When I bark at my kids to get away from the Xbox or the iPad and get outside for some fresh air and exercise, my intention has never been for them to bring the screen with them.
Playing outdoors, by most reasonable expectations, means running and jumping and imagining without the aid of a blipping or bleeping screen. But what if including the screen in the exercise soothed the transition from one activity to another, or actually enhanced the experience?
That’s what I wanted to find out when I took my 9-year-old son, Henry, to demo a Springfree trampoline at a store in Issaquah, Wash., recently. Springfree — which bills itself as the world’s safest trampoline — already makes a piece of equipment that will easily make you forget the dangerous thing you grew up attempting flips on in the backyard. Now the company is integrating the jumping with gaming technology called tgoma — Take Gaming Outside & Make it Active.
“Technology is here, it’s in our world,” said Jeff Motl, a Springfree market manager in Issaquah. “We can either choose to fight it, or we can embrace it and make it work for us.”
Citing a Common Sense Media study that says kids consume 60 hours of media per week in the home and play less than 60 minutes outside, Motl said tgoma acknowledges our digitally saturated world and puts it to work.
“When they’re consuming their media, what are they doing? They’re sitting on the couch, they’re inside the house … mindless YouTube videos, Minecrafting, whatever they’re doing,” Motl said. “We want to take that sedentary usage, move it outside and have them be active while getting their screen time.”
The Springfree with tgoma incorporates positioning sensors into the trampoline mat, which feed data to a Bluetooth controller below. The controller shoots information to a tablet — supplied by the user — which is positioned in a holder hanging over the protective netting that rings the trampoline.
“Think of the trampoline as your Xbox controller,” Motl told Henry. “You’re controlling what’s happening with your body, with your jumps.”
The free tgmoa app from iTunes or Google Play features seven games so far which include educational and fitness options as well as simple playtime such as Fruitants, where players blast mutant melons and strawberries.
Henry has always played on our iPhones and home iPad much the way most kids do in this day and age. Sometimes it’s a reward before bedtime, sometimes it’s a distraction in a restaurant or on an airplane. Or maybe it’s just raining outside and I want 30 minutes of alone time. For Christmas this year he got his first game console, and since then, through a variety of Xbox One games, we’ve determined that I’m old and he’s not.
Henry has also spent some time on a neighbor’s trampoline. From two backyards away, I’ve listened as he’s jumped and laughed — and resisted calls to come home for dinner.
So my first guess with tgoma was that Henry would step inside the trampoline netting, engage the screen, find a game and then just stand there — mesmerized like most 9-year-olds by the bright lights of screen time. I figured the screen would take the spring out of his intended step. And then the opposite happened.
Because the games demand that you move in order to trigger the sensors and interact or control them, Henry started jumping forward and backward and side to side. Getting the hang of how high to jump or how far to either side took some getting used to.
Thirty or so minutes in he took his first break to ask if he could change into shorts we brought, which he told me he wasn’t going to need. Thirty minutes after that he was red-faced and lying flat on his back in the middle of the mat moaning. Breathing heavily and only intending to take a short break, Henry didn’t want to leave. He came for the game, and stayed for the endorphins.
I took a turn in the trampoline after Henry, and despite witnessing how spent he was, I chalked it up to his youthful desire to show off and not know when to stop. I assumed I would jump up and down a couple times and lose interest.
Two minutes later I was winded and looking for a reason to stop after moving my legs as fast as I could to “shoot” fruits and veggies on the tablet screen suspended 3 feet from me. My heart racing, I was instantly convinced that full-body gaming could be a thing that could get me fit.
Motl said the goal isn’t to get kids to spend even more time playing screen-based games. The goal, essentially, is to sell more trampolines, which, by the way, range from $1,649 to $2,599, depending on the model. The company includes the tgoma system with the purchase of a trampoline.
“We aren’t wanting you to use the tablet more. We want you to use the trampoline more,” Motl said. He said incorporating technology into the trampoline is attractive for kids and adults alike because unlike free jumping, which can get boring, the fitness and game challenges give purpose to the exercise and play.
However many calories my 9-year-old burned during his hour-long workout (tgoma will track all of that) were easily replaced when we left Springfree and drove to Issaquah’s Triple XXX diner to share a root beer float. His cheeks still red, Henry silently consumed most of the treat himself.
Needing to replace my own calories from the two minutes I spent jumping back and forth, we transitioned over to the Issaquah Brewhouse, where I interviewed Henry about his experience.
“I had to take a little bit to get used to it,” Henry said of exercising while using a screen. “It was fun, but it was a workout, too.”
He said he thought it was “cool” that the trampoline sensed his movements and transmitted it to the game. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”
As for how it differs from being inside and using the same tablet, Henry got the fact that being outside and actually working out was the purpose.
“Instead of just sitting on something and staring at it, you’re actually jumping around and doing more things,” he said, adding that a “Temple Run” style game would be a good addition.
All in all, he said the activity got him sweating — something that, despite whatever that smell is in our TV room, doesn’t happen on the Xbox.