Videogames get more physical as recession bites

RALEIGH, North Carolina Thu May 28, 2009 8:57am EDT

A woman demonstrates Nintendo Co Ltd's ''Wii Fit'' game console during a media event in Chiba, east of Tokyo, October 10, 2007. REUTERS/Yuriko Nakao

A woman demonstrates Nintendo Co Ltd's ''Wii Fit'' game console during a media event in Chiba, east of Tokyo, October 10, 2007.

Credit: Reuters/Yuriko Nakao

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RALEIGH, North Carolina (Reuters) - With the recession cutting out some family vacations, gym memberships, and personal trainers, a rash of new videogames designed to let people workout in their living room are hitting the shelves.

Electronic Arts has just released "EA Sports Active" for the Nintendo Wii which comes with a resistance band and a leg strap that lets players perform aerobic activities like virtual roller blading, jogging, or lunging.

"With today's economy, people can't always afford gym memberships and personal trainers," said Alison Sweeney, host of NBC's "Biggest Loser" reality TV series.

"EA calls this game a "trainer in a box" and it really is. The game teaches you the right way to work out."

The game has a built-in journal to track food intake and encourage an active lifestyle, including away from the Wii.

The trend of incorporating exercise into virtual entertainment will be showcased at next week's E3 Expo in Los Angeles, the largest videogame trade show in North America.

Sega has a new Wii game, "Daisy Fuentes Pilates" hosted by the former MTV personality, Namco Bandai has "Active Life: Extreme Challenge" for Wii, and Nintendo has "Wii Sports Resort."

Activision's "Tony Hawk: Ride" for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 adds physical play to the mix with a motion-sensor skateboard controller that translates gamers' physical moves into virtual tricks.

Exercise games have become an established genre for game publishers.

Konami Digital Entertainment introduced active games to the world with its "Dance Dance Revolution" game, which has sold over 11 million copies its 2001 launch.

Nintendo encouraged physical interaction with its Wii console and games like "Wii Sports" then took virtual exercise to another level last May with the "Wii Fit" which has sold over 14 million units worldwide, introducing gamers to yoga and mini-game workouts.

"Aside from the "Dance Dance Revolution" games, there have only been a handful of fitness games and, until the "Wii Fit" launched, none was particularly successful," said Michael Pachter, videogame analyst, Wedbush Morgan Securities.

He predicted strong sales for "EA Sports Active" and Sega's "Daisy Fuentes' Pilates."

Nintendo's Wii and "Wii Fit" have not only introduced more men to exercise but also paved a new avenue for female gamers.

"I've gotten e-mails from plenty of women who tell me that "Wii Fit" has helped them become more active, and it's clear that these women were not gamers to begin with," said Kristin Kalning, game editor and columnist, MSNBC.

Daisy Fuentes, the Cuban-born actress and model, said her pilates games that will be released this summer isn't exclusive to women.

"Pilates is able to equally cater to both men and women, especially for beginners. Since it was developed by a man and for a man's body, it focuses on many important aspects of men's fitness," she said.

"I'm excited for everyone to have the chance to feel what it's really like to experience the true feeling of skateboarding," said Hawk in a statement.

(Editing by Belinda Goldsmith)

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