'Obeez City' is set to exercise gaming generation

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The Independent Online

She's pumped, she's primed and she's ready to help burn off some calories. Sadly, she's not real.

Soolynn is the catsuit-clad virtual heroine of a new interactive DVD game designed to help young people avoid getting fat. Appropriately, the game - set inside the colon of an overweight man - is titled Escape from Obeez City.

"In America, one in three is obese," Tony Findlay, the project director for Big Red Frog, the Australian-based company that is releasing the $49 (£34) game in September told the Los Angeles Times. "We need to do something and we need to do something fast. This is our first stage of attack."

The game - in which Soolynn works her way around the distended colon fighting cholesterol, stress hormones and free radicals - is among several at least partly designed with an eye to children's health.

Last year, a report published by the Institute of Medicine recommended that designers should produce games that encourage healthier lifestyles, and the National Institutes of Health is funding video game research projects as part of its attempts to counter increasing obesity. In the case of Escape from Obeez City the nutritional education for children comes when Soolynn is captured: to release her, players have to answer several educational questions relating to health.

The games creators say the format will provide an appealing way for children to learn about the dangers of poor nutrition and inactivity, and motivate them to change their often sloth-like behaviour.

Marc Prensky, a games designer who has created a website that lists the latest health and education programmes, said: "I see this as the first wave of something that will get much more sophisticated over time."

At a recent games industry convention in Los Angeles, Sony showed its new fitness game in which two muscular, virtual personal trainers guide the player through gym work-outs in a 12-week training session. The game EyeToy: Kinetic is also due to be released in September.

Another game, Yourself! Fitness, was released last year to target a slightly older audience with the help of Maya, a striking virtual instructor who leads teen-agers on 650 exercises. She even criticises them for missing sessions.

But not everyone is convinced the way to improving children's health is to entice them to spend yet more time in front of computer games. Tom Robinson, professor of pediatrics at Stanford University, said: "If I had to choose between buying a child one of these active games or removing the TV from their bedroom and setting weekly TV time limits, I would strongly favour the latter."