"Exercise" and "gamers" are two words that look odd together. Sure, as a community, computer game-a-holics have the most nimble and dexterous thumbs you'll find anywhere, but our other physical attributes are hardly what you'd call Brad Pitt-esque.
That's because for the most part, serious gamers spend time that could be used for exercising, well, playing computer games. That's who we are. That's what we do. Not that we're all dreadfully overweight slobs who have to wash ourselves with a rag on the end of a stick -- far from it. We're probably just not as toned as Joe Q Gymjunkie is.
Which presents Sony's latest EyeToy title, EyeToy: Kinetic, with an interesting hurdle to overcome. EyeToy: Kinetic aims to get gamers off the couch and into a regular fitness routine that uses elements of aerobics, tae kwon do, tai chi and more. Gamers (or should that be exercisers?) use the PlayStation 2's EyeToy camera to interact with objects on their TV screen in a 'virtual' workout. There are even 'virtual' fitness trainers in Kinetic to instruct you in how to move, as well as to provide motivation and even scolding should you miss too many exercise sessions.
To be fair, the EyeToy camera and its previous games have done an admirable job of getting players to move their bodies so far, but Kinetic is the first time it's actually being labelled as ''exercise" rather than just for fun. That's surely quite a hurdle for some gamers to overcome. If it feels too much like work, will we still do it?
I know it was a hurdle I didn't exactly leap across enthusiastically at first. So much so that I made my partner play Kinetic when I first bought it home. I had a perfectly valid reason, of course -- how could I take notes and exercise at the same time? So with spurious reasoning as my out, it was left to her to move, stretch, punch, jump and gyrate to every word of Kinetic's virtual instructor. I sat on the couch and diligently took notes, having only a soft drink (I'm pretty sure it was Diet Coke) and some Twisties to nourish me through what looked like an exhausting workout.
The bottom line was that she enjoyed it, with Kinetic giving her a decent workout that she says was on par with previous gym aerobic sessions. But she cited some problems with Kinetic, problems which needed some hands-on experience to really understand. Damn. So steeling my resolve and gathering whatever shreds of stamina I had within, I stepped in front of the EyeToy camera.
Starting the game requires you to tell Kinetic some details, such as your height, weight and general fitness level. Once inputted, a player can choose to do one-off exercise routines or take part in the 12-week program. The PS2 automatically works out the ins and outs of the 12-week course for you, which usually requires two to three sessions in front of Kinetic a week.
Everything in Kinetic is aimed at making you believe you're actually undertaking a proper fitness regime. To start off with, there's the choice of a male or female "instructor" to guide you through. Each session is structured just as it would be in a real gym, with warm-ups, aerobic work, impact activities and warm downs all part of each routine. Kinetic features four "types" of exercises. Aero Motion and Combat zones help to increase the player's overall fitness level (apparently inspired by moves and stances from activities such as Tai Kwon Do, Modern Dance, Kick Boxing, Aerobics and Karate); the Yoga and Tai Chi inspired Mind and Body zone focuses on breathing, concentration and flexibility; and the Toning zone helps the player to tone specific muscle groups.
As with any EyeToy game, dignity is not a prerequisite: Kinetic had me flailing my arms and feet wildly in all directions to try and hit virtual hotspots, break down imaginary walls and guide light balls around a winding circuit. It was a workout for sure, but certainly not one I'd be comfortable for others to see. Dignity was certainly left behind, as was copious amounts of grace.
One sweaty hour later, I had finished my first session with EyeToy: Kinetic. I was tired and dripping sweat -- although that probably had more to do with my previous fitness level than the exertions Kinetic put me through. The experience all in all was quite convincing -- the virtual trainers were pleasant and helpful, explaining the routines and how they impacted various body areas. They even gave out advice on how to move in some of the workouts, and gave encouragement out when I (all too often) fluffed up an exercise.
But back to that problem my partner noticed and that I subsequently did too. EyeToys have always been skittish little pieces of technology, either being wildly sensitive to any colour and movement or being steadfastly ignorant of anything in front of it. On the normal sensitivity setting in Kinetic, we found it worked poorly in anything other than well lit conditions. On higher sensitivity, it would pick up far too much, such as a white doorframe in our house that it saw in the background. That doorframe caused many an expletive to fly out during our Kinetic sessions, as the game (we should really stop calling it that) would consistently assume that doorframe was a person and ruin our exercises. Of course, this has more to do with the technology behind the EyeToy camera than any real failing of Kinetic's.
As an exercise program, EyeToy: Kinetic is a winner -- it's got a great mix of workout routines, it can cater for an individual's fitness level and its trainers are appealing without being pushy. Those with a keen interest in their health will probably flock to it because of the convenience it offers, opening up the PS2's audience far beyond the regular games player.
But the question remains -- will gamers, those used to sitting rather than doing -- get off the couch for Kinetic? The answer, in my case at least, is a resounding maybe. Since my initial sweatfest, I've completed only two more Kinetic sessions, earning a reprimand from my virtual trainer. I'll probably go back for more -- goodness knows I need the exercise -- but there are so many other games to play....
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