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Welcome to Games for Physical and Mental Fitness (GAMFIT)Edit

Approximately one in two adults in industrialized countries are physically inactive. This lifestyle contributes to dramatically increasing rates of obesity, and related diseases such as type 2 diabetes. These health problems lead to decreased quality of life, as well as dramatic costs to the healthcare system. Video games are, in contrast, a highly popular activity, and are now played in more than 68% of American households. Video games are no longer an activity purely for young males: the average age of players is 35, and 40% of game players are women.

The primary goal of this project is to determine whether video gaming can be used to help motivate people to begin and maintain a program of physical activity. While there are an increasing number of commercial products that aim to do exactly this (e.g., Wii Fit, EA Sports Active), relatively little is known about the principles of how to design effective exercise video games. We will address the questions of what design elements in games increase peoples’ motivation to become and remain physically active, and of whether these actually provide sufficient exercise to produce health benefits (Graves, 2007; Warburton 2007, 2009).

A secondary goal is to address the problem that exercise video games (henceforth exergames) are difficult to create, inhibiting research and experimentation. These games are based on a profusion of special-purpose hardware devices, ranging over exercise bicycles, accelerometer-based devices such as the Wii Remote, and vision-based devices such as the EyeToy and the newly announced Xbox Natal. Programmers can end up mired in low-level programming using poorly documented proprietary APIs, Hidden Markov Model interpretation of accelerometer input, and vision processing of low-level camera input. We will develop tools to help address common styles of input in exergames, helping programmers focus on the game itself rather than low-level input capture. We will also address technical challenges related to representing exercise through direct and indirect sensor measurements to provide more accurate and reliable representations of player fitness in digital media.

Games are not limited to addressing physical fitness, however. We also plan to test whether cognitively-stimulating games can help address mental fitness, helping to delay or ameliorate the expression of Alzheimer's disease. Work in this related area will allow sharing of tools and infrastructure, and methods for evaluation.

To meet these goals, we will address three core themes of game design, evaluating effectiveness of games for fitness, and tools and Infrastructure for constructing and evaluating prototype games.

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