Is augmented reality gaming the key to getting kids moving?

Pokémon Go and other games are getting kids out of the house and moving around.
Is augmented reality gaming the key to getting kids moving?

As evidenced by the instant success of many recently released games, technology and real life can be brought together ways that get people moving. While the hunt for everyone’s favorite characters is getting both young and old off the couch, these types of games could be particularly good for kids, for whom sedentary screen time contributes to problems like obesity.

Robert Ziltzer, MD, is an obesity medicine physician who treats both adults and children. Ziltzer believes that apps like this “are already having an impact on the exercise level of kids. They are spending hours outside instead of playing video games on the couch.” While these apps “only” involve walking, Ziltzer points out that walking is “a great form of exercise, and one that anyone can do. You don't need to do intensive exercise to obtain fitness. The only bad exercise is the one you won't do.”

Since the game is designed almost exclusively for pedestrian movement (it won’t work in a car unless that car is moving very slowly), success is dependent upon exercise. This aspect is particularly innovative, Ziltzer says. ”The app incentivizes kids to get outside and walk.”

Jeanette DePatie, who happens to be both a certified fitness instructor and an expert in interactive and immersive technology, also believes that the gamification of fitness is a great way help get kids moving, “especially those who are often teased or stigmatized in traditional physical fitness environments at school or clubs or in other places.” In addition, DePatie says, the app eliminates the “getting picked last for the team” element. ”Many of us have experienced the situation of participating in group exercise and getting picked last, or being bullied by fellow students and even parents, teachers and coaches for not being able to keep up,” DePatie says. She adds that walking-based game apps “are especially great because the kids can participate virtually and go at their own pace.”

Another game, ROXs, was recently introduced at CE Week in New York City. ROXs is also a gaming system that incorporates tech and real life movement. But ROXs is unique in that its game play doesn’t involve a screen.

ROXs calls itself the “world's first real life gaming console,” and consists of wirelessly connected, durable pods that include sensors and light effects. To play, you place the pods on the ground in a backyard or park in a pattern dictated by the game you’ve chosen, attach sensor holsters to each kid and let them go. “Kids run and jump to hit the different sensors, reacting to different light and sound effects,” Saekel says. ROXs borrowed from video game patterns in the design of their own games, Saekel says, “so kids can feel like they are the hero of their game.”

While ROXs has digital elements as a connected game, “Our product is not an augmented reality game, it is 100% real life gaming,” Saekel says. “All the action is done in real life, and no screen is involved during game play.” He believes this is more useful in addressing the inactivity epidemic.

“Our belief is that, despite the awesome possibilities that AR and VR provide, our life will (at least for the next couple of years) take place in real life,” Saekel says. “So we - especially our kids - need to spend time in real life, and comprehensive physical activity in real life is key.”

With both augmented reality games, and tech/real world hybrids like ROXs, kids can “engage their creativity as well as their physical bodies,” DePatie says, which could be the key to getting kids off the couch.