Banning traditional video game consoles can indirectly boost physical activity in children, according to a new Australian study. However, the same outcome can be achieved by adopting “active” game consoles such as the Nintendo Wii and Microsoft Kinect.
In a bid to determine how video games affect fitness levels in children, researchers from Curtin University and the University of Queensland analysed the physical activity of 56 ten-to-12 year olds over a period of three years. During the study, participants were variously instructed to not play video games, only play "active" motion-based games and play whatever they liked.
Physical activity was measured using a portable accelerometer worn on the hip. Participants were also required to keep a diary logging their physical activity. While there was no marked difference between active games and no games, the researchers noticed a slump in physical activity when traditional gaming was present in a household.
Compared with home access to traditional electronic games, removal of all electronic games resulted in a significant increase in MVPA (mean 3.8 min/day, 95% CI 1.5 to 6.1) and a decrease in sedentary time (4.7 min/day, 0.0 to 9.5) in the after-school period. Similarly, replacing traditional games with active input games resulted in a significant increase in MVPA (3.2 min/day, 0.9 to 5.5) and a decrease in sedentary time (6.2 min/day, 1.4 to 11.4) in the after-school period. Diary reports supported an increase in physical activity and a decrease in screen-based sedentary behaviours with both interventions.
Somewhat irresponsibly, the report goes on to imply that traditional games should be removed from family households to ensure children are healthier and more active.
Screen-based leisure is a major component of sedentary behaviour and interventions should be targeted to television, computer and electronic game use. This study has shown that replacing sedentary electronic games with active electronic games will provide at least as good an activity outcome and perhaps be easier for the parent and child to sustain than removing electronic game technology from the home.
One thing the study didn't take into account is intellectual and emotional stimulation: for the most part, "active" games are incredibly simple with limited plots and characters.
A "traditional" RPG might not make your kid healthier, but it may teach them about empathy, ethnic diversity, maths and the consequence of making wrong choices. I'm not sure that's something I'd want to ban from my household.