From UBC Wiki

This page was authored by Eric Gearey, May 2011

This page was edited by Joel May, January 2016

Children enjoying an exergaming physical education lesson.

Despite the plethora of promises made by athletic apparel manufacturers and sport beverages companies, little technological innovation has occurred in the setting where most children participate in fitness activities: their physical education classes. Recently however, the notion of “exergaming” – video games wherein the player’s real-world movements are tracked and integrated into virtual gaming worlds – is gaining traction in schools. While still in its infancy, the new technology aims to substitute children’s sedentary screen time for a more physically active option (Daley, 2010). It is important to realize however, that regardless of the unlimited possibilities the technology might yield one day, it is currently regarded as being a tool to be used by teachers, and not a viable for direct physical play and activities (Hicks, & Higgins, 2010; Papastergiou, 2009).

The children entering elementary school in today’s digital world have never known life without high-speed internet access, portable computing, DVD players, and video games. Predominantly sedentary activities, children’s “persistence to game” occupies roughly 2 hours of their lives every day (Yang, Smith, & Graham, 2008). This trend is not likely to reverse itself as physical activity levels of most people decline during adolescent years (Hansen & Sanders, 2010). To further compound the lifestyle choices being made by today’s youth, the recommended sixty minutes of daily physical activity needs for children are not being met are or altogether ignored.

Sedentary Solutions

The solution to the sedentary, screen dependent lifestyle of today’s youth is thought to be the very thing children are craving: video games. By substituting traditional methods of player interaction with more physically active ones, the once passive act of playing a video game is being replaced with a more active and involved alternative. While game developers have been looking for alternative means to interact with games since the 1980’s, it wasn’t until the raw computational power of today’s modern technology made it a reality. In order for a video game to be considered an effective exergame, there are a great deal of conditions that must be met.

In the Beginning

A Nintendo PowerPad - showing both sides of the input device.

Video games have taken many forms over the years. Players traditionally hold an input device in their hands and press buttons to have their character complete tasks on the screen. In the mid 1980’s, Nintendo, the gaming industry leader at the time, sought to change all of that. With the release of the “Power Glove” and “Power Pad”, Nintendo tried to alter the way players interacted with games. The Power Glove was a gauntlet that players wore and had to program for each individual game. The Power Pad was a large mat that player would step on and press buttons with their feet. Ultimately, the technology was deemed a failure as the games they were intended to control did not work properly with the input devices. Player’s interactions with games remained unchanged for the next decade.

A Revolution Indeed

On November 21st, 1998, the Konami Corporation launched an arcade game in Japan that would forever change the video game landscape. “Dance Dance Revolution” (DDR) ushered in an entirely new genre of video game: Music Rhythm & Dance. Although there have been countless imitations over the years and an endless number of spin-offs, DDR changed the way players interacted with their games. Modified versions of the arcade game began showing up at retailers for home gaming console machines in the early 2000’s for the Sony Playstation, Sega Dreamcast and Nintendo 64. The premise of the game is quite simple, arrows are displayed on the screen which correspond to a directional button on a large platform controller on which the player stands. Music is played and the player is prompted to step onto the corresponding button, effectively “dancing” to the music. As the game progresses, the tempo of songs increases and players can select music based on the number of beats per minute (BPM); the higher the BPM, the higher the level of physical exertion. The player may also select predefined difficulty settings, which increase or decrease the number of step instructions given to a player for a given song. Therefore a song with a high BPM played a high level of difficulty requires much more sweat to complete than a song with a low BPM played at an easy or moderate difficulty.


Video games are an ideal tool to promote physical activity in children who might otherwise be reluctant or hesitant to participate in traditional forms of fitness training. Students are attracted by the familiarity of the video game presentation and lulled into interacting with the machines. As Hansen et al. discovered, the many multi-player modes the games offer also entice the children to compete against one another. Many studies also showed that children prefer taking directions from the games themselves than from their teachers (Fogel, Miltenberger, Gravaes, & Koehler, 2010; Daley, 2009; Yang, Smith, & Graham, 2008). Hansen and Sanders (2010), explore seven different elements for children to achieve a sense of “flow” – to be fully engaged in an activity – and determined that exergaming meets all of the required conditions. The games are at once familiar and fun and offer choices to the players as well as the opportunity to interact with peers. The games also provide opportunities to learn and become physically active. Once these other six factors are met, the seventh, unremitting interest is achieved and students have entered a state of “flow”. Increased motivation for continued play also yields the inherent motivation for continued physical exercise.

Let’s Get Physical

By their very nature, exergames require players to assume a more participatory role in their video game experience. While moving about is infinitely better than sitting down, the levels of energy expended by players is still far from enough for exergames to be considered a reasonable substitute for traditional exercise. DDR, the pioneer in the exergaming movement, remains the most physically demanding exergame on the market and the most prevalently used research tool when exploring the effects and benefits of exergames. The energy expended during a typical session of DDR is calculated to be on par with a brisk walking pace of 5.7 km/h (Fogel, Miltenberger, Gravaes, & Koehler, 2010; Daley, 2009; Papastergiou, 2009). Considering that the average duration of a game of DDR is between 3 – 5 minutes, the energy expenditure of the player falls well short of the recommended minimum sixty minutes of physical activity. Other games, such as Wii Baseball, fall well below the mark and can hardly be considered exergames at all. While all of the exergames require at least twice as much caloric energy expenditure of their more sendentary counterparts, exergames are not yet a viable replacement for the activities they represent.


File:DDR original.jpg
An original DDR acrade cabinet game.

Still in its infancy, exergaming has not yet been widely embraced by physical education programs. As this technologically enhanced method of training has only started to gain popularity, no longitudinal studies exist exploring the potential benefits or weaknesses of this method. Apart from the uneven results across different exergaming platforms, the costs associated with the technologies are prohibitive to many schools.

Long Live the King

DDR has been heralded as the champion of the exergaming movement. It was literally the first of its kind and has been made available in so many forms and iterations which also make it the most accessible game of its kind. It should come as no surprise then that most of the studies in existence center around this one exergame. However, with recent innovations in home gaming console technologies, the Nintendo Wii, Microsoft Xbox 360 and Sony Playstation have the potential to unseat the king of exergames. With their motion sensing cameras and accelerometer driven controllers, the potential for new and original software possibilities in home training and physical fitness domains are limitless. In the past two years the marketplace has been inundated by several exergames promising weightloss and improved health.

The Price of Fitness

The average cost of a home video game console hovers around the two hundred dollar mark, the typical cost of software at about sixty dollars, and the extra peripherals at another one hundred dollars. Therefore, the typical setup for one student to engage in exergaming at a time is nearly four hundred dollars! Thankfully, most consoles allow for multi-player modes which require only the extra peripheral devices to the cost. However, even the most advanced machines will allow for a maximum of four players at a time. Hardly a full class of students. The large setup costs of exergaming, with its unproven track record, makes the choice for administrators to fiscally dive in a difficult one. However, with some imagination and the use of pre-existing equipment, the costs can be avoided completely. Projectors could be hooked up to computers running open-source versions of the most popular exergames. Instead of stepping on actual game pad controllers, students could step onto colored tiles or homemade mockups of the game pads. While the experience isn’t exactly similar, it ensures maximum participation of the class and is a much more manageable fiscally.


The studies conducted into exergaming thus far essentially begin and end with DDR. While there are some exergames aimed at the commercial level, XaviXPORT and 3 Kick, most of the literature focuses on Dance Dance Revolution. Cornerstone of the reviews or not, all the studies conducted suffer from the same lack of participants and lack of duration. Fogel et al.’s (2010) study investigated only four students once a week for 10 weeks, while Hansen and Sanders (2010) followed six children twice a week for eight weeks. All the literature clearly points to the need for more extensive testing, both in terms of number of participants and duration of the study itself. With such short time constraints, the attributed benefits associated with exergaming may have more to do with the novelty aspect of the technology than the actual desire to become physically active.

Modern home video game console motion sensitive controllers.

Contemporary Gaming

Exergames boast multi-player modes to allow for cooperative or competitive gaming among peers. Taking it a step further, online gaming could foster competitions between students at rival schools. The infrastructure is already in place and developed by the gaming companies. Students simply have to login with a user account and a list of friends appears with whom the students can choose exercise with. Games also track players’ progress and reward continued play with unlockable “achievements” and “trophies”. Could these elements, designed to enhance and maintain motivation, be an alternate means of evaluation for the students? If a student were to set a particular goal in an exergame and then reach this objective, the “achievement/trophy” could serve as a measurable learning outcome. In game awards could also be given for having “danced” or “ridden a bike” a certain distance in a virtual world.

Looking Ahead

The potential of exergames is an exciting prospect. Luring children into becoming physically active with the promise of playing video games at school is almost too clever to be true. With the emerging technologies of today’s top home console video game systems and the recent inundation of the marketplace with software selections, exergaming is being offered every chance to succeed. The more familiar the physical educators are at using these new exergaming tools, the more effective the tools will become. Therefore, it is necessary for Universities to start embracing and dedicating time teaching pre-service teachers about this new trend in physical education. Further investigation into exergaming must incorporate more participants into the study to have more statistically meaningful data. In addition to more students participating, the studies themselves must be conducted for longer periods of time to ensure that the games are not just novelty gadgets but that children will continue to seek them out for physical activity. Exergaming represents the first real change in the way physical education classes are delivered to young students. They are familiar, inviting and scalable to meet any user’s physical abilities and needs. What is left to discover is whether or not they truly work out. 

Stop Motion Artifact on Exergaming

The following Wiki Stop Motion Artifact represents the Exergaming concept in an animated visual format. by Joel May January 31, 2016

Additional Information and Related Sites

Commercial Exergaming Fitness Equipment Manufacturers

  • Exerbike creators of the ExerBike XG Interactive Gaming bike.
  • Fit Interactive creators of 3 Kick and new Heavy Ball and Jump Q.
  • XaviXPORT creators of the XaviXPORT Lifestyle System.

Home Video Game Console Manufacturers


Physical Education Resources