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Me Lean Like Persian Prince,
You Buff Like Conan: Exercise and Gaming

April 21, 2004


“The only complaint I have about games,” my brother says, “is that they don’t get you outside. I’ve got one student, plays games all the time. He’s a rather big kid.” My brother, you see, is tall, slender, and built like a gymnast. A rock climber, he’d just finished giving us a slide show of his trip to Africa, where, as far as I can tell, he scaled Kilimanjaro while standing on his hands.

“I’m not sure it’s the games,” I say, shifting so that my less than appealing stomach doesn’t bulge quite so much. “Probably TV does more…”

“Nope,” my brother says. “Trust me. With this kid, it’s the games.”

“Nonsense,” I reply. “You underestimate the number of calories I’m burning pushing this little thumb stick over on the controller. Go ahead. Try it. Can’t you feel the burn?”

The conversation started me thinking, though. Do games make us chubby? There’s no doubt that TV watching makes us bulge around the belt. All sorts of studies show that people who report watching more TV tend to pack around a few more extra pounds than their TV abstaining counterparts. Is the image of the large gamer as obviously a misguided stereotype as the image of the loner, anti-social gamer? Maybe. But if I look down at my own gut, I have to admit there’s more there than I’d like. And when I realized that my thumb muscles were sore the next morning from over-exertion, I really started to worry. Maybe I was just plain out of shape? No, I decided, eating another donut, it’s just that I pulled a muscle, is all. I mean, you can do it sleeping in your bed wrong at night, right? Doesn’t seem all that unlikely to do it in the throws of taking down a spinning metallic ballerina in Viewtiful Joe. Somewhere, deep down, I realized that I was in full-blown denial. But let’s face it; I have the willpower of a dog.

The United States is home to one of the largest home-exercise industries in the world, but amazingly enough, almost none of us exercise. Sure, we all own the equipment, but the industry basically runs on our self-delusion, since very few of us ever report using the things we’ve bought. If it’s a pill that promises to trim us into Greek gods, we’re all over it, but ask a little hard work, a bit of sweat and pain, and you’ll soon discover that the average American is more likely to be hit by a car in a year than stick to some form of consistent exercise plan. It shows, too. Find someone just returning from overseas and follow them around L.A. for a bit. Take note of how they go slack jawed every time a kid with chubby legs walks by, which, unfortunately, happens very, very often. Health problems due to weight are set to compete with health problems due to smoking within the next few years in this country.

This leaves me in a dilemma. How am I to continue to be annoyingly critical of my friend’s smoking habits when I’m adding the typical one-pound a year, or whatever it is, that American’s add after about 20 years old? I’d completely lose my precious, oh-so-important-better-than-thou-art credibility. In a dream later that week, I said to a smoking friend of mine, “You’re killing yourself with that cigarette,” to which he replied, “And you’re killing yourself with that hotdog.” I was so depressed, I slinked away, and finished my hotdog alone.

Then I heard of the Kilowatt, from PowerGrid Fitness ( For those of you who don’t recognize the name, the Kilowatt is a game controller/exercise machine for the PS2, Xbox, or PC. It’s a contraption with the footprint of a small exercise bike, a back brace, and a metal bar on the front that extends off the ground like an exaggerated joystick. What you’ll find at the top of the bar is a PS2 controller without the analog sticks. Those have been absorbed into the shoulder height bar. Want to go left? Push left on the bar. Right? Push right on the bar. Theoretically, the faster you want to go, the harder you push, and you isometric your way to bigger muscles while playing pretty much whatever game you want.

Powergrid Fitness, the company responsible for the Kilowatt, calls it Intensity Gaming. Personally, I call it interesting exercise. I mean, some people find lifting weights for an hour in a weight room relaxing. For example, my roommate is an Electrical Engineer, nice guy; his T-shirts could have been used as the basic blueprints for the Sherman tank. The guy’s huge. Gets home after a long day, he likes nothing better than to hit the gym for an hour or two of working out. Me? I give him the thumbs up as he goes out the door. Several nights ago, some drunken fellow decided he had a personal problem with our patio furniture. I just knocked on Dustin’s door and told him to take care of it, which he did, and I went back to sleep. I’ve tried going with him several times. It was nice to have large muscles for a while, but really, lifting big weights just isn’t my game. Games are my game. And frankly, I think most people agree with me, or else more than the 12% or whatever it is of Americans (who own home gym equipment) would use them. It’s just hard to stare at a wall every morning for thirty minutes. I start thinking of all the things I want to do that day, and then I come up with some cool idea I just have to jot down, and then I just have to start writing it… and boom, no more weightlifting. That’s normally about seven minutes in.

So needless to say, I think the concept behind the Kilowatt is a wonderful one. Not only will I be able to distract myself from the fact I’m burning calories, but it will incorporate into something I do anyway. Now, my job reviewing games also preps me for that bouncing job I’ve always wanted. I’ll get to blow away my friends by replying, “I’m exercising,” instead of, “I’m playing games,” whenever they call to find out what I’m doing. Let’s face it, if I can’t maintain a regular exercise regime on the Kilowatt, I might as well resign myself to blobdom and double my ice-cream intake.

What amazes me, though, is much of the public response to the Kilowatt. Myself, I’m guardedly optimistic; I’m already flexing in front of the mirror, but haven’t bought any tight shirts yet. Yet find yourself an online forum discussing the Kilowatt, and you’ll find one of the most negative and harsh responses to any gaming product I’ve ever seen. Most of them seem to be from non-gamers; they all tend to refer to things in the third person, such as “those fat a*s gamers”. It’s almost as if the concept of a fit gamer challenges someone’s stereotype. Wouldn’t want to do that, now would we? Here’s a sample or two, pulled somewhat at random from an online board (some have been a bit edited to make them more appropriate to all readers, though not for spelling and punctuation):

“Wanna work out and be healthy? go to a gym and do sports! this machine is for unsocialized dorks only!”

“Hey, i've got a great idea that is cheaper, highly social and an all-round superior idea than this piece of sh*t... PLAY A SPORT. there, i said it.”

“Sounds like a very stupid and pointless idea, if you need a workout, go to a local sports club or buy a treadmill and weights...”

“…the idea of doing any kind of exercises is great, mainly for the no-life "extreme" gamers.”

“The idea of it... so pathetic… why the f**k wouldn't you get off your ass and go skate, play basketball, soccer, or even go ride a damn bike... bloody hell”

“So let me understand this, a really fat person is going to spend…. so he can physically run in front of a tv/pc to play a game. I hope they didn't invest much in the development.”

See what I mean? The above is only a sampling, but I’d guess that roughly 75% of the comments on the board were of a similar vein. Why is the concept of an exercise machine for gamers so offensive? Many of the comments seem to think that buying exercise equipment for the home is fine, just not this exercise machine, or at least, not this exercise machine for those lazy, anti-social gamers. If it works, I personally think that every gym in the world should have two or three hooked up to an Xbox or PS2. In the words of one comment on the boards, “fat a*s, loser gamers” would just come into the gym to play video games, but if that’s the case, isn’t the point proven? Seems that would make the Kilowatt an excellent exercise system. Maybe more than 12% of the people who buy it will end up using it.

So I pre-ordered one. I didn’t even ask my editor first. I just put down the cash, nearly $700 worth. Now, close your mouth. As far as exercise equipment goes, that’s not incredibly bad. Your basic treadmill runs between $400 to several thousand dollars. The Bowflex clocks in at around $2000 bucks. $700 dollars isn’t a bad price for an exercise machine that you actually use, as long as it works. So does it work? I couldn’t say, at the moment. I don’t see any reason why it won’t. Powergrid Fitness claims it focuses on a wide range of muscles, mainly in the upper body, but also in the butt.

So it is my intention to write a full review of the Kilowatt when it ships in June. Not only will this review – covering a month or two – address whether or not the system seems to work, it will also cover more basic elements, such as how often I find myself using it, whether the system functions well as a controller or not, and which games seem to work well for the morning exercise. The only question I’m not willing to answer yet is if there will be before and after photos. Besides the health risks that might represent to some viewers, I’m not too thrilled about the “hold the stomach in, let it hang out” thing that you see on the infomercials. Let’s put it this way: if, at the end of the review, I feel that listing my picture will increase my chances of getting an e-mail from a cute gamer girl… well…

If I feel that a picture will damage my chances (the story of my life), then… well, we’ll see. Next on my list: the gamer’s tan. Which basically means none.

Aaron Stanton


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