Is using a Kinect martial-arts simulator like UFC Personal Trainer like practicing martial arts or like playing a videogame? The answer is neither, according to a guest editorial on Wired's Game|Life written by Paul Ballas, a Philadelphia-area child psychiatrist. Ballas's editorial, "UFC Trainer Is Helpfully Violent," comes to the conclusion that, while UFC Personal Trainer is based on a violent fighting franchise, it could also have positive effects on kids' health.
He opens with his description of the game:
"In this game, playable with the controller-free technology of Kinect for the Xbox 360, the user will, according to THQ’s website, “learn over 70 [mixed martial arts] and [National Academy of Sports Medicine]-approved exercises including moves from disciplines such as wrestling, kickboxing and Muay Thai.”
Some in the enthusiast gaming press considered UFC Personal Trainer one of the most violent games presented at E3 this year. It’s comparable to Ubisoft’s 2010 title Fighters Uncaged, a Kinect-enabled videogame in which the player makes fighting movements in order to make the game’s avatar fight a digital opponent in hand-to-hand combat."
He then points out the odd ratings for the aforementioned games; while Fighters Uncaged is rated "T" for teens, the UFC game received a softer rating of "E" for everyone. The reasons for the different ratings have a lot to do with how each game is labeled. Fighters Uncaged contains "mild language and violence," while the UFC game contains "violent references."
Using these two games as an example, Ballas then explains why, with the introduction of new technology that provides greater interactivity, it is important that the ratings systems and certain people's attitudes have to change with the time:
"The ESRB rating system exists for a variety of reasons, but I believe videogame technology has reached a point where the way a parents choose games for their children is dramatically changing, and this change is something that needs to be considered by consumers, researchers and politicians interested in the effects of violent media on children. It appears that in the very near future, we will have to consider certain kinds of computer programs not only as not bad for children, but potentially good for them, and will require brand new research to justify our beliefs as to their effects, both good and bad."
The topic then turns to the point that Ballas is trying to make: new technologies and games such as UFC Personal Trainer, shouldn't be called games at all because - as technology improves and allows for unprecedented levels of interaction and social activities - it becomes like its real-life counterpart. Further, he notes, psychologist have never been against children taking part in martial arts training because it offers so many benefits.
According to a 2011 article in the American Association of Pediatrics, "martial arts are known to improve social skills, discipline and respect in children."
So his conclusion is that when games like UFC Personal Trainer and future games that teach martial arts training to children become more realistic due to technological advances, it becomes more difficult for critics to complain about "video game violence." After all, their own research says it's "good for children."
Of course, the discussion isn't completely black and white. You can read the entire article here and draw your own conclusions.