Carol Luong is the model student by many accounts. She wakes up at 6 a.m. in her University of Washington dorm room and heads to the gym for a two-hour workout. She spends the rest of the day in biology lab and lecture, volunteering at the medical center, going to tutoring sessions, and studying with friends in the library for the remainder of the evening. Every day at exactly 9 p.m. she heads back to her dorm room. There certainly isn’t time to be playing video games in the life of this model student. Or is there?

Luong said that there is a reason why she heads home at 9, no matter what, and that is so she can spend some time before going to bed playing on her Nintendo Wii. Certain fitness and educational games on the Wii are her secret, she said, to staying active both physically and mentally.

“Even though I go to the gym, I still need something more to keep me motivated,” said Luong. That is why she plays the Wii Fit, a game that comes with a balance board that tracks your weight and body fat mass. It also features several workouts from rhythm boxing to yoga to simulation games like “ski jump.”

Wii Fit is one of many fitness games that can be played on the Wii and an increasing number of adults who don’t have a gym membership or don’t have time to leave the house are turning to these games to stay healthy.

“Now that I’m in my second year at UW, I’ve realized I need to stay active in a variety of ways to shed off the highly caloric dorm food I have to eat here and I have to find healthy ways to have fun,” said Luong.

Research has even shown that the Wii Fit can help improve the balance of seniors to prevent falls — a much less expensive and far more entertaining alternative to medical fitness devices that are designed to improve balance. According to Wii employees, nursing homes and senior care facilities are picking up on this trend as well. They said that since the Wii relies on a wireless controller and physical motion, it is easier for senior citizens to learn than the control sticks and on-screen characters that older video games used.

And it isn’t just fitness games that Luong plays on her Wii. She has an assortment of games she says make her mentally alert and allow her to exercise her brain in ways that her science classes at UW don’t allow her to do. These include “Thinksmart Family,” a bundle of hundreds of games for all ages, including intensive versions of traditional puzzles and brain games like Sudoku. Another game she plays is “Art of Balance,” which requires players to learn and use knowledge in physics to compete in constructing virtual buildings.

The Wii isn’t the only game console that is trying to attract more than just kids and teenagers. The Xbox Kinect is a motion and voice sensing input device for the Xbox made by Microsoft. The way people are using the gaming console is surpassing even the makers’ imagination as it enters classrooms and hospitals.

“The Kinect is being used for some amazing things in addition to games and entertainment,” said a representative from Xbox.

The Xbox 360 and Kinect sensors were taken to a rural school in South Africa in 2011 by a group of Microsoft employees and instantly the level of interaction dramatically increased and teachers reported that their students were quickly picking up English from playing games. For instance, teachers would create an avatar to teach the English words for parts of the body or would use a bowling game to teach arithmetic.

For immigrants in America looking to learn English, this could potentially be a useful tool though Xbox and Microsoft representatives didn’t have any specific information on this. The future of gaming is changing so that users can personalize it to their needs. In October 2011, Microsoft released Kinect SDK, a software that allows users to program their Kinect. This can range from a teacher trying to teach their students algebra to a doctor who wants to scan MRIs with a wave of their hand. Even fashion designers can use it to simulate trying on clothing in a “virtual dressing room,” all while sitting at a desk, said the Xbox representative.

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