Wellbeing and fitness gaming may soon go the way of health apps: grow fast. Health apps for smart phones appear in their 1000s in Apple and Android app stores and now Nintendo and Kinect are both chasing the gaming health and wellbeing dollar. But the games may appear not only in the living room: increasingly they may provide support for healthcare professionals in different contexts
What is changing?
Nintendo was the first of the big game console makers to move into health and fitness, with the Wii Fit, which made doing exercises more fun. It also had major success with games such as Brain Age, on the DS. Significantly, these games were also found to be popular among groups who had previously never been gamers, in particular older people. Nintendo has since re-launched the Wii Fit as the Wii U fit, but the Wii U has not been a huge success.
Nintendo has now announced that it is developing a platform to improve people’s ‘quality of life’ in fun ways. The aim is to draw on all the strengths of the company, but also to target those who would never consider buying a games console, and dive into a new ‘blue ocean’.
Meanwhile, last year, Microsoft also made a significant shift in strategy: it made the Kinect software development kit open to developers in the same way that Apple did for the iPhone, which started the whole App revolution. As a result, developers are already exploring both fun fitness and more serious health care applications using the Kinect’s movement tracking capabilities.
Growing numbers of householders play video games at home, and ever more of us play games on our mobiles during commutes – as well as at home. As a result, the total gaming industry is predicted to top the $100 billion mark in 2014, with mobile games taking an increased share while handheld console games’ share declines. Previous engagement with gaming has been established as one of the most likely predictors of the likelihood of people engaging with fitness games, so a growing customer base is a good start.
At the same time, health care budgets are under pressure on many fronts. Budget cuts, rising costs, ageing populations, growing numbers of people with chronic conditions such as obesity and diabetes, growing demand for rehabilitation after operations, strokes or heart attacks. The list goes on. Prevention, of which exercise is a critical component, will become a mainstay of health, and wellbeing gaming could play a significant role.
Given the growing technical capabilities of gaming, it could become a major part of telemedicine. ‘Games’ may provide support for physiotherapy helping to track that patients are performing exercises correctly and checking their progress. The Kinect has already been used in research to monitor how well patients are breathing. The Kinect gesture controls may also be adapted for use in operating theatres to manipulate images without surgeons having to leave the sterile environment, and so save costly time. Or we may just have more fun ‘boxing and skiing at home’.
People are also taking greater responsibility for their own health and wellbeing – by choice or ‘encouragement’ e.g. as boomers face the ever harsher realities of ageing. A growing potential base of gamers could bode well for engaging otherwise reluctant exercisers in taking up games that are good for them.