Video Games for Your Health

Here is a list of cliché complaints that you likely hear on a daily basis:

  1. I was so worried about such and such, I couldn’t sleep.
  2. I got so bored running on the treadmill, I just wanted to slide off the back of it at full speed.
  3. I should not have ordered that ______ (fill in the blank) last night.

For most of my adult life, I have said at least one of these each week. However, I have found a few fun, innovative video games to help.

When a friend told me that I wear my temper on the tip of my nose, I decided to try meditation. My silent, yoga-mat days were short-lived, but when I heard Kellee Santigo of thatgamecompany describe their 2009 game Flower as a “video game version of a poem,” I was intrigued. Jenova Chen, the company’s co-founder, considered Flower a spiritual successor to his early game Flow. Chen wanted the game to evoke a positive emotional state. Flower’s team removed all elements and mechanics including speech that might inhibit the intended response. The gameplay explores the difference between “urban bustle” and “natural serenity.” The player controls the wind, which in turn, blows a single flower petal through the different environments (six levels of gameplay). As with our real world interactions with nature, the flower’s movements trigger certain environmental cues—turn dead grass to vibrant fields, start a wind turbine, or grow more flowers. As I watched the city become more vivid, I took a deep breath of what felt like fresh air.

Zombies, RUN! triggers the opposite emotional response, but if you play this running game on your Smartphone, you’ll never complain about boredom during a jog again. While participating in an amateur running class, writer Naomi Alderman heard a classmate say, “I want to be able to outrun a zombie hoard.” Alderman thought her peer’s sentiment made for a clever game, and so she paired up with game studio Six to Start. Your mission proves simple—avoid zombie hordes and rebuild your base. Gameplay is just as straightforward—put on your running shoes, headphones, and hit the pavement (or treadmill). The app provides 13 audio missions and you can select a custom playlist before you start to run. Before you cover 100 yards, you’ll start to hear zombies. And there’s only one way to save yourself, run! The first time a zombie catches you, you get a warning, “The zombie has caught you.” However, after a number of zombie attacks, you fail a mission and you have to start over again, which means logging more miles. Now this game might not be good for your nerves, but it will keep you on the move.

Regret the fast food you ate last night? Sick of potato chips for dinner? Learn how to cook healthy meals with Nintendo’s Personal Trainer: Cooking. While it’s not technically a video game, but rather a virtual cookbook accessed on Nintendo DS, amateur chefs who tackle the 241 or so recipes deserve a win as far as I’m concerned. Personal Trainer: Cooking includes voice recorded instructions, pictures, and video tutorials that teaches the chef how to julienne carrots, bake a chicken pot pie, and season with bay leaves or rosemary, among other techniques and recipes. I especially appreciate the game’s built-in grocery list. It notes the ingredients you need to whip-up the next recipe and alerts you to how much money you’ll likely spend.

With organizations such as GamesforHealth, it’s clear that play is an important part of a healthy lifestyle. And wouldn’t it be more fun to tell your coworker about how relaxed you felt after playing a video game than to complain about that darn report? And people will certainly be more impressed to hear you outran a hoard of zombies this morning, than to hear that you hit snooze, again. Or what about instead of pulling up to another drive-thru, you invite a friend to dinner and share a new recipe you practiced with the aid of your Nintendo?