cheek to sit there and blame videogames for kids being fat when his company creates food loaded with rubbish!



Corbs said:

I was about to say, it's not the video games making me weigh more each year, it's the 9 million Chicken McNuggets I can't stop eating.



Nanaki said:

I play video games, I watch TV, and I read. I can also run two miles within army time, and lift more than my bodyweight- I also have a healthy ego. I never eat fast food.

Instead of having a go at the games industry, the government should think of the things it does to encourage kids to be lazy. A classic example is here in London where the kids get free bus passes- this means they will get on a bus to go the most trivial of distances. And, for crying out loud, stop pumping them full of crap in the school canteen!



Wiiloveit said:

Hey - McNuggets are now completely Chicken Breast, you know. And I find them to be quite yum.



calculon said:

I too am scared of Ronald. I also play video games but cycle to and from work twice a day, I also used to go to the gym four times a week but playing video games didn't put a stop to that.

In all honesty it' shouldn't be down to the government to tell people to get kids off their arses. It should be obvious to parent, teacher and the kids themselves that slovenly behavior is not good both in terms of mental and physical health. Everyone should be pro actively encouraging kids to go out - whether it's on a five mile walk, a field trip or even to McDonalds. Britain has lost its sense of family-based social interaction which encourages social and physical activity, whereas (from what I've seen from my trips to America) Americans have not. America suffers too much from excessive amounts of overly cheap food (particularly all-you-can-eat restaurants) and alcohol (the later of which Britain is also beginning to do)

Whilst I agree with gamers and devs being angry about what the government have done, if they're honest with themselves they're doing very little pro-actively to help the situation - WiiFit is barely worth mentioning and that's the best the industry has to offer so far. Damo / Corbie - you're right about fast food joints, but its also your decision to eat there. McDonalds et al are at least moving towards better standards and are trying to make you aware of the content of their meals.

In all cases, whether you're stuffing yourself with fat or letting your kids rot in front of a television, ignorance isn't bliss. It kills.

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