Why You Should Offer Active Gaming for Children at Your Club

The younger generation is a technology-driven generation that lives immersed in a digital world where life is more convenient, more educational and more engaging. The television has become but a mere vehicle to more fascinating technology devices, such as iPods, cell phones, computers, and video games. Among the most popular are video games — often seen as the enemy to physical activity. This is the technology generation, better known as the gamer generation, and more than 90 million are a part of it — already bigger than our previous generation of Baby Boomers. And the users aren't just children. The average gamer is over 30 years old.

It's no wonder that more clubs are combining the use of video games and related technologies with traditional exercise to promote a more fun and active experience. This phenomenon is called active gaming. Active gaming is taking the sedentary stereotype away from video games and turning the user into a human joystick. Participants of all ages all over the country are becoming aware of this new alternative to exercise, especially the teens and tweens who are stranded between day care and traditional fitness activities at the typical health club. The best part is, it's working. Active gaming is attracting participants, but it is also motivating them to come back for more.

An active gaming experience can be easily implemented in any fitness facility or school. Here are five things to consider before doing so.

1. Space. To do active gaming right, a club operator must dedicate a specific room or space for this "club within a club." The room must be 800 to 2,500 square feet to allow for 15 to 50 members, or users, to interact and participate in the active gaming experience safely. This committed space allows for both open play and more structured activities and programs to take place, which makes the active gaming experience more dynamic and beneficial for the participants and the owner. A dedicated room also offers the potential to generate a great deal of revenue by "renting" out the room for events and parties. If designed correctly and if the appropriate programming is implemented, these gaming environments can yield high returns with increases in both revenues and member retention.

2. Room Design. When designing an active gaming club, plan for proper space allocation with the selected products. Make sure the room complies with the Americans with Disabilities Act. The design must also minimize the exposure of the gaming systems and required wiring systems. To attract and retain members, you also must design the room with the appropriate lights, graphics and colors that evoke a fun gaming experience.

3. Equipment. A variety of active gaming products are on the market. Make sure to identify equipment that has been commercialized, reducing the likelihood of wear-and-tear, leading to nonfunctional products or frequent problems. A majority of the hardware does not come complete with LCD screens, video game consoles and the needed games. Make sure the system has everything needed to complete each activity. Additionally, make sure the product is suitable for your facility's needs.

4. Programming. An important element in any active gaming club is programming. Implementing the appropriate programming adds tremendous value to the active gaming experience. Programming not only provides members with a variety of options when gaming, but it also is a key component in retaining them. The programming format is a new addition to the industry. It is not available with every purchase of active gaming equipment.

5. Marketing Programs. Because video games have become so popular, creating gaming competitions and offering gaming teams provide members with a social environment and a friendly, competitive atmosphere. To properly implement marketing programs, it is important to understand gaming and the generation of users. Allowing members to develop ideas and programs and listening to their ideas are great marketing strategies. Evaluating and implementing these components will affect the success of the active gaming you offer.

Active gaming is not a fad. Video games are not going away. In fact, Douglas Lowenstein, president of the Entertainment Software Association , has said, "The video game industry is entering a new era, an era where technology and creativity will fuse to produce some of the most stunning entertainment of the 21st century. Decades from now, cultural historians will look back at this time and say it is when the definition of entertainment changed forever."

If this is true, active gaming is only becoming more and more entertaining as intriguing features and graphics continue to be created and released. Video games are desirable and more fun than traditional exercise. Are you going to continue to force traditional physical activities at this technology-driven generation and hope it will somehow become more engaging than these appealing games that create a more positive and accepting attitude toward exercise? We are all advocates of fitness but it is time you choose which team you are playing on. If you can't beat them, why not join them?

Lisa Hansen is the co-director of the XRKade active gaming research lab at the University of South Florida (USF). Hansen coordinates and oversees all research projects in the USF XRKade research lab. Hansen is a doctoral candidate at USF in early childhood education with a cognate in physical education. She received her undergraduate degree and master's degree in health and physical education and health promotion, respectively, from Virginia Tech. Hansen can be reached at [email protected].

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