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Video games to help your child stay active

Games to get your child exercising

We often think of video games as an activity involving children sitting in dark bedrooms for hours on end barely moving. 

In reality, gaming is often an active experience for many kids. There is a whole range of video games designed to get the player moving, often with a fair amount of jumping and dancing while they play. 

How does it work?

Active gaming is particularly helpful for fitness as most people won’t even consider it an exercise session. In a sense, it’s a form of ‘stealth’ exercise, and your child might well enjoy it in addition to getting some ‘real’ exercise outside. 

Most active games work by matching the player’s motion to the character’s on-screen movement. As you do something, the character does the same thing, whether that’s running, jumping or anything else. 

Sometimes this is achieved by holding a motion-sensitive controller or by standing in front of a connected camera such as PlayStation Eye or Microsoft’s now-discontinued Kinect. But often, you don’t need anything more than a normal controller or smartphone to get fit and play.

What to play

The genre was born with the brilliant Wii Sports in 2006, which introduced a generation to the joys of virtual bowling, tennis, boxing, golf and baseball, but it has continued to develop since then.

This list of fitness video games offers many ways to get children, teenagers and adults moving while they partake in their favourite pastime. Here are some popular examples you may not have heard of:

Bounden is a smartphone-based game that you play with one other person. You both hold the phone and have to move in different ways in time with the music. What starts as something like Twister soon turns into a fun challenge about movement and dance.

GPS Pong is another smartphone game, this time based around the classic Pong. Unlike the 1970s original, you play this version outdoors and need a data signal to do so. The screen displays a standard Pong game, but you and your opponent control the bats by moving in the real world. It’s perfect fodder for a park or garden, cleverly translating running around to bat-and-ball strategy.

Run An Empire requires you to build up land and resources to battle other players. You do that by going for runs in your local area to win land and build castles. The game map mirrors the real world and creates a virtual turf war that encourages regular exercise. If your child isn’t old enough to go out on their own, you could go with them while they play and ask them questions – or join in. And if they do go out alone or with friends, make sure they remain aware of their surroundings, particularly if they’re anywhere near a road.

Jump Rope Challenge is a free Nintendo Switch game in which you hold the controllers and skip to earn points. The game tracks your progress each day and offers incentives to increase your performance. It’s simple and fun and will appeal to the whole family.

Ring Fit Adventure is an exercise adventure for the Nintendo Switch in which you progress by performing different activities. It comes with two new accessories – a circular controller called the Ring-Con and a leg strap – and in order to win you’ll need to exercise your arms and complete balance challenges. It’s lots of fun and gives you a surprisingly good workout.

Kinect Sports games on Microsoft Xbox 360 and Xbox One use the Kinect camera to create exuberant sports experiences controlled by bodily movement. Kinect was killed off in 2017, but if you already own one or can find a second-hand model, the level of production and quality of the experience makes them well worth the effort to set-up. 

Just Dance is a dancing game for Sony PlayStation, Microsoft Xbox and Nintendo Wii and Switch in which you move in time to the music to score points. Learning the required dance moves increases your score, with the game detecting your movement via motion controllers or cameras. There’s even a version you can play on your smartphone. 

The Walk is an adventure for older players and it’s rated PEGI 16 due to violence. You walk in the real world on any route you like and are played an audio narrative that guides you to find virtual clues to solve a mystery. The drama unfolds as you slowly work out what is happening in an adventure that takes you hundreds of walking miles to complete.

Whatever games your child is playing, it’s important to talk to them about balancing their screen time with sports and outdoor fun. These games give you a great opportunity to try some more active games together. But you might still find it helpful to agree and set time limits around specific games.

Andy Robertson is the editor of AskAboutGames.com and has recently written the book Taming Gaming for parents

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