When motion controllers were first on the scene, hardcore gamers wrote them off as a gimmick. But when interactive sports games attracted players in the millions, it was immediately apparent gaming isn’t just about thumbs. 

Motion gaming’s real strength has been to bring in people who wouldn’t normally consider themselves ‘gamers’. There’s something about jumping around the living room with a group of friends that has an almost universal appeal.

“Motion controllers enable a more casual non-experienced gamer to naturally become involved and immersed in the game,” explained Jeremy Hinton, Xbox Business Lead at Microsoft Australia.

Next Level Gaming – workouts and rehabilitation

Another reason that motion gaming has proved so popular is the fact it’s much better for you than simply sitting on the couch. Games such as Kinect Fitness allow you to work out with a virtual personal trainer, while the sensor tracks your body movement and heart rate as you progress through each training module. 

Jeremy believes the desirability of Kinect came down to the perception that it’s more natural to use than a game controller: more human. “To most people, a video game controller is a baffling thing with 18 buttons that all do different things,” he said. “But everyone understands how to throw, grab, push and kick. It’s through these natural voice and gesture interfaces that people of all ages, from four to 94, can engage with technology in a way they just couldn’t before.”

Motion controllers enable people to naturally become immersed in the game
“Motion controllers enable a more casual non-experienced gamer to naturally become involved and immersed in the game,” says Microsoft’s Jeremy Hinton. Credit: Sergey Galyonkin/FLICKR.

While there’s been plenty of anecdotal evidence to suggest movement-based gaming is good for your general health, academics are now systematically investigating their effects. The University of Tasmania, for instance, is currently trialing programs to promote mobility in the elderly. Called the ‘Jintronix Rehabilitation System,’ it’s based on modified Kinect hardware and aims to help aid the rehabilitation of stroke victims, improve the balance of the elderly and offer physiotherapy for people recovering from an injury from the comfort of their own home.

Stuart Smith, Professor of Disruptive Technologies at the University of the Sunshine Coast, heads up the project along with Marie Louise Bird of the University of Tasmania. Stuart sees motion gaming as having the potential to cause a quiet revolution in rehabilitation. “Any kind of neurological rehabilitation involves getting people to do high numbers of repetition of movements. They can be pretty boring, and they often don’t provide much feedback into how the patient is doing,” explained Stuart. “For us it was a perfect technology to trial: it was relatively inexpensive, relatively easy to access, and could run on a standard windows platform. A clinician can work with remote patients, they can send patients home with a system, set it up in their homes, and from a central location reach out and modify the rehabilitation program.”

Get Moving with Gaming

While the Jintronix study is already yielding encouraging results, Stuart believes motion gaming will have much broader implications for peoples’ health for one simple reason: they’re fun. “One of the main problems we face as a society is that, we are increasingly sedentary. Many of us are not getting enough physical activity,” he said. “If you want somebody to engage in a behaviour typically an exercise that they find boring, or that there’s no interesting motivation for them to engage, you’ll struggle. With games, we have this perfect technology where people just play.”

Perfect game technology where people just play
“With games, we have this perfect technology where people just play.” says Professor Stuart Smith, seen testing the Jintronix Rehabilitation System. CREDIT: Courtesy of Professor Stuart Smith.

Jeremy believes that these non-traditional interfaces will become commonplace. “It’s a very interesting new era for computing and how we interact with our smart devices,” he said. “A combination of voice, touch, movement and gestures will become more and more the standard in the way we interact with technology in the near future.”

It’s an exciting new frontier, and to Stuart’s mind, the next generation of motion gaming will see us step out of our lounge-rooms and into the world, using wearable technologies, smart artefacts and the ever-growing “Internet of Things”. “We won’t need to stand in front of a screen to interact with the game,” he said.  “The entire world will become our game console.”