My favorite Christmas was the year I got a GameBoy Pocket. It wasn’t perfect, but that didn’t matter. The hardware transported me into the game world.
This same principle applies to tech in general. No matter how sexy the new iPhone may be, or how much battery life the latest ultrabook has, a good hardware experience is ultimately a portal to great software experience. I recently pointed out how lazy manufacturers in the fitness market have gotten, and now it’s the software makers’ turn.
I like to believe that new hardware will promote exercise and healthy habits, but it’s ultimately up to the experience – the software – to provide a good enough excuse to get off the couch and get moving. In the same way that Pokemon made me forget the GameBoy Pocket’s limitations, it’s up to fitness software to make me forget that I’m using another glorified pedometer.
As much as I enjoy fitness software – to the extent that one can enjoy being reminded of how much exercise they aren’t getting – every product I’ve tried has so far fallen short of grabbing a special spot in my heart. Fitocracy’s “Duels” feature, for instance, comes tantalizingly close, but still fails to go all the way. It suffers from being an exercised platform being dressed up with some game features, when a better approach would be to build a full game from the ground up.
What better way to reach that goal than to develop a true game? Video games are often blamed for encouraging younger generations to stay inside for hours on end. Why not use that power to get bums off the couch instead?
Let’s call this game “Exercise Fantasy,” because naming things isn’t my strong suit. A user could tie Exercise Fantasy in with other established software suites – again, like Fitbit or RunKeeper – and then watch as the magic begins.
Each exercise could be applied as “experience” to the user’s character. Each activity could apply to a different attribute corresponding to the user’s fitness goals. Need to gain some speed? Create a character and watch as his speed improves as you accrue more cardio-based workouts. Need to focus on mindfulness and patience? Build up your meditation times and watch your character become more in tune with himself.
In order to promote multiplayer gaming, players would be limited to one character per game. As any self respecting role-playing gamer knows, heading out to battle with only one character is suicide. Encouraging teamwork for survival introduces much higher (virtual) stakes and improves motivation.
Building this game wouldn’t be easy. Striking a balance between using a game to promote exercise and occupying every spare minute of a user’s time would require careful testing and research. For now Exercise Fantasy is just that – a fantasy – but I hope that someone decides to build it soon.
We can pick on hardware all we want, but that’s a weak excuse for not building something incredible. Software makers are doing some cool things, but there’s still ground to cover. It may very well solve the chicken and egg problem of deciding whether more capable hardware or software should be built first and encourage manufacturers to get their acts together.
[Illustration by Hallie Bateman]