How Nintendo’s ‘Ring Fit Adventure’ game can help you keep your New Year’s resolution

I’m the type of person who feels like sitting upright in an office chair for too long is physical exertion — a known, chronic Couch Lounger at work, if you will.

I hate exercising. I know it’s possibly one of the worst habits I could have for my health. I’ve tried everything under the sun to get moving: at-home yoga, waking up at 7 a.m. to jump rope, barre (the demon of women’s exercise), pilates on a reformer, boxing, even financially blackmailing myself by paying for a personal trainer in advance. 

Nothing worked. I might stick with it for a week or two — maybe even a month if it was close to when I made my annual New Year’s resolution to get active.

I kept waiting for the moment when those exercise endorphins everyone always raves about would start kicking in. The first few times are the hardest, they say, but it quickly becomes addicting! Don’t worry!

I’d like to know what kind of addictions the folks who claim this have because the only thing exercise ever did was leave my body feeling destroyed and my soul broken.

I’ve been dubious of video games as a fix for my exercise-phobia. Gamified exercise (turning physical activity into high scores with reward-based incentives) failed me before, too. I got a FitBit for Christmas once and used it for — you guessed it — only the month of January.

You see a pattern here?

In October when I started hearing unanimously rave reviews of Nintendo’s bizarre-o world Ring Fit Adventure, though, I couldn’t help but raise an eyebrow. Thinking of my clogging arteries, I lifted my self-imposed ban on game-related fitness and my annual, failed New Year’s resolution.

Folks, the rumors are true: Ring Fit Adventure is the exercise helper for the exercise-phobe, the workout for those of us who don’t even know what “leg day” means, the gentle virtual trainer that believes in you no matter how pathetic you are.

About two weeks and nine 20-30 minute sessions of Ring Fit Adventure later, I can’t claim to be one of those exercise junkies (yet). I also can’t guarantee this journey won’t end like all the others, in a burst of effort that ultimately fizzles out.

But what I can definitively say is that Ring Fit Adventure feels different, and it’s already drastically changed the way I think about fitness.

Ring Fit Adventure feels different, and it’s already drastically changed the way I think about exercise.

The first thing that sets the Ring Fit Adventure apart from other gamified fitness devices is that it’s an actual game rather than a wearable that uses game design to try and trick you into working out. Although you can also just do random exercises, Ring Fit Adventure is a legitimate role-playing game with characters and a storyline.

Is it a great or even good video game in and of itself? No. The storyline is laughably thin and does not pretend to be anything more than a serviceable premise.

But even as I scoffed at Ring Fit Adventure‘s story, it inexplicably wormed itself into my brain. Maybe it’s that trademark Nintendo charm. Maybe it’s the absolute unit of a beefcake villain, Dragaux, who has developed a sexually-charged cult following of online fans. Maybe narrative story, no matter how thin, is the psychological key needed to sustain motivation in gamified exercise.

Whatever the reason, it works. It’s not the most important ingredient in Ring Fit Adventure‘s secret sauce, though.

As Vice game critic Patrick Klepek saliently put it, what makes Ring Fit Adventure stand out is how effectively it removes the shame of learning how to work out. When I look back at the underlying emotions that made me give up every other time, it was almost always embarrassment. 

There is something incomparably vulnerable about trying to get yourself into shape. No one likes to do stuff they’re bad at, and that’s ultimately what exercise is: consistently pushing yourself outside your physical comfort zone. Often, you have to do it publicly. Worse still, classes supposedly geared toward beginners push your body to its absolute limit, likely leaving you debilitatingly sore and humiliated for days.

Dragaux is the worst and I love him.

Dragaux is the worst and I love him.

Image: nintendo

Ring Fit Adventure insists that you go at your own pace, suggesting breaks and rewarding you for consistency over high-score competitiveness. When it comes to healthy exercise (as opposed to weight loss, for example), experts often say that regularity matters more than vigorousness.  

Competition is not the best motivator for getting in shape, yet most other programs frame it as an adversarial relationship to who you were before you decided to get “fit.” There’s a lowkey sadomasochism in the “no pain, no gain” mentality. And it feels awful.

Sure, Dragaux exudes all the dom energy of a sadistic trainer. But there’s a reason he’s the villain of the story. Meanwhile your helpers, like Tipp, are genuine cheerleaders that not only congratulate you for making the effort but show far more concern for your overall wellbeing.

Ring Fit Adventure helped me see physical activity as a time to connect with my body rather than beat it down into submission.

By doing away with the Machiavellian approach to exercise, Ring Fit Adventure helped me see physical activity as a time to connect with my body rather than beat it down into submission.

Don’t get me wrong: It isn’t perfect, and it certainly hasn’t solved all my exercise commitment issues. As Klepek also points out, there are flaws in the design of Ring Fit Adventure‘s approach to exercise, like one-size-fits-all difficulty with a lack of consideration for what works for different bodies. 

I also found myself wishing for more precise instruction, worried that I was missing some crucial aspect of correct form. I’m also sure that testing the game for work helped hold me accountable to being more consistent. 

But Ring Fit Adventure led to a small holiday miracle: I found myself annoyed that traveling over Christmas break would interrupt my progress. I legitimately considered how I might fit the ring into my carry-on luggage. (Spoiler alert: You can’t.) That might sound insignificant to you, but never in my life have I ever before been annoyed at having an excuse to not exercise.

That’s improvement, friends. That feels like the promise of a New Year’s resolution I can actually keep.

Categorized: Remodeling


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