A year ago, West Virginia became the first state to incorporate a video game into the gym-class curriculum. So how'd that turn out?
On Thursday (February 1), researchers at West Virginia University announced that a 24-week test of students age 7-12 proves that "Dance Dance Revolution" has made the state's kids more fit.
"We were able to measure significant health benefits as a result of playing 'DDR' on a regular basis," Dr. Linda Carson, a professor at WVU's School of Physical Education, told MTV News.
The study enlisted 85 children deemed to be overweight or obese, and half were tasked with playing "DDR" at home 30 minutes a day, five days a week, over a 12-week period. They wore pedometers to keep them honest, got weekly checkup calls and took fitness tests. During a second 12-week period, all 85 children had to play.
Carson and her colleague Emily Murphy, a research instructor at WVU's School of Medicine Pediatrics, recorded improvements in aerobic capacity and increased artery function. "While the obese children did not lose enough weight for us to call it significant, the significant finding is they did not gain any weight," she said. During the first 12 weeks, the half of the group that didn't play "DDR" did.
But "DDR" hasn't just been a hit in West Virginia for kids testing it at home. Carson, who started promoting the use of "DDR" to get kids fit a few years ago, said the game has caught on so well that it's nestled into gym classes and even gets used in school dances.
In January 2006, the West Virginia Public Employees Insurance Agency — in conjunction with "DDR" maker Konami — announced that a console, copy of the game and pair of dance pads would be distributed to every school in the state (see "West Virginia Adds 'Dance Dance Revolution' To Gym Class").
West Virginia schools haven't fully put "DDR" into action yet. Carson said all state middle school teachers have been trained in the game, supplied equipment and given the requirement to work it into the school curriculum. Secondary schools will follow, then elementary. "DDR" is offered in some after-school programs too.
Even before Carson's study, "DDR" had two-stepped its way into the West Virginia school system. Carson spotted the game in an arcade a few years ago and saw its potential to get kids fit. She started giving demos for interested teachers. Among her audience was Robrietta Lambert, a physical education and health teacher of 20 years at Franklin Elementary in Pendleton County. She's been using "DDR" and its dance pads to keep her students motivated for the past three years.
"We have worn out eight pads, if that tells you anything," Lambert told MTV News. She teaches each of her first-through-sixth-grade classes three times a week and divides them into squads that rotate days of seven-minute runs or "DDR" sessions.
At first she was skeptical. "I thought, 'I don't think this is going to work,' because sometimes when you go to dancing, kids are like, 'Ugh,' " she said. "I was shocked because the boys responded to it quicker. They were the ones that were crazy about it. And they were the ones I was worried about because I thought, 'Here goes another thing that the boys are not going to like.' By being video-oriented, they were pushing the girls, like, 'Here, I want my turn.' I was pleased."
Lambert hooked up "DDR" to an Xbox and coached the kids to step on the proper parts of the dance pad as onscreen arrows flashed to the rhythm of the beat. "I would stand beside them and call out, 'Left, right, front, back,' " she said. "After a month, they were really progressing and there was no way I could talk fast enough to keep up with the arrows."
Lambert got on the pads herself and honed some "DDR" skills to show her kids. "They would want me to challenge it. They would want to see if they could beat me." She got the leg up on them — "for the first couple of weeks." Now she's running "DDR" in gym class and as a weekly after-school activity. It's so popular after school, in fact, that she has had to start fall and spring sessions, with 50 students to a group. It's a hit in physical-education class too: "I have not had one kid not run over to take their turn, boys or girls."
Carson agreed with Lambert that "DDR" seems to exhibit unusually broad appeal. "As a physical educator myself, I have not experienced anything that appeals this much to both genders and a wide range of social groups," she said.
Carson said there might be even more good news for "DDR" fans: Another colleague at WVU conducted a study in which monitors showed that "DDR" elevated heart rates more effectively than some types of traditional physical education.
Nevertheless, Carson knows there are some people who are not happy with the idea of schools integrating "DDR" into their curricula. "We've had some criticism that we should not be bringing video games into schools. We shouldn't be emphasizing video games to increase physical activity and instead convince children to do these physical activities that we all grew up with. But childhood obesity is so serious a problem that we're taking a position that it really is time for us to pair physical activity with what appeals to kids in this generation."