Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Are you Active?

One of the stigmas associated with video games is that of being lazy.  Sure you may not be physically moving around but depending on the game you can certainly get a healthy mental exercise.  For Christmas one of the presents I got my wife was EA Sports Active 2.  I know what you're thinking, "What guy gets an exercise program for his wife?"  "What does he think of his wife if he gets her exercise games?"  Stop right there with those thoughts.  Secretly I got EA Sports Active 2 because I was tired of fitting into that stigma of being a lazy gamer.  I'd get home from work (and if there wasn't Cub Scouts activities to work on or drive my kids to soccer or dance) and I'd want to veg out in front of my PS3.  I could feel myself becoming an atrophied sack of meat and bones.

Now I've never been one to be completely gung-ho about exercise, but I do enjoy taking my mountain bike out and hitting the trails.  In high school and college I used to go to the gym regularly.  But now that I've got a job that keeps me a "slave to the man" and need to take care of three children, a wife and a house, regular exercise is not my top priority.  At a doctor visit last year (or maybe even two years ago now) I was encouraged to get some exercise in the morning to help boost my energy for the day.  Because my wife is fairly fanatical about exercise, we have an elliptical machine, a stationary bike, and a slew of exercise DVDs.  I tried the elliptical for a while and even one or two of the exercise DVDs, but some how the elliptical has become "sabotaged" by one of the kids (none of them will admit to it) and I can't seem to get the damn thing to stop being a relatively painfully jarring experience. 

So in my quest for being a good husband (rarely is the quest viewed as successful) I purchased EA Sports Active 2.  For the PS3.  We have Sports Active 1 for the Wii and my wife enjoyed using it.  But for my own selfish reasons I wanted it on the PS3.  For starters I can play the PS3 in the morning without worrying about waking up the children or the wife.  Secondly with the PS3 everyone in the house has their own profile.  It is so much easier to load the game under any one of the profiles and simply play (er um, exercise) without worrying about loading the game and exercising as the wrong person.  My only mistake is that my wife doesn't understand how to use the PlayStation.  So basically a gift to my wife has become mine (that never happens in this house).  

At this point now I have been playing EA Sports Active 2 for over a month.  The game has filled that need, nay void, for my morning exercise, energy boost, and stigma shatterer.  I can't say that I've lost any weight (I may have been a bit aggressive with the Christmas and New Years food consumption so only time will tell if I do start losing any) but I do feel more, um, active.  My body doesn't feel like it used to, an unused sack of meat used to sitting in front of a computer all day.  I do have more energy throughout the day.  So what's the secret?  What does EA Sports Active 2 provide that the wonky elliptical or exercise DVDs doesn't?  I'm not sure exactly.  But I think it may be a combination of a great mix of exercises, stylized "pretty" environments, constant encouragement, oh and trophies.  I'm a sucker for them.  The thing with Active 2 is the fact that every trophy in the game is potentially obtainable, but you just need to work at it.  Just like any other game.  Except with this game, you get to move around.

The PS3 version comes with 3 motion sensors that you strap to your right leg and one on each arm.  One of the motion sensors also includes a heart rate monitor.  When the game loads up you are greeted with a stylized, lush southwestern exercise ranch.  Beautiful steppes, vibrant green soccer fields, rolling mountain bike trails, waterfalls.  A Utopian exercise retreat.  Watching the opening I was excited to start exercising so that I could see how much of these varying locations would be utilized.  Off the bat however, the game sorta hit a brick wall.  Creating your in game exercise avatar wasn't the most intuitive.  The menu system just isn't that well thought out, sort of.  By sort of I mean, once you've created your exercise avatar the game then brings you to the meat of the game.  Starting an exercise program is the first option selected.  Once you do that you get the option to alter the specific challenges for that day's workout or to simply start the "game".  If you want to go back and adjust your avatar, or any other aspect of your routine, you have to navigate to an Options menu that isn't obvious.  

Active 2 offers a three week program to get intimidated users active with a light to moderate routine of exercises.  There is also a nine week program.  Additionally you can create your own combination of exercise challenges if you want to focus more closely on a specific part of the body.  I've completed the three week program and have started the nine week challenge.  Back to the menu issues I mentioned above.  When you first create your exercise avatar you also get to select who will be your trainer.  You can select from a woman or a man.  Initially I chose the male trainer because the menu seemed to imply that the male trainer would focus more on muscle training whereas the female trainer would focus more on aerobic training.  I hate aerobics.  But once I finished the three week program I wanted to see if there was indeed a difference with the two trainers so I dug into the cryptic menu and found where I could change my trainer.  So far the only real difference in trainers is now I have a nice cyber ass to stare at.

The three week and nine week programs let you select which days of the week to exercise.  From there each day targets a different type of exercises--legs, heart, arms etc.  Each routine starts out with four warm ups and ends with four cool down exercises.  The challenges in between range from lunges, push ups, crunches, arm curls (using a provided exercise rubber band) to the more creative challenges of soccer head butting, boxing, mountain biking and mountain boarding.  Oh and running.  Stationary running.  Knee lift running, foot kick running, sprinting and long extended running.  If I wanted to go running I'd go outside and do that.  Fortunately the running makes sense for the most part so I just accept it and feel a bit like a tool jogging in place.  The one motivator (two actually) is keeping the trainer behind me, and know that eventually I will get a trophy for running (something like 600 miles--daunting when you think about it as a sole endeavor but combined with all the other challenges, just something that will come naturally).

I really enjoy most of the challenges.  Boxing is fun, soccer is fun (both goal tending and head butting), mountain biking almost feels like you're zooming down a hill, timing it just right to hop over a "killer" rock.  Mounting boarding is sorta like taking a skate board with monster truck tires out on the same type of path as the biking but there are rails to grind and point bubbles to collect.  

My only gripe with any and all of the activities and challenges is that every once in a while the motion sensors don't accurately detect motion.  For example there are bent arm side plank exercises where you lay on your side, propped up on your arm, and you raise your waist so that your body becomes a straight plank.  Unfortunately the damn motion sensor doesn't always register when you raise your waist.  Two things happen.  The game "positively" encourages you to try the exercise repeatedly and it doesn't stop until you get the exercise right.  The second thing that happens is I spout expletives at the damn trainer because it's fucking obvious to me that I've raised my waist and I'm struggling like hell to keep my straight plank position.  When this happens I end up jiggling the motion sensor until it recognizes that it indeed has moved and I'm in the correct position.  My other gripe with the motion sensor is when it identifies that it is moving even if I'm not.  For example certain lunges and squats require you to stay in the squat or lunge position and hold it for a few seconds.  I don't mind holding the position.  What gets me to spout off another round of expletives is when the trainer thinks I've popped back up out of the squat or lunge early.  Again the game won't continue until I've held the pose for what ever the given duration is.  This is a minor quibble but something that does happen probably once a week during the various exercises.

Overall I've really enjoyed my morning routine of waking up groggy, firing up the PS3 and getting Active.  This is a well designed game to keep folks healthy as long as you maintain the dedication and drive.  Today is my day of rest during my new nine week routine.  While I'd like to say that I'm actually resting, I would be a liar.  Instead I get to be more active because of the great snowpocalypse that is covering most of the country right now.

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