Why gamers are a great fit at the gym

"For the first 26 years of my life, I had no idea what exercise was," Fitocracy user Michael Perry says.

Story highlights

  • Fitocracy uses video game techniques to encourage exercise
  • "Glued to Games" authors say motivation is similar in fitness, games
  • Community around online games, or fitness, satisfies a psychological need
They've been trained to focus for weeks at a time on a single goal. They know how to clearly identify obstacles and form step-by-step plans to overcome them.
They're obsessed with improving specific skills but judge success only by overall progress made in the world they've decided to conquer -- as realistic or fantastical as it may be.
It's precisely these traits that make video-gamers great bodybuilders.
Take a moment to laugh, if you must. Now hear us out.
Brian Wang and Dick Talens were the stereotypical video-gamers in high school. One was scrawny, the other fat. They grew up playing marathon sessions of "EverQuest" and "Counter-Strike."
"I literally would wake up and play all day, eating intermittently," Talens said. "OK, when I say intermittently, I mean eating a lot."
But by the time the men met at the University of Pennsylvania in 2004, they had traded an obsession with video gaming for an obsession with weight-lifting. As they shared stories at the gym, they realized their healthy transformation had been easier for them than for most.
Dick Talens weighed 230 pounds in high school before becoming a body builder.
Why? Because they were -- and would always be -- gamers.
"People don't realize that video games are an expression of personality," Talens said. "There's certain qualities that people have. They're obsessed with improving the stat sheets, getting to the next level; they pay a lot of attention to detail. Guys who play ('World of Warcraft') ... are very intense about whatever they do. They can turn that addiction and all its characteristics into fitness."
It's a theory they're taking to the bank. Talens and Wang are the co-founders of Fitocracy, a website that's turning gaming geeks into fitness geeks. The site has 70,000 users in its beta version and hopes to open to the 60,000 on a waiting list in the next couple months.
Fitocracy members can "level up" by earning points for their workouts. New levels unlock special challenges or "quests" that are designed to push users out of their comfort zones. For example, a runner might have to do yoga, or a bodybuilder might have to tackle a 5K.
Still, one has to wonder: What would make a virtual warrior trade in his sword and shield for a pair of dumbbells? The same thing that got him interested in playing video games in the first place, Dr. Scott Rigby says.
Brian Wang grew up playing hours of "StarCraft" and "Counter-Strike."