Making exercise more fun with games



Why can’t we exercise and have fun at the same time? It’s possible! Serious games can be successfully used to make exercise more fun. In this article, we explain why gamification and serious games make exercise more fun and for whom exercise games are intended.

Let’s start with an important question: why is exercising  so hard? Why does it cost us so much energy to get off the couch and start exercising? Actually, the answer is simple: we’re not motivated enough because the short-term benefits feel so limited.

Sure, it’s a great feeling to plop down on the couch after a solid workout, but that’s about it. You don’t see immediate results. In addition, some technological developments are causing us to move less these days. With three clicks on your smartphone, you can have your groceries delivered within 10 minutes. Why would you still walk to the store? After all, delivery services like that is incredibly convenient with our busy work schedules.

In prehistoric times everything was different. People had to walk for miles to find food. Once a prey was spotted, a sprint started and a powerful javelin throw followed. Then the heavy prey also had to be taken home. We can’t inquire whether the primaeval man enjoyed doing this too, but there was a clear goal and a clear reward. Not moving meant no supper.

How can we start moving again while having a clear goal and being directly rewarded?

Are games effective?

We all know the Pokémon Go craze of a few years ago. Shortly after the launch of the game, everyone spontaneously started walking. Walking was not the goal: you had to catch as many Pokémon as possible. Because of the clear goal, moving was (almost) automatic. So the game gave players a motivation.

It has been scientifically proven that games like Pokémon, but also other exergames (Ring Fit Adventures, Beat Saber, greenhabit), have a motivating effect and that they are a good addition to your normal exercise pattern. Exergames have been shown to help lose weight and improve physical health. Exergames are not only useful for young people. Games have also been proven effective for other groups, such as the elderly and people with disabilities, as in the serious game Gryphon Rider.

Why do games motivate us?

There has been sufficient scientific research into whether games are effective. Now you’re probably curious as to why games motivate.

Game principles, also known as gamification techniques, play an important role in the motivating effect of games. Games have a game story, progression, challenges, and rewards. These principles make games fun, motivating players to play longer (or for exergames: move longer!).

Let’s take Gryphon Rider as an example. The game was developed to help rehabilitate children with a non-congenital brain injury. The rehabilitation process of these patients is tough because they have to constantly repeat the same balance exercises, which are quite boring. Children, therefore, play Gryphon Rider,  climbing onto the back of a griffon and must control it by moving left and right. As the game progresses, the movements become increasingly difficult. When an in-game level is completed, the player is rewarded with a badge. Because the game is entertaining, more moves are made and better rehabilitation takes place.

However,  the player must be motivated in the right way. Everyone has different motivations. Let’s take a look at Nick Yee’s Gamer Motivation Model. Yee studied the motivations of over 400,000 gamers and concluded that the motivations can be summarized in 3 clusters:

  • Action-Social: is about immediate reactions and getting adrenaline rushes. Some gamers want to be strongly stimulated by the game or the opponents. Other gamers just want a quiet experience or prefer to play alone.
  • Mastery-Achievement: this cluster is about long-term gaming. Some players want to see progress and be rewarded for the work they put in. Other players just want something that is easy to play and doesn’t require them to play endlessly to get a certain achievement.
  • Immersion-Creativity: this cluster is about playing in the broadest sense of the word. Some players are curious and get their motivation from pushing the boundaries of the game. Other players need a lot of guidance and clear rules.

Yee’s Gamer Motivation Model

We use this model because, unlike, say, Bartle’s popular model, it is a much better scientific model based on empirical data. Thus, it is much more reliable and complete. In addition, an important improvement is that it uses the different motivations as a spectrum rather than a scale. Just like the spectrum from introvert to extrovert: someone who is introverted (not a socializer) still needs social contact, but is socially motivated in a different way. This gives more insight and more possibilities to match a game to this.

When we look at the example of Gryphon Rider, we focus on players who are motivated by a rich fantasy world and a captivating story, but we go for players who score low on ‘Strategy’ and ‘Challenge’ and are motivated by spontaneous events and something easy so they can focus on performing the rehabilitation movements.

Games for a healthier lifestyle

We need a goal again to move more. Just like the old days. Games make exercise more fun because they give a short-term goal and motivate. Games are not only effective to move more, but also for rehabilitation (Gryphon Rider), a healthy lifestyle (greenhabit)  and improve mental health.


Want to know more about exergames? Please contact Tim Laning to discuss it:

Tim Laning

Business developer

Do you want to know more about the possibilities of serious games? Let’s discuss what serious games can do for you.


Related articles