Playing a video game? No, it's health therapy

RALEIGH, North Carolina Thu Jun 26, 2008 8:54am EDT

A woman demonstrates an interactive yoga game on Nintendo's Wii Fit, a new interactive fitness game for the Wii system, during the product launch in New York May 19, 2008. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

A woman demonstrates an interactive yoga game on Nintendo's Wii Fit, a new interactive fitness game for the Wii system, during the product launch in New York May 19, 2008.

Credit: Reuters/Shannon Stapleton

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RALEIGH, North Carolina (Reuters) - Video games are known to improve hand-eye coordination but can they help someone quit smoking or lose weight?

Hot on the heels of Nintendo's 7974.0S smash success, "Wii Fit," game makers are introducing new titles with a healthy focus, such as French game publisher Ubisoft's "Allen Carr's Easyway to Stop Smoking" that hits on Nintendo DS in November.

Over 10 million smokers worldwide have turned to Allen Carr's Easyway books, clinics or DVD in order to stop smoking but now smokers wanting to quit can instead play 14 mini-games.

The games, designed by Ubisoft's (UBIP.PA) Quebec studio and Allen Carr's team, focus on why people smoke rather than why they shouldn't.

"Each game has been designed to be very accessible, using only the stylus on the Nintendo DS, so a non-gamer can have fun instantly," said Denis Dore, producer of the game.

"We are not talking here about a game that will allow you to gain virtual rewards, but one that can in fact help you quit smoking."

Robin Hayley, CEO of Allen Carr's Easyway International, said research has shown that people absorb information better when they are actively and enjoyably engaged in a learning process.

In addition, the game could attract younger smokers who are less inclined to visit a clinic or read books to quit the habit and being played on Nintendo DS makes the games portable.

"Some games explain and illustrate the points better than is possible in a book as, using the senses of touch and vision," said Hayley.

WALK THE GREAT WALL OF CHINA

Ubisoft is also putting weight loss in your palm this summer with "My Weight Loss Coach" for Nintendo DS, which just shipped.

This game comes with a pedometer that gamers can wear all day then plug into their DS to feed that data into a game.

If a player walks enough, the game will let them know when they've navigated the equivalent of the Great Wall of China.

In addition to mini-games and quizzes on fitness, the virtual weight loss coach makes suggestions like taking the stairs rather than the elevator and parking farther away from the store.

"'My Weight Loss Coach' is designed to help players develop healthy lifestyle habits like eating well and staying active," said Ubisoft spokesman Tony Key.

"'Wii Fit's' positive reception is a signal that people are interested in being active, and getting fit, as long as it's engaging and fun."

Legendary game designer Shigeru Miyamoto, the creator of such characters as Mario, Donkey Kong and Link, has made exercise fun with his latest creation, "Wii Fit."

The game uses a balance board that tracks shifts in weight. In addition to the recently shipped "We Ski" from Namco Bandai, various new games, including Ubisoft's "Shaun White Snowboarding" and Electronic Arts' "SKATE IT," will use the board.

Like the Wii console, "Wii Fit" has been sold out since it shipped in North America last month. The game's already sold over 688,000 units at $90 each, according to The NPD Group.

Michael Pachter, video game analyst for Wedbush Morgan Securities, believes "Wii Fit" sales will top 3 million this year as long as Nintendo can keep up with demand.

Miyamoto said he would like families to use "Wii Fit" together and make gamers more conscious of exercise and what they eat.

Before Wii revolutionized the concept of physically participating in games with a motion-sensor controllers, Konami introduced the dance mat game "DanceDanceRevolution" to Japanese arcades in 1998 which migrated to North America a few years later and made its console debut on PlayStation in 2001.

The game is still going strong and is even bought by schools.

Miyamoto said not to expect "magic" weight loss with games like "Wii Fit" but they could encourage people as if games can get people into exercising routinely, they will start to notice changes in their bodies.

(Editing by Belinda Goldsmith)

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