A new trend has been emerging in the medical world. Doctors around the world, inspired by the potential of game systems like the Nintendo Wii, have begun to include video games as a part of their treatments, citing them both as an entertaining way for patients to get the exercise they need to recover, and also as a welcome distraction from the often painful conditions many are suffering from. There are limitations to what systems like the Wii can do, though, and oftentimes it becomes necessary for inclined patients to seek out alternative equipment and games specially designed for their very predicament. Which is where companies like Therapy Trainer comes in.
“We have an extremely close family friend that was in Iraq, and when you have somebody you really love over there, it’s scary.” Lisa Daily tells me. “We saw a lot of TV shows that talked about the struggles that these guys were having when they came home and a lot of it had to do with having affordable physical therapy equipment that they could use. They were having trouble getting that; most of them are rural they don’t have access to the large physical therapy facilities they were using in the hospital. They were having a lot of isolation problems. So kind of took all these factors and put them together to try and come up with some things to make a difference.”
Lisa, along with her sister and husband, run a company that makes practical, affordable physical therapy equipment, some of which happens to include specially designed video games as a part of the equipment.
“By being able to plug that physical therapy equipment into a computer and interact with a video game it takes your mind off the pain. They can exercise longer and think less about how much it’s hurting.” Says Daily.
Video games as a fitness tool are hardly a new idea to the casual and hardcore gaming markets at large. Last year, Nintendo introduced gamers to their own exercise game, Wii Fit, which was released to great success. Millions of copies of the game were sold, and in many places stores were running out copies, starting the sort of shortage that only the Wii itself has been able to match.
That said, the value of Wii Fit as an actual exercise regimen was contested by many. While the game largely succeeded in providing a good workout, many people simply didn’t stick with it. A famous statistic suggested that more than half of Japanese gamers who purchased the game — some 64% — quit working out with Wii Fit altogether after the first month. Considering Daily’s experience, it’s possible Nintendo was simply marketing to the wrong crowd.
“We’ve heard some really interesting things from amputees that have contacted us because they go to this virtual reality world and they can walk. They can ride a bicycle, a motorcycle, fly a helicopter; with many of them it’s interesting they just like to walk and run.” Daily said. “My grandfather is eighty-four and he loves taking that bike in and going to that virtual world just to take a walk. He really likes that.”
There are some limitations though. Wii Fit retails for around $120, and Therapy Trainer’s basic fitness bike with its software sells for $350, but other comparable equipment retails for exponentially greater sums of money.
“There is another product you can do from a wheelchair, it is huge and it sells for $5000.” says Daily.
Until more diverse and affordable gear comes onto the market there is always going to be a limit on how far they can penetrate society. But even so, it’s heartening to see video games, often under the critical lens for the way they inhibited exercise, finding themselves at the very forefront of fitness technology.