Advice for Keeping Active in a Post-Internet World
I love to eat. I love to make food AND eat it. Add to it my love language, which probably falls somewhere between Acts of Service and Gift Giving, and it's no wonder that I have a bit extra to love around my midsection.
But my personal history also includes times when I've lost weight and been very active. My Congenital Heart Defects (CHD) made me into a skinny, very active live-wire for most of my childhood. It was only after my first major heart surgery that my metabolism quickly slowed down and started to affect my weight.
Unfortunately, that surgery and my first major weight gain happened at the same time as puberty and depression. I was living in a new state, and I had few friends. I began to eat and play video games like I never had before. Bad diet coupled with increasing CHD issues kept me from roller blading, baseball, and riding my bike as I had done with little concern up to that summer. My CHD was effecting everything about me, and little of it was good.
The next year, my family moved back to Indiana and while I was more active than I had been in North Carolina and my first heart surgery, the seeds of a sedentary lifestyle had taken hold. My lust for video games only increased, and since these were the days before active gaming options existed, I sat for hours working only my thumbs.
This was 1996, and in the next few years my life would be forever changed along with the rest of my generation and everyone who has come along since. The internet changed everything very quickly, and when I wasn't acting or doing backstage work, homework, or working the inevitable teenaged fast food job, I turned to PC gaming and the internet for entertainment. Launch, a magazine that could only be accessed through a CD-rom disc that came in the mail every month, became an obsession. I had loved Sid Meier games since Pirate's Gold, so I slipped into a trance every time another Civilization game came out. And you undoubtedly already know that my favorite game of all time is and will forever be the Sims, which came out in 2000. I have been playing it ever since.
Suffice to say that my gaming obsession continued well into my college years. Theatre and gaming, that was how I spent most of my 20s. Even when I lost weight and kept it off for a couple of years in college and again in my mid 20s it was mostly through Dance Dance Revolution and vigorous use of the Wii. For me, games provide a means of escape coupled with creativity that are rarely rivaled. So, active gaming=great opportunity for fitness+escape and creativity.
The only thing that is still missing from the equation is community. Online gaming communities that have thrived for over 10 years now do exist (Second Life and Star Wars Battlefront come to mind), but I've yet to see an innovation firsthand that enables active gamers to successfully connect while they, well, get active. Surely the active gaming community is worthy of a decent, sustained community network after all this time, especially with the recent widespread interest in virtual reality gaming (VR).
Because I tend to turn my eyes toward the past, here are a few suggestions for anyone looking to create an activity-based online gaming community. Whether you are a budding game developer or gamer yourself, get inspired by group sports or activities from the pre-internet era:
1. Enable Teams and Friendly Tournaments Amongst Players
Between rehearsals, classes, studying, and making decisions about whether a shower or a nap were more important each day, I had little time for group sports. That said, universities like my alma mater have a long, storied tradition not just of group sports (go Butler Bulldogs!) but of intramural sports that anyone can participate in. Even before I was asked to pledge a sorority, it was encouraged that we all join volleyball, baseball, basketball, or even tennis teams on campus. When I got my Master's degree at Ball State I recollect that they had a gaming lab in the basement of the student union, but curiously it was only for PC gamers--not a console, and definitely not a DDR mat in sight! Make gaming spaces more team-friendly and teams will come--that's the saying, right? Invite college students or even living room gamers like myself to join teams both in-person and online.
2. Have Group Practice and Accountability Measures in Place
What makes a great team? Group practice and a space for strategy! The team that practices together plays well together. Even before professional teams became the standard in baseball, adult teams would practice and have friendly matches throughout the summer without payment just like youth leagues still do today. At my high school and others across the USA, teams met to practice before and after school, generally at least twice a week. Sometimes they even lifted weights as a group, strengthening their sense of community as they cross-trained. Having a common place online to chat as we get our sweat on would likely foster the same feeling of shared goals.
3. Give Players Opportunities to Keep Up with the Same Communities Through Clubs and Associations as Gaming Itself Changes and Evolves
One of my favorite places in Chicago is the Chicago Athletic Association, and before it reinvented itself as a hotel with bars and eateries it began as a place to meet and be sporty. While there are gamer MeetUps and Facebook groups out there, the easiest way for gamers to connect with and talk about their favorite games could be through the games themselves. Like the chatrooms of old, having a place in-game for associations or clubs to form and meet should be something gamers do.
4. Enable Opportunities to Meet Other Players In-Game Through Virtual Lounges or Cafes
Along the same lines, large brick-and-mortar gyms generally have lounges or cafes where customers can chill out and connect with each other pre- and post-workout. How difficult would it be to have a space for gamers to connect when they're in the mood to interact, not necessarily just play?
5. Have Free Zones where Gamers Can Play AND Interact at the Same Time
Like the gym itself, having a general space where gamers can interact and play, whether it's together or separately, it would make it that much easier to feel connected to other gamers while staying active. Right now, the active gamer's experience is quite solitary. Having the ability to add and connect with other gamers AND talk to them while we work out would be an ACTUAL game-changer. In the most literal sense, of course. But it would definitely keep me coming back for more knowing that my friends are there waiting for me there. To keep things equitable, perhaps these features will just come with the game? Given just how much I appreciate the community created out of the Sims 4's Gallery feature, I would be the first in line for a game that had the ability to interact as I work out.
As a seasoned gamer, I'd love to see activity-based games keep up with the needs of their consumers. Whether these changes are made by the games themselves or through communities of active gamers, there is scope to bring activity-based gaming into the 21st century through community.
Do you like playing activity-based video games? Which are your favorite?