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Fun workout games that encourage physical activity – and let you save the world

“Exergames” can combine a pedometer with virtual reality, and goad you into wild adventures and missions to save the world

PUBLISHED : Monday, 18 September, 2017, 9:48am
UPDATED : Monday, 18 September, 2017, 10:00am

It’s not you, it’s me. Falling out of love with your fitness tracker is possibly no fault of the device itself: it has prompted movement as promised, celebrated goals, cheered you on to new targets.

But the reason so many wearables languish, unloved, in the depths of drawers is simply that they’re not fun for us any more. Boredom is one of the key reasons why fitness resolutions get scuppered – in order to maintain a regime, we need to be engaged.

So, if merely watching numbers tick over doesn’t do it for you, try some of these fun “exergames”, the term coined for mobile apps that encourage physical activity while cunningly disguised as play.

There is actual chatting between strangers
Pokemon Go community website post

Pokemon Go was of course “the big one”. It’s not hard to see the appeal. You can play it anywhere – those virtual creatures even appear in your home! But then, you also have to venture around to advance in the game. You can even go out to the “gyms”.

This augmented reality phenomenon attracted a large and immediate fan base upon its Hong Kong launch in July 2016, and is reportedly enjoying a resurgence this year, following latest updates. The Pokemon Go community reports on its Facebook page of people camping beside Poke-stops such as MTR stations, noting an “amazing” interaction between players.

“There is actual chatting between strangers!” marvels a post on the site. So if you want to locate the latest hotspot, catch a dragonite or find a rare farfetch’d – a pokemon unique to Asia and uncommonly sighted in Hong Kong – the local Facebook community is the place to start.

Like the choose-your-own-adventure books of the pre-digital era, mobile games let you explore the virtual world at your own pace. The Walk Game, for instance, is a pedometer on a mission to save the world.

According to its developers, Six to Start and author Naomi Alderman, players can use The Walk whatever their level of fitness or mobility, thanks to an inbuilt “adaptive fitness” system that adjusts to the individual user. It also helps to build fitness, gradually increasing how much you move every day.

The game is composed of 65 episodes containing maps, audio stories and items to collect while exploring. Although its narrative is based in Britain – a bomb explodes in a Scottish railway station and the player’s character, Walker, is given a package that could save the world – Adrian Hon, CEO of Six to Start, which also created the popular, immersive mobile game Zombies, Run!, estimates that these two games have had about 10,000 downloads in Hong Kong.

Meanwhile, Zombies, Run!, first launched in 2012 encouraging players to run faster while being chased by zombies, has been upgraded so that every run becomes an adventure set to music from the user’s own playlist.

Now in its fifth season, Zombies, Run! has been downloaded nearly 4 million times worldwide, according to Hon, who says its success “shows just how powerful the combination of storytelling, gaming, and fitness can be”. “Working out doesn’t need to be a chore - it can be and adventure,” he says.

Likewise, 7 Minute Superhero Workout turns a boring gym session into an action-packed thriller, using motion­tracking to count every rep and calories burned while defending the Earth against alien invaders.

In Ballstrike, players have to punch or kick a series of balls that appear all around them in their phones’ or tablets’ rear-facing cameras. The twisting and turning motion of the player makes the ball explode. You can play it at home anytime - just make sure there is enough room to move around and don’t break anything.

Games are also being developed encouraging families to exercise together. Step Buy Step is one, presenting a carton world of challenges to be tackled as a group while out walking. Another, Geocaching, is an outdoor game app which sends players on an outdoor treasure hunt to locate trinkets around the world.

The makers of virtual reality (VR) games are currently touting the fun and fitness benefits of blending the physical and virtual worlds. A San Francisco-based outfit called The Virtual Reality Institute of Health and Exercise has tasked itself with rating the physical benefits of various VR games, posting results on its web site.

And if you need an excuse to play, take heart from a Finnish dissertation published this year. It argues that while digital gaming has generally been perceived to increase individuals’ sedentary time, gaming can also act as a medium to promote health. Examples cited in the University of University of Jyväskylä publication are console-based dance games “and different mobile exergames, such as Zombies Run and Pokémon GO”.