Friday, December 21, 2012

Kinect Fitness

Technology is wonderful sometimes. Microsoft's done a good job of integrating Xbox with the web, so I can go online at lunchtime, read about some games and choose which ones I want a demo of, and as soon as I turn the Xbox on once I get home, it starts to download. (If I hated the environment a bit more and left the Xbox on all day, I could come straight home to a new game, but I don't need to burn electricity that badly.) Today I thought I'd check out Kinect Fitness.

It would have been impossible to use a Kinect in Hong Kong, without either going up on the roof or sledgehammering my way into at least the apartment next door. Singapore has expansive housing by comparison, so a Kinect becomes usable. After the initial crop of waggle-your-arms novelty, it was obvious that somebody would try to use motion control to make you fitter, rather than just look stupider.

And thus Kinect Fitness, a collaboration between the Pacific Northwest giants of Nike and Microsoft. A computer generated trainer (who even works up a bit of a sweat) guides you through a series of exercises, pointing out when your form is wrong and you need to adjust. That's an instant improvement over exercise DVDs, which are difficult to use to learn proper form, because of the lack of feedback. Not everyone can afford a personal trainer, and if you can, they don't like it when you curse at them through gritted teeth, whereas the Xbox is pretty tolerant.

It's actually pretty hard work. I should have tried it with my heart rate monitor on, but it definitely made me sweat and get out of breath. Apparently the old Wii Fitness game didn't really do anything for you: this is a lot tougher.

Impatient to 'play' it, I went into the Fitness Test mode almost a soon as I'd got home, stopping only to eat a cheese sandwich and rearrange some furniture. Then I was having to jump up and down (difficult with a ceiling fan just above you), jump from side to side trying to avoid crashing into the shoe rack, and attempt to do press-ups within the Kinect's field of vision (impossible today).

The test is only 12 minutes, but that includes a punishing series of sprints and a series of embarrassments where your wife laughs at you as you fail to follow the Xbox's instructions. Then it pushes out your fitness score (I score higher as an athlete than being fit, apparently) and you think long and hard about buying the full package.

There's the promise of lots of content: different workloads and competitions every week, a choice of different trainers (but no way to download better cardiovascular fitness). You even get the option to work out online with other people, which is fundamentally strange, coming from a background of videogames being a solipsistic, rather than communal, affair, but I suppose it could be fun.

Not so much fun for gyms and fitness trainers though. For the price of a year's gym membership in Singapore ($1,500 plus an arbitrary 'joining fee' at my local fitness centre) I could buy 30 copies of Kinect Fitness, and not have a fat bloke in a tracksuit do a series of unscientific tests to show me how fit I am. I can have an Israeli-designed motion control system do unscientific tests instead. Why I'd pay all that money for something I wouldn't use, when I could have the gadgets and geegaws of an online fitness game instead, suddenly seems mysterious and strange.

I know I need to do more crosstraining to make myself fitter, instead of just running, but it's been hard to. Since Kinect Fitness can feed you micro-motivations with all the badges that are integrated into the Xbox Live system, you'd hope it would help you retain motivation. I'm going to spring for the whole game tomorrow and then see what happens.

And perhaps I'll try the fitness test without trying to digest a cheese sandwich at the same time.


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