This is a post about being a geek parent, losing weight and making a game out of it all… it’s closer to Jane MacGonical’s gaming theory than anything RPG related. But if you are a gamer parent and face (potential) obesity problems, this may be of interest to you.
Last fall I was faced with a double conundrum. I was gaining weight at a steady pace, standing knee deep in rising cholesterol levels. I could see my wife’s growing concerned for my health. At the same time, my very cerebral 8 y.o son Nico, recovering from his 3rd ear surgery in 3 years, was getting into early onset childhood obesity.
I took my own health in my hands and went back to the gym, hired a personal trainer and a nutritionist and promptly started losing weight again (I’m at -15 so far). But I was a bit at a loss about helping Nico lose weight. Short of turning the house into a food police state, scrutinizing everything my children ate, my wife and I struggled to bring balance back to our typical 21st century “too busy for life” household.
That’s when I had an idea which I pitched to my wife Alex.
What if I we had Nico perform twelve 30 minutes bouts of exercise on a monthly basis with either of us? That turns out to 3 a week, which is what health guidelines prescribe as the minimum activity level people should have. Nico also has Phys Ed at school, swimming lessons on weekends and plays Soccer as an after school activity once a week, so all in all this looked like a good deal.
We also agreed that we’d reward the monthly efforts. If he hits his target, we’d give him something worth about 20$. I knew he liked Junk Food, so maybe he’d like to go out for poutine once a month.
Alex: Why don’t you ask him what he wants?
After a short discussion, Nico accepted to do it… in exchange for me paying his own World of Warcraft account. He argued that playing games was better than eating junk food.
Hey, who’s the parent here?
Of course, I agreed. I would keep paying the account as long as we did all 12 exercises sessions each month AND that he never played the game without my permission first.
So in essence we invented a game, where we played exercise games (and walks, bike rides, etc.) in order to gain “money points” to keep playing another game!
I think Jane would find this very cool.
So we started that way back last October. Want to know how the experiment turned out?
While Nico resisted doing exercise at first, he grew accustomed to it and it’s now part of his weekly routine. We biked till mid-November, we bought the Just Dance games for the Wii. We also made extensive use of Wii Sports and the PS2’s Dance Dance Revolution games.
As a very surprising turn of events, Nico took to Alpine skiing with Alex and he loves it.
Nico lost about 10 lbs, in spite of growing a few centimeters! He’s also calmer, less prone to mood swings and he looks and acts happier. His school grade even bumped a few points up!
Already a major win!
That I get to exercise more with him is a double win!
Nico and I took on playing World of Warcraft together. He got all the extensions for X-mas while I got the Cataclysm one for my account. We leveled up a bunch of characters and have tons of fun. Our Goblin Shaman/Warlock team just hit level 31 earlier today.
But here’s what I never saw coming: a few weeks ago I asked him if he wanted me to cancel the Wow account, possibly switching to a new reward. I wanted to make sure that he remained motivated to exercise.
Nico: No daddy, I want you to keep paying for our subscriptions, not so much because I love playing Wow, but because I really like spending time playing with you.
Epic win anyone?
Beyond the obvious lesson I was served by my 9 year old son, it made me realize that I took as much pleasure and comfort spending that time with him. That while the exercise was good for our bodies and minds… spending some fun, relaxing time with family was good for our souls.
That’s what caused the man tear.
P.S. Speaking of games to lose weight, E of “Geek’s Dream Girl” fame has taken inspiration from my “Keep Chatty off the Internet game” I’m currently playing. She created an “Exercise and stay Healthy” game over at the Plus 5 CHA forums. I happily joined, please join us if you want to!
Image from The Weight Lifter’s Blog