Eelke Folmer Frieda AizenmanVI Fit is a new project in the computer science and engineering department of the University of Nevada. This project would help children who are blind to become healthy and physically active through video games. With visually impaired children have no access to these games; this project would benefit these children the most.

Exergames are a new type of video game that stimulates physical activity and helps fight obesity. The human-computer interaction team in the computer science and engineering department developed VT tennis and VT bowling exergames. These were the first of several games based on motion sensing. VI Tennis provides audio and vibrotactile cues which help the children analyze when to serve and when to return the ball. It can be played against the computer or friend using two Wii remotes.

“Lack of vision forms a significant barrier to participation in physical activity and consequently children with visual impairments have much higher obesity rates and obesity-related illnesses such as diabetes,” Eelke Folmer, research team leader and assistant professor in the computer science and engineering department, said. “Our games are adaptations of the popular Nintendo Wii Sports exercise games that have been modified so they can be played without visual feedback”.

“VI Tennis was evaluated at Camp Abilities in New York with 13 children who were blind,” Folmer said. “We found our game to engage children into levels of active energy expenditure that were high enough to be considered healthy, which shows the feasibility of using video games as a health-intervention method.”

VI bowling implements the game play of Wii sports bowling with a novel motor-learning feature. This feature enables the player to identify the direction in which they can throw the ball by using vibrotactile feedback. The result of each throw is given by audio and speech effects. VI bowling was evaluated among six adults and it was found to yield levels of active energy expenditure as compared to walking.

Individuals with visual impairments have lesser chances of indulging in physical activities as compared to the general population. Physical activities provide the kind of simulation needed to maintain adequate fitness and a healthy lifestyle. Folmer and his team explored various forms of interactions that may help visually impaired children play exercise games and increase their participation in physical activity.

In order to play the VI Fit games, a user would need a Wii remote and a Windows PC with Bluetooth support or a USB Bluetooth dongle. These games can be downloaded for free using instructions at Vifit website. These games are however not affiliated with or endorsed by Nintendo.