Exergames at NMSU Learning Game Lab
Gaming, or the playing of video or computer games, is not often described a healthy activity. Some would argue that sitting in front of a screen all day engaged in games is an unhealthy and socially destructive habit. But not necessarily so, said Barbara Chamberlin, a game researcher at the New Mexico State University Learning Games Lab.
“We have such a fear of screen time that we’ve been trained to think that screen time is the enemy,” Chamberlin said, “but screen time isn’t the enemy anymore, because screen time can be one of the best ways to educate people, and also one of the best ways to get people moving.”
With the invention of the Nintendo Wii in 2006, and the development of the Microsoft Kinect for the Xbox 360 in 2010 – each are gaming systems that require physical movement to complete tasks – Chamberlin said instead of putting a limit on screen time, we should be putting a limit on the time we spend sitting still.
“The Wii changed everybody’s thinking,” Chamberlin said. “Now all the major consoles have active gaming components to them.”
The NMSU Learning Game Lab was created to be a space where kids could come in and test physical activity games, as well as games that require little to no movement. Researchers in the game lab work to develop software to benefit people in areas such as nutrition, math, science and food safety. Current projects include innovative science- and math-based games and animations, a national initiative
on active games, and research activities with youth, interactive websites and creative video productions.
“In our constant quest to find out what it is about games that is engaging and appealing and so much fun to play, we try to investigate for ourselves, so we can apply those things to educational games,” Chamberlin said.
Exergames Unlocked is another project researchers are working on at the game lab. Exergames refer to video games that encourage physical activity.
“Under our grant, we have a pediatric psychologist who is looking at social and family impacts of games, we have an extension educator who is looking at how she can extend the benefits of organized sports through exergames and we have an exercise physiologist in California who is measuring caloric intake,” Chamberlin said.
She said researchers in the game lab found that games with nonstandard controllers, such as the Wii, were not only highly enjoyable because they incorporate physical activity, but they are more intuitive. Games for the Wii also allow all age levels to participate, including parents, making it more socially interactive and productive.
“I think what is exciting about video games is that we’re seeing benefits across the board in caloric expenditure, but what we’re also seeing is increased daily activity, and research tells us that even smalls bursts of activity throughout the day can be just as powerful and have the same benefits as prolonged exposure.”
SUMMER THINK TANK SESSIONS
The New Mexico State University Learning Games Lab will have summer Think Tank sessions starting in June for adults and students entering grades 6 through 8. The kids’ sessions are already filled, but the lab is still accepting applications for the adult session.
As part of the session, adults will have the opportunity to work with other professionals to analyze how games could be used in classrooms, afterschool programs or other health-related activities. For information and to apply, visit learninggameslab.org or contact Michelle Garza, firstname.lastname@example.org or (575) 646-3646.
Adults Think Tank Session
8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.