Motion Gaming on the Move 

Jillian Michaels want you to shake it like a salt shaker

If I have to hear Jillian Michaels yell "all right, let's move it" once more time, there will be serious issues. It might be time for me to grab Cabela's Adventure camp game and go hunting for the fitness guru.

Michaels is just one of the trainers who has become involved in the latest trend in video gaming: the get-off-the-couch-and-get-into-the-game craze, which runs the gamut from wand-like controllers pointed at a screen, to remote controls attached to the hip, to the systems that only require you to stand in front of a camera and use your whole body to control actions within games.

In the not-too-distant past, gaming consisted of players settled into their favorite piece of furniture, cradling the controller in tight fists and whiling away the hours with little movement beyond that of frantically stabbing fingers. The trend now is to jump, swing the arms, stand and then run in place, squat and bridge: in short, most of the motions that would be considered a viable part of a cardiovascular workout.

Motion-centered gaming--sometimes referred to as exergaming--is not a new form of video game. It dates back to rudimentary tools of the 1980s and has even invaded current handhelds, like the Nintendo 3DS, which acts like a pedometer when in sleep mode and awards players with play coins toward the purchase of downloadable content simply for getting out and walking.

With the current generation of consoles (seventh generation, overall), the concept of requiring players to get up and move is in its infancy because of the relative newness of the current tech. Some games totally miss the mark, struggling with the translation of player input to in-game action. Others, however, show what may soon be possible as tech develops by having players emulate motions found in real fitness routines--martial arts and even popular American sports like baseball, hockey, football, soccer and skiing to name a few.

The systems that feature motion controls are pretty well known. You have the Wii (with MotionPlus technology that improves the interaction between player, controller and console) with its Wii remote, nunchuk and balance board--all of which are motion sensor-driven devices. Sony has its MOVE wand, which is a handheld device with motion sensors, and Microsoft has done away with handheld controllers with its Kinect sensor, which requires players to stand in front of the Wall-E-esque auto-rotate camera device and perform all the motions themselves.

Games run the gamut from family oriented affairs like Wii Sports and Cabela's Adventure Camp to dancing games (Zumba has been relatively popular), to sports like the recent release of Big League Sports for the Kinect. In the exergaming genre, dance and fitness programs garner the highest percentage of overall sales, even if fitness is hidden beneath the thin veneer of an "adventure" in an exotic environment.

If you have an older Wii without MotionPlus, a bundle with the sensor add-on will run about $50. If you're looking for something new or are just getting into motion gaming, the MOVE controller for the PlayStation 3 (released in September 2010) is about $45, and the Kinect sensor for the 360 (released in November of 2010) is roughly $150.

Beware, however, a distinct difference in technology exists among the options. The Wii and PS3 controllers are a bit more old-school and may be limited as such, whereas the Kinect is not only motion activated, but also can be voice activated, thereby opening the door for a wide range of advancements that go beyond gaming and into other entertainment venues, such as movies and TV.

Marc Franklin, director of public relations for Nintendo of America, discussed the impetus behind motion-sensitive controllers.

"From the start, our decision was to develop a game system whose appeal did not rely on a mere extension of previously existing industry technology or thinking," he said. "Our aim was to expand the world of video games to new audiences. The Wii Remote and games like Wii Sports instantly got people up off the couch and playing with one another. Friends and family members could play together, regardless of age, gender or prior experience with video games. We saw kids playing with their parents and even grandparents. Nintendo first demonstrated motion controls in 2005. Products like Wii MotionPlus and the Wii Balance Board take immersive play in new directions."

According to Franklin, however, the issue is not technology: "It's how that technology can be married to innovative software to create new forms of social, interactive experiences that are also fun and compelling."

A Microsoft spokesman told Boise Weekly that "controller-free experiences are the future of gaming and entertainment."

"Our goal is to get technology out of the way and make it effortless to search, play, watch or share with your friends instantly. Because Kinect is controlled by full body gestures, it learns to respond to the user's movements, instead of the user learning the buttons on a controller.

"Kinect--which makes you the controller--is the first of its kind in that it doesn't require holding or wearing any sort of device--no controller, no buttons, no joystick, nothing. Kinect allows you to control your experiences with your body and voice, naturally engaging with your entertainment, whether playing games, interacting with friends or watching movies or TV shows."

What the Kinect does not do (at least not at this point) is record vital workout stats. Wii, however, with equipment that is worn on the user's body, can record heart rate, which might warn users when their level of activity is dangerous. For example, NFL Training Camp on Wii has two strap-on sensors, one for the arm and the other for the thigh, which record speed of movement and heart rate.

For those who are fond of keeping their heart rate as low as possible and their bodies as firmly planted in their favorite chair as possible while gaming, the days of sedentary video game play won't ever be over.

But for those times when you need to elevate your heart rate a bit, Jillian Michaels and her sweat-fest are just waiting for you to get off the couch.

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