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The reality of virtual sports

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Chances are your household has a video game console, you have contributed to the $25 billion dollar video game industry, and you have played or engaged in simulated sports or exercise. According to statistics, over ½ of all USA households have a console—placed in the living room—nearly ¼ have two or more, and games that feature physical activity are among the most popular. FIFA Soccer has sold over 100 million copies and Madden Football has sold over 85 million copies.* It’s also likely that your household’s game/equipment portfolio will grow during the holiday season since gift-giving is overwhelmingly video tech-related.

With ongoing improvements to graphics, the line between virtual and real blurs with each new generation. It’s as if you really are playing golf at Pebble Beach, tennis at Wimbledon, skiing the Olympic downhill run, or surfing the waves at Mavericks! Except it’s not. Not even close.

The reality of virtual reality: only those highly skilled in the real sport realize skill or motivation benefit by playing its virtual version. Professional athletes use video games to discover new movement pattern extensions/refinements, but it’s only from the knowledge stored in their nervous system that their brain can form new motor responses that they then are motivated to try in a real game. Those lesser skilled don’t experience physical transfer because they haven’t established the motor memory required for new patterns to be added. Nor does game play motivate those lesser skilled to play the real version.

Not to say the entertainment value is without benefit. Toward optimal wellness, we all need diversion and many gamers report meaningful social connection experiences while playing games. Irony noted that video game play is significant for social interaction!

Entertainment aside, it’s only when the tactile is developed that the virtual can be of any benefit, and it’s only through tactile practice that skills are enhanced since the sensory stimulation of playing AT the game doesn’t match that of playing the game. The ability to strike a tennis ball won’t develop without experiencing what it really feels like to strike a tennis ball -- clicking the joystick to make the avatar hit the ball doesn’t qualify.

The real kicker - If you want to improve your virtual game play, improve your real game play – then use virtual game play to keep improving your real game play.

*Stein, A., Mitgutsch, K., & Consalvo, M. (2012). Who are sports gamers? A large scale study of sports video game players. Convergence: The International Journal of Research into New Media Technologies, 19(3), 345-363.

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