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Fitness video games have been around since the 1980s, with the release of devices like the Atari 2600’s Joyboard. The genre continued to soar in popularity in public arcade settings with the iconic Dance Dance Revolution game. In private spaces, people flocked to the Wii Fit and dabbled with motion control systems like the PlayStation Move. As a result of these trends, all popular gaming platforms now offer various fitness games. While the content and intensity of each fitness game vary, all merge movement and entertainment.

Being able to track progress and customize the experience is crucial to staying motivated. Like smart devices and fitness apps, video games compile user data and enable greater personalization, but the entertaining nature of these games and their unique incentives set video games apart from other fitness technologies. Plus, video game users can decide whether to break a sweat without an audience or gather a group for some healthy, multiplayer competition without having to go to a gym.

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The Digitalization and Gamification of Working Out

The Wii Fit trainer does an aerobic exercises in Wii Fit

Virtually every aspect of life is digitally integrated now. With fitness trackers like Fitbits, smartwatches, and the endless array of apps available on smartphones, digitalization has permeated the fitness industry. According to a Pew Research Center survey, around one-in-five Americans utilize smartwatches and fitness trackers. These technologies have enabled users to track progress over time. This allows fitness enthusiasts and newbies alike to monitor heart rate, calorie expenditure, distances, and other relevant data. Beyond personalizing the fitness journey, these devices allow users to slot working out into hectic schedules.

However, the digitalization of fitness extends beyond following a guided workout on an iPhone and sharing running routes on social media. As fitness gets more digitized, it becomes more gamified. Exergaming, the gamification of working out, appeals to broader audiences and boosts the sense of achievement by manipulating the brain’s reward system. Exergaming is also based on goals or score systems, which increases a person’s motivation to get started and provides more satisfaction once completed. As a result, users want to achieve set goals or outperform previous records. Fitness video games take this concept a step further by adding music, entrancing visuals, unlockable achievements, and engrossing storylines.

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Get Moving With Nintendo’s Ring Fit Adventure

A person doing an exercise with the Nintendo Ring Fit Adventure Ring Con

Nintendo, renowned for experimentalism and capturing the technological zeitgeist, has all but defined the fitness game genre. With a dizzying 82.9 million units sold, Wii Sports is Nintendo’s best-selling title. It may seem impossible to produce a competitor to this record-breaking game, but the Nintendo Switch has attempted to do so anyway. The Switch’s hybridity, specifically the detachable Joy-Cons, lends itself to active gameplay and experimental attachments. With built-in accelerometers and gyroscopes, these controllers can detect and measure movement. Additionally, HD rumble offers tactile feedback, and the IR Motion Cameras can provide heart rate estimates using infrared rays.

No fitness game exemplifies the Switch’s capabilities more than Nintendo’s Ring Fit Adventure. Using a durable pilates-inspired ring and an adjustable leg strap, the game generates an effective and engaging workout. Released in 2019 and selling over 15 million units, the role-playing adventure game has over 100 levels. Players progress by jogging through the colorful worlds and overcoming hordes of enemies. In turn-based fights, damage is dealt by doing exercises like shoulder presses, yoga poses, and squats. The better the player’s form, the more damage they do to their foes. In addition to the main story, there are Quick Play options, minigames, and a Multitask Mode.

Ring Fit Adventure’s main story takes around 30 hours to complete if players speed through. Doing the side challenges and minigames can more than double the total playtime. Players don’t have to abandon their fitness goals and the Ring-Con attachment once the game is finished because they can also use the structured workouts. With adjustable difficulties, goals, and even muscle group targets, the game is able to adapt to the player’s needs. The motivation to get moving lies in the quirky storyline, collectibles, and unlockable achievements, and since the attachments track distance, reps, pace, and calories, users have tangible progress results.

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Just Dance 2023: An Engaging Workout

Split Image Coach Sarah, Physical, And More Group from Just Dance 2023

The Just Dance series has taken the essence of Dance Dance Revolution to build an undeniable success. According to Ubisoft, the series has garnered over 135 million users. Its popularity is also exemplified by its inclusion in the Olympic Esports series. The latest title, Just Dance 2023, follows its series predecessors and crosses console borders. Available on the Nintendo Switch, Xbox Series X/S, and the PlayStation 5, Just Dance 2023 offers a mix of classic and modern top-charting songs with corresponding choreography. Players mimic the choreography and earn points for accuracy.

With its core component of interactivity and dance, the game creates a fun and competitive environment. Traditionally played with multiple people in the same room, the online multiplayer feature now gives users the option to virtually compete with their friends. While the game isn’t targeted as a fitness video game, the resulting workout is just one of its draws. Beyond the healthy competition, the engaging visuals and songs provide a welcomed distraction from the inevitable racing heart and tired muscles. As with most games, players can also track their scores and progress.

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Other Great Video Games To Get Moving

Three sports simulated on Nintendo games: Jetskiing, tennis, and aviation.

As made clear with Wii Fit and Ring Fit Adventure, Nintendo is serious about developing its exergaming titles. The release of Nintendo Switch Sports in 2022 shows that these games continue to garner interest. Despite Nintendo’s apparent exergaming stronghold, VR fitness games are on a clear upswing. One such VR game is Beat Saber, a relatively simple but undeniably entertaining rhythm game. The game’s bright design and pulsing soundtrack entice players to keep returning. For the more progress-orientated fitness enthusiast, serious VR titles like Les Mills Body Combat on the Meta Quest 2 and PlayStation 5 are also on the rise.

Fitness video games have retained popularity since their inception in the 1980s, and as the ability to monitor a person’s progress at home improves, exergaming will continue to grow with the technology. Since exergaming titles are available on all popular platforms, this genre offers gamers a fun incentive to stay active. Progress tracking, personalization options, and engaging gameplay makes hitting fitness goals more approachable.