TLA 2010 Conference Program Abstract: What if your latte-sipping patrons could study and exercise, all in the same place? From Starbucks to Nintendo, here’s yet another entertaining idea for your Information Commons, promoting information-seeking habits and literacy. Learn about a researcher’s and a participant’s experiences with the Wii Fit as a tool for community participation.
Gaming in libraries has been a hot topic of both literacy advocates and video game naysayers for a couple of years now. Interestingly enough, it’s not only librarians who have had to justify their video game budgets with quantitative and qualitative proof of increased patron use and community bonding. Dr. Joey Gray, a researcher at Middle Tennessee State University (MTSU), had never heard of this recent conflict, and yet she had a similar idea- increase physical activity by incorporating the use of video game systems, specifically Wii Fit, in campus recreation centers and health/exercise programs. Through her program called Wii Fit Study for Women: A New Way to Exercise, she gathered adult women (aged 25-67) from a variety of MTSU departments for a 10-week program to test her theory. Christi Underdown, a cataloger at the Center for Popular Music, was one of those participants. It was she who enlightened Gray as to the nature of libraries’ ongoing debate and the similarities between the two situations and how the two of them could provide a unique perspective for fellow professionals in an interdisciplinary fashion.
One of the major barriers that interferes with physical activity for women is lack of time (Kowal & Fortier, 2007). Self-consciousness and lack of knowledge also plays a role in motivation for exercise. Thus, the purpose of the study was to motivate women to be more physically active with a unique tool, the Wii Fit, and to explore the effects participation may have on physical fitness levels over an eight week intervention period. Pre- and post-physical fitness measures were conducted during weeks one and 10. The Wii Fit intervention consisted of eight weeks, one hour a day, for three days a week. Participants were given a prescribed regiment of play each day consisting of cardio vascular, flexibility, strength, and balance games.
The Wii Fit intervention yielded promising results regarding utilizing gaming as a tool to promote physical fitness and community. Post-test results demonstrated that participants' average sedentary hours decreased from 25 hours per week to 21 hours per week with a 10% increase in physical fitness levels. Despite the short eight-week intervention period, participants did show improved physical fitness levels. Most importantly, the findings revealed that women were much more motivated to participate in physical fitness using a video game such as the Wii Fit. Participants noted that increased knowledge (how to play the Wii Fit and how to exercise) and sense of community relationship building were strong motivating factors to not only participate in the intervention, but to continue to participate in physical activity via the Wii Fit.
Being a Participant: Lessons Learned
Underdown has never thought of herself as an extremely active or exercise-driven person. Coming from a fine arts and humanities background, she thought of physicality as a chore and drudgery. It was only on a rare occasion, inspired by a temporary New Year’s Resolution or short-lived healthy aspirations, that she darkened the gate of the campus recreation center. Her stereotypical avoidance could have easily been compared to the trope of a dedicated athlete’s disdain for the fluorescent-lit stacks and study rooms of the academic library. Countering these socially concocted assumptions, the Wii Fit, as a simultaneous learning, community-building, and space-familiarizing tool, introduced fun ways to become involved, outside of one’s own comfort zone.
Games can be Learning Tools
As noted in the study findings, through this particular system Underdown experienced greater body self-awareness. Not only did the exercises tone and stretch her muscles but, as with traditional work, she physically felt the results within a day or two of the program’s beginning. Like many of the participants, she did not lose weight within the 10 weeks, but she did gain muscle tone and flexibility, as well as a habit of movement. Her body now asks for stretching after an hour of computer use and she knows how to prevent her cataloging aches and pains with appropriate attention.
Additionally, she became more comfortable with a video game system that she had formerly never used. Despite her former knowledge of similar equipment, her technology literacy increased. She feels more comfortable now expanding not only her knowledge of health issues, but also gathering information about up-and-coming technology, especially how to incorporate video-game learning with Web 3.0 tools to educate, socialize and create.
Games can be Community-building tools
By working out in the same space and time with the same subgroup of eight, three times a week, Underdown found herself connecting with a diverse number of women. On a campus which accommodates over 25,000 students, one can work at MTSU for decades and never meet his or her counterparts in other departments. Like patrons meeting for the first time in front of their favorite LC subject heading, Underdown met and has kept in touch with her cohorts from the Mass Communication department, Center for Historical Preservation, and Walker Library.
By the same token, she also became familiar with the staff at the Recreation Center, with whom she would exchange regular smiles and greetings, as well as the moderators of the experiment itself. Gray and her two research assistants were always present and helpful during the work-outs, just in case there were questions or technical difficulties which needed adjustment. Their friendly, open manner encouraged collaboration and eventually led to this presentation.
Games can be Space-familiarizing tools
Supporting the findings of Kowal and Fortier (2007) that fitness facilities can be a comfort concern for women, Underdown shared a similar experience. Formerly, the campus recreation center was a physical symbol of intimidation for Underdown. However, by participating in this experiment, Underdown found that she was beginning to known the unknown. Like those teens and seniors who become active in gaming sessions in library settings, she found that the facility had more to offer than she could have imagined. The rooms for racquetball, aerobics, and weights were not to be feared, but to be utilized to the best of her ability. Instead of distractedly deleting e-mails about the variety of programs offered by the staff and professional instructors, she now feels more comfortable scanning them for interesting health tips and sign-up information. By breaking down the barriers in a fun and enticing way, Gray’s Wii Fit program introduced Underdown to resources she had at her fingertips, but had previously ignored.
Scheduling & Space
In a public library setting or a campus recreation center, there would be multiple people using a gaming system throughout the day. Even in a small-scale experiment like Gray’s, how does one plan for a cycling number of four groups of eight to ten people to use the same space up to three times a week? Not only does a supervisor need physical place to set up the equipment and put the bodies, but this space needs to have good ventilation, at least three feet on each side of the game system materials to move, and access to electricity. Because of the physicality of the activity, one must also provide a staff person to monitor use, if not exclusively, then consistently acting as a reference point for game directions and instructions, technological issues and safety management. Water access and possibly a changing station would also be convenient. Of course, patrons could use the public bathrooms for this commodity, but including their accessibility in one’s instructions of the system station would be a convenient reminder and allow for health safety concerns to be addressed.
After each session, Gray and her research assistants had carefully gathered every piece of equipment (television, Wii, balance board, and remote, which had been painstakingly labeled), inventoried them, and locked them in a supply closet, to which only a few people had the key. In the span of the entire Wii experiment, which included testing young people in the spring and then adult women in the summer, Gray’s team lost two Wii game systems and two televisions just prior to the start of the adult study due to theft. Some of the other pieces of equipment broke beyond use after such constant use, which was expected. Like other items in library institutions, even the game systems may disappear unexpectedly and/or fall into disrepair. A proactive approach regarding security measures and repair and replace is needed when considering public gaming.
Community Feedback and Buy-in
For most institutions, whether they are libraries or college fitness centers, one’s collection development is based on one’s financial freedom. One must defend change and new ideas rather the “Tried and True” of earlier purchases. By pointing out the advantages of introducing gaming into libraries and other less traditional hosting institutions, participants will gain not only health benefits of toned muscles and flexibility, but also become active builders in these newly minted Community Centers. Many libraries have already found that gaming programs can attract low-use patrons, like teens and seniors. Perhaps by sharing these experiences with partners in other disciplines, we can find even more evidence to defend our causes.
Kowal, J. ,Fortier, M.S. (2007). Physical activity behavior change in middle-aged and older women: The role of barriers and of environmental characteristics. Journal of Behavoral Medicine , 30, 233-242