video games

Now, Ruiz works out at least four times a week, thanks to a video game.

In her bedroom, she sprints, squats, stretches and performs other exercises such as knee lifts and shoulder presses, all while battling a muscle-bound dragon and her toads in “Ring Fit Adventure,” a new game from Japanese tech giant Nintendo. .

“I’m so focused on beating the high score or defeating an enemy that 30 minutes have passed before I know it,” said Ruiz, 26, who is studying to become a nursing assistant in Bakersfield, California.

“Ring Fit Adventure,” created for the Nintendo Switch console, is the latest attempt by the video game industry to try to entice consumers to get off the couch and become more active. Developers are plugging fitness into games as part of a dual strategy: retaining players by offering a physical twist on traditional gameplay and attracting new ones like Ruiz looking to break the monotony of working out.

The campaign is appealing to parents and other caregivers who are worried about the amount of time children spend being carried on screens. And the games help counter the stereotype of the sedentary player, sitting in a chair for hours on end.

“Developers are trying to reach people who want fun and fitness at the same time,” said Rik Eberhardt, program manager at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Game Lab. “They know that fitness is good for them, but it can feel like a task in their busy lives.”

Fitness games make up only 1% of the market, but the industry is growing steadily. Sales of games across all platforms generated $ 35.4 billion in the United States last year, up 2% from 2018, according to NPD Group, a market research firm.

“Our latest data shows that 73% of US consumers play video games of one sort or another,” said Mat Piscatella, industry analyst for NPD. “Given the wide range of players, the industry has a” great opportunity “to provide a greater variety of gaming experience.”

Exergaming, an exercise and gaming portmanteau, has been around since the late 1980s, when Bandai introduced Power Pad, a gray mat with pressure sensors, for the Nintendo Entertainment System. Games now use motion sensors, smartwatches and even virtual reality to track player movement.

The gameplay has changed, too. Some games hide fitness habits in the form of role play, dancing or other activities like running from zombies. Others are fitness and health apps that guide users through work sessions with gamelike features like scoreboards, real-time feedback and multiplayer options.

The Nintendo’s Wii game console brought exergaming to the mainstream in 2006. Its “Wii Fit” game incorporated a balance board so players burn calories through calisthenic and yoga.

“The Wii had the fastest adoption rate in the United States of any console in the first three years,” said Piscatella. “Wii Fit” remains one of the best-selling games in the United States, according to NPD.

Nintendo’s two main competitors, Microsoft and Sony, followed it, adding motion-sensing cameras to their consoles. Games like “Just Dance” and “Zumba Fitness: Join the Party,” available on Nintendo, Microsoft and Sony consoles, were “breakthrough successes” during the bidding era, Piscatella said.

Since then, the industry has been overtaken by the rise of mobile devices, which allow games to be played on the go.

“Consumer expectations have changed dramatically,” said Piscatella. “People are no longer just playing on their TVs in their living room. They now want to be able to play games whenever and wherever. ”

“Zombies, Run!” trains runners to complete hundreds of missions, including one with author Margaret Atwood, to escape the zombie apocalypse while running a 5K. In “Pokémon Go,” players capture creatures in real-world locations using augmented reality and GPS on their phones.

Hoping to build on that trend, Nintendo in 2017 introduced the Switch, which acts as both a traditional console and a handheld device. The Switch was the fastest-selling console in the United States that year and has sold more than 52 million units.

“Part of the Switch is a recognition that Nintendo’s main rival is not just Microsoft and Sony but Apple and Google as well,” said Philip Tan, creative director of MIT’s Game Lab.

He added that Nintendo is drawing on its strength in creating games that bridge the digital and physical world. “Instead of trying to compete with other console makers with better cinematography, they have created an innovative new console,” says Tan.

The company has focused on games, such as “Ring Fit Adventure,” which are using consoles in new ways, said Bill Trinen, senior director of product marketing at Nintendo.

“Nintendo wants to create games that encourage people to be active and motivate them to stay active,” said Trinen. He added that the company hoped that the role-play adventure format would encourage people to play longer.

Tiffany Ruiz works out with a Nintendo game Ring Fit Adventure at home in Bakersfield, Calif on December 4, 2019. The New York Times

Tiffany Ruiz works out with a Nintendo game Ring Fit Adventure at home in Bakersfield, Calif on December 4, 2019. The New York Times

Part of the popularity of “Ring Fit is” comes from its unique controller, a flexible resistance ring that Nintendo calls Ring Con. When players press, pull or hold it above their movements, their movements are tracked in the game.

Other games incorporate new hardware as well. Beat Games’ Beat Saber, a music game, relies on virtual reality goggles; it sold more than 1 million copies in nine months after being introduced in 2018.

But “Ring Fit” is attracting an increasing number of fans to the gameplay. “I love this fun, goofy story that is much denser than ‘Wii Fit.’ It hides the exercise, and you can’t cheat, “said Tristan Scatliffe, a 33-year-old product manager who lives in Brooklyn, New York.” The first time I played it, I was dripping with sweat. ”

Late night talk show host Jimmy Fallon posted on Twitter a video of himself playing one of the Ring Fit minigames, Spinal Erectors Challenge.

Many exergames promote movement, but there is debate about whether they increase physical fitness. Critics have said they feel the exercise routines are phenomenal, and a study at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston found that Wii games didn’t help children meet the demands of daily exercise.

Some researchers create their own energy. Eefje Battel, project manager at the Sports Innovation Campus at Howest University of Applied Sciences in Bruges, Belgium, uses Makey Makey in many of the centre’s children’s exergame projects. Developed by JoyLabz, Makey Makey is an “invention package” that allows users to connect everyday objects to the internet through alligator clips and a simple keyboard.

Battel created a version of “Tetris,” an 80s puzzle game where falling blocks are manipulated to fit in a straight line. In its version, conductors are attached to bananas and other fruits, and children have to run from fruit to fruit to move the tiles in the game.

Regardless of the fun factor, exergames are not without risks, Battel said. One missing element of “Ring Fit,” he says, is a trainer to make sure players perform exercises correctly and safely.

“If you squat, the system will measure up and down movement, but it doesn’t track posture,” he said.

Nintendo hopes that “Ring Fit” will become a best-selling game as “Wii Fit” did in its heyday. Game analysts like Piscatella haven’t decided yet.

“What makes Nintendo unique is their willingness to push boundaries, and when Nintendo is really weird, they’re at their best,” he said. “Ring Fit Adventure could be the biggest thing or not. It’s still hard to predict. ”

c.2020 The New York Times Company