It's an old idea, combining exercise equipment with video games.  But no one has nailed the design yet. I'll try to do that today.

For starters, let's assume the videogame/exercise hybrid device exists in a professional gym designed for just this reason. That allows us to design something more expensive and more space-hogging than you might want at home.

Imagine that your exercise equipment is in a three-walled bay, open to the back, with the front and sides featuring large video screens that are synchronized. When you are faced forward, you are immersed in this artificial video world as if you were in a car driving forward.

Now let's talk about the exercise equipment before we design the actual game play. I imagine a variety of pulleys, bars, and pedals that satisfy most of a person's cardio and weight training needs. The hard part is organizing those physical assets to match game play in a way that makes sense. So let's jump to the game itself so you can better understand how to organize the exercise "cage."

The game is called Morph Herder of LowGrav 9. The game player is one of many people in the far future who work as morph herders on low gravity planets. Morphs are vaguely cow-shaped creatures that were genetically engineered to produce valuable pharmaceuticals in their milk. The morph herders fly ultra-light planes over the planet by pedal power alone, which works great because of the low gravity. Your job is to fly low over the alien terrain until you find a morph and tag it while it tries to escape. The tagging allows the mother ship, from which you just descended with your ultra-light, to lock onto the morph with a tractor beam, bring it up to the ship and milk it, then release it unharmed. No morphs die in this game. When you tag them with your tagger gun, they instantly freeze and zip up to your mother ship in a beam of light.

The gym's exercise device would mimic the controls of the ultra-light. You're fighting the wind, so simply turning left requires some muscle to adjust the wings. And you are pedaling from a reclined or standing position whenever you need to pick up speed or altitude. Your glide distance is very long on this low gravity planet, so you need not pedal continuously.

Your arms would need to work hard to navigate your ultra-light, pulling and pushing on the physical control bars in your exercise cage. It also takes some energy to aim the tagging gun because of the wind friction. I can imagine having actual fans in your exercise cage that simulate your movement through the air. And perhaps your entire exercise cage leans left, right, back, and forth to match the motion you are picking.

The idea is to have a full set of arm, chest, abs, and shoulder exercises while in a reclining seat that has bike-like pedals. The resistance would be the equivalent of perhaps 5-10 pound weights, but the catch is that you'll be moving and lifting and pulling for a solid hour. Kids might use less resistance, big people would use more.

I imagine the game being multi-player, so you can see the ultra-lights of the other gym users at the same time on your screen. You'd plug in your headphones to talk with them as if by radio, and either coordinate or compete for "Morph Herder of the Week" honors.

But here's the interesting part of this idea. I have a hypothesis that the body will more readily build muscle for what the brain perceives as necessary. I'll defend that idea in a moment, but first allow me to point out that a movie will stimulate a human's mind in the same way as reality. In other words, a sad movie makes you cry, a scary movie makes you afraid, and so on. You can be fully aware that the movie is fiction while still experiencing it as if your body thought it was real. The videogame I'm describing would have the same impact. You would be aware that it was an artificial story yet your body would likely respond with adrenaline and whatever else happens when you feel competitive.

I have no evidence for my hypothesis that your body builds muscles faster for tasks it feels are necessary for survival. But let me explain my thinking.

We know that people who win competitions experience spikes in testosterone, and that testosterone helps you build muscle faster.  And you know that listening to your iPad makes it easier to exercise because it gets you all pumped up. Your brain is continually adjusting your body chemistry to fit the situation. My hypothesis is that the brain distinguishes between important tasks, such as survival (including fictional survival situations), versus unimportant tasks such as yoga. Morph herding is designed to mimic the primal urge for hunting. It is also designed to feel like a job that satisfies our need to complete physical tasks. And because one wrong move in an ultra-light means death, the simple act of steering your vehicle will seem important to your brain. Put all of that together and my hypothesis is that your brain would produce an ideal mixture of chemistry in your body to keep you exercising longer and harder, and to build muscles faster.

At the very least, the videogame distraction might make the time go faster and seem more interesting. But I think the potential might be far more. I think if the set-up stimulated just the right chemistry in your body you would get faster results than you would in a treadmill in the corner of your bedroom. With the treadmill, your brain has no reason to juice up your body chemistry so you can perform better in this trivial and boring task.

I described one type of videogame, but I could imagine lots of variations that use different combinations of the exercise cage. One might involve nothing but pedaling your bike through virtual streets in Paris or other exotic places, following a path of your choice.

I'll be the first one to say the business model I just described probably doesn't work. It would be nearly impossible to sell enough gym memberships to make back the investment of the game design and building out the facilities. But I'm curious whether manipulating body chemistry in just the right way, by controlling external stimulation, produces faster muscle growth.  I think it would. It seems to me that evolution would have given us the tools to quickly "tune" our bodies - at least in terms of specific muscle growth rates - for the challenges of survival in any given environment.

What do you think?

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Feb 19, 2013
Far less sophisticated, but correspondingly less expensive - Zombies, Run!


Just running, only audio input, but it has the advantage of actually existing.
+2 Rank Up Rank Down
Feb 19, 2013
I'm not sure that the business model wouldn't work - at least at some niche level. Plenty of people spend a sizable sum each week for personal trainer. This sounds like a lot more fun, and perhaps even better at motivating (at least for some people).

VR goggles would also drop the cost dramatically. At that point you only need a specialized exercise multi-use station (modified off-the-shelf device) and some electronics connected to the goggles. I do think you'd need to develop alternative programming scenarios to keep users interested, but that's no biggie.

Feb 19, 2013
xbox kinect... What's your next already been realized into practical reality idea?
Feb 19, 2013
We already had a semi-perfect exercise game. Dance Dance Revolution. Unfortunately Copyright more or less killed the idea. Once music companies saw that there was money, you suddenly needed millions of dollars for licensing, a fleet of lawyers in limousines, and musicians wanted direct involvement in the games. At this point, few companies are capable of wading through licensing deals for the sake of a game. And those companies are primarily concerned with marketing fancy graphics than getting people to move.

The result: The newest games (*cough* Just Dance *cough*) got way more complicated, more expensive, the scoring is bizarre, it requires little movement, and the only real priority is licensing popular songs. Frankly, I'm not sure why we need copyright to last forever 70 years. 30-year-old songs should be fair game for companies trying to help people exercise.
+6 Rank Up Rank Down
Feb 19, 2013
What you really need is something to stimulate the paleolithic in all of us. Lions and tigers and bears chasing us with simulated bites when they catch up with us.
Feb 19, 2013

[I think using game consoles for exercise is the direction we should be going, though the folks who run gyms would be horrified by this idea. That said, frankly, most of the current games don't do the job very well. Games are not designed to get you standing up and moving, and the "exercise games," are boring. Finding the point where the two mesh is the true trick.]

I hear the Nike personal trainer for the XBox360 comes pretty close. Even if that isn't sufficient I agree that game consoles are the way to go and believe that, sooner or later, they will do the job well enough. And do it in your home for $60 or less plus the cost of the console.
Feb 19, 2013

Sorry to get all geeky and serious on you but I believe that this is not necessarily the case. Titan has air density 4 times thicker than Earth and gravity lower than the moon. Flying should be possible there a la Icarus and Daedalus. It is a bit cold though.

Ref: http://what-if.xkcd.com/30/
Feb 19, 2013
Finally a blog post that's not stark raving mad.

The three-wall-display you are describing is called a CAVE (Cave automatic virtual environment wikipedia.org/wiki/Cave_automatic_virtual_environment). For the game you describe it needs floor and ceiling displays in addition to the tree walls. That's total of five synchronized high power 3D capable projectors aimed at a cube measuring about 2.5 meters per dimension. That is to say, running ONE of these things is expensive, inconvenient and very cool. Running ~20 in a single gym would be epic.

Forget the exercise crap and flying cows. Build an arcade with dozens of CAVEs for people to battle with invading aliens.
Feb 19, 2013
The 'pedaling your bike through streets in Paris' idea reminds me of the gym equipment I used in Japan. The treadmills and bike machines had screens with various things you could do while clocking up your kilometres. You could watch movies, read things, or like you said, take a 'virtual walking/cycling tour' of some Japanese cities, where you could see your icon moving around the streets of Kyoto or similar, and showing the landmarks you passed along the way.

Actually most of the machines there had pretty cool gimmicks that made them enjoyable. There was one machine where you had to swing from side to side; they made it a coordination game where you had to copy the movements on the screen and got a score at the end.

I've not been to a gym anywhere but Japan recently so I don't know if these sorts of machines are the norm but they're still fun, albeit a good way off the kind of immersive/interactive game you describe in the rest of your post.
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Feb 19, 2013
Last time I wanted to get back in shape I used a video game that had sensors to detect my arm movement and a fighting game. It requires a large space, but basically no pulleys or pedals, and I got arm, leg, and torso muscles worked out to the point that I was sore. Not naming the game or system cause I don't want to seem like I'm advertising, but this takes space, a TV, and a console. You don't even have to leave the house.
I think using game consoles for exercise is the direction we should be going, though the folks who run gyms would be horrified by this idea. That said, frankly, most of the current games don't do the job very well. Games are not designed to get you standing up and moving, and the "exercise games," are boring. Finding the point where the two mesh is the true trick.
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Feb 19, 2013
Great idea and some really funny comments.
You might include handicapping the equipment, e.g. 1, have a heart monitor and as long as the heart rate is on target or better you are catching up or overtaking, e.g. 2, as long as the weight pushed/pulled per time unit etc.
Having some competition is also stimulating so you might have the zombies chasing you be other members of the gym (franchise), or be told that they are... same effect. Hunting alternating randomly with being hunted would likely increase the testosterone/adrenaline flush. No science there sorry... just a guess.
Feb 18, 2013
Love the concept. !$%*!$%*!$%*!$ has essentially become an RPG with "points" and such. See the wired article about this: http://www.wired.com/gaming/virtualworlds/commentary/games/2008/08/gamesfrontiers_0811

My gym has video game built into the recumbent bicycle where the harder you pedal the faster you move to catch dragons and such. FPC (first person "chaser"?) Their fatal flaw is that the game is not fun enough. You never really get good speed so everything drags and you always end up lazily inching towards the goals.
Feb 18, 2013
With the right software, you could theoretically use standard, in-place gym equipment with "Augmented Reality Glasses": http://www.engadget.com/2013/02/12/vuzix-wrap-1200ar-augmented-reality-glasses/

Say the exercise class theme was "Zombie Adventure", participants could run from zombies on a treadmill, pull off a zombie's arm, push a zombie out a window, and all kinds of other push/ pull scenarios.

If the software was flexible enough, ARG users could hold class right in the midst of regular gym users. If the theme for the ARG class that week was "Jungle Adventure", non-participants could be depicted as sloths or cheetahs depending on their rate of movement, body hair, smell, etc.

+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Feb 18, 2013
Muscle building is optimal doing 40-60 reps, with sets of 6-12 reps. Thats a generalisation, and any resistance training will stimulate muscle growth to an extent, but thats what the studies suggest is best.

High resistance builds muscle, basically. (Compare muscley sprinters and the legs of sprint cyclists to their spindly lower intensity distance running/cycling counterparts).

Something like this would burn calories, and put some muscle mass on the average couch potato, but for anyone moderately used to strength training, low effort over a period of time won't help much.
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Feb 18, 2013
No...it will never work. A planet with gravity so minimal that cows can fly would not have an atmosphere dense enough for an ultra light peddle powered plane to work.
0 Rank Up Rank Down
Feb 18, 2013
This thing as two disadvantages: You need to set aside valuable spare time for exercise and sooner or later even this game will get boring.

I'm still waiting for VR glasses and a bunch of cameras plus a VisualStudio (or Eclipse) plugin that lets me walk and jump around the office, stepping on class names and plucking variable names and control structures from the air with my hands, possibly with weighted gloves.

Everyone of us accepts that we have to work for decades, most even in the same job, for many hours per day, without grumbling. No hobby or other activity (bar sleeping) can compare with that. If you want to get people to move, make them work out while working.

Remember that cartoon of yours?
What would be the computerized equivalent for an office worker, sitting and typing all day?
Feb 18, 2013
I have experimentally tried a similar idea (years ago) by deciding to ride an exercycle while playing an interesting playstation game. After an hour and a half I'd stumble off the cycle and my legs would be like jelly. Several days later I got fed up with the game and stopped playing it completely - couldn't be bothered with all the exercise. (I'd played the game a lot before that, so the exercise made the difference).

Variation might have helped plus having the effort counting towards something might have helped also, but the idea was a flop.
Feb 18, 2013
That's a very interesting hypothesis, Scott.

As you were describing your idea, I had the same thought you put in at the end of the post as to its business viability. It sounds like building each pod, or cage, or whatever you want to call it, would be so expensive that it would not be profitable. It's a great idea, though.

Now the other part of your post that is interesting is the mind-muscle connection. Of course, as we all know there is no such thing as a mind, so let's just say the robotic programming that resides in our head. Ha! Gotcha.

But to your point: I recall reading a study a number of years ago where two groups of people who did not exercise had their fitness measured. Then, both groups were asked to go about their daily lives as they had before, with one exception. Half of them were told to just keep doing what they were doing, while the other half were asked to think about exercising. In other words, they were told to visualize a workout as though they were actually doing it, but not to actually do any new exercises.

After a month, their fitness levels were measured again. The group that had thought about exercising had significantly increased their fitness level over those who had not.

Now, disclaimer city: it's impossible to do a double-blind study of this type. Also, the mechanism behind the fitness increase was not known. Was it the mind (robotic programming) increasing the fitness level because of a perceived need to become more fit, or was there something else at work - such as unconscious flexing of muscles as you visualized becoming more fit, resulting in better muscle tone.

Your body is extremely efficient. If you were a car, you would get 600 miles to the gallon. If you suddenly get denied food, your body will not only consume fat, it will consume muscle. The idea, if you can call it that, being that the body doesn't need all that muscle if you have no way to get food. That's why diet experts tell you not to try to lose too much too fast; you'll defeat your own purpose if you start to lose muscle along with fat.

Your body mechanism gets rid of that which is not used. Fitness experts will tell you that it only takes about three days of not exercising for your fitness level to begin to decline. Use it or lose it is the way your body works.

Here's a business idea built on the 'think your way to fitness' concept: you could call it the Professor Henry Hill (Google it) fitness regimen. You purchase a membership in the Henry Hill Spa and come in for your non-workout. Your fitness guru says, "OK, now, think about holding 30-pound weights in each hand, and think about doing fifteen curls with each."

Your spa doesn't need a shower because your patrons don't sweat, so you save a bunch of money. Since they're not actually using any equipment, you don't have to buy any. All you need is some chairs and maybe some workout benches. "Lie back and think about doing bench presses."

No guarantees, of course, because there's no way for your virtual trainer to know if you're actually visualizing the workout that he tells you to, or fantasizing about that hot babe you saw at the mall. That would obviously have to be part of the contract you'd sign.

Every time they come into the spa, their thought trainer says to them, "Boy, you sure look a lot more fit than you did the last time you were here!" So the people think they're getting fitter, and keep coming back for their virtual workout.

Virtual fitness centers. Coming to your town soon. Ka-CHING!!!
Feb 18, 2013
This is a very good idea. Be aware, though, that you can't build muscle with high-repetition low-weight exercise, except for particular muscles such as the calves and abs.
+3 Rank Up Rank Down
Feb 18, 2013
It is a strange and great comfort that there is at least one person in the world that has more ideas that will never be acted upon than myself.

As long as you are successful at just one idea - you now have permission to dream on endlessly.

Thank you Scott.
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