Game controllers like the Wii and Kinect have tried to get gamers up and moving, but SymGym takes things a step further by acting simultaneously as a controller and resistance-based strength training system.
The Chicago-based startup has created a sort of modified combination of the stair stepper and seated rowing machines common in gyms and fitness centers everywhere. Pushing against the machine's handles and pedals works as a dynamic controller that adjusts the level of resistance according to gameplay. For example, if you're going uphill in the game on the screen in front of you, the step controllers become more difficult to push with your feet, while picking up heavier objects will make the arm controllers harder to push than lifting lighter objects.
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SymGym can emulate a Playstation or Xbox controller, so technically you could attempt to play just about any game with it, but it tends to work better with games specially designed for it and old classics with simple controls like Pac-Man or Asteroids. In the Asteroids game, it becomes harder to turn as your ship goes faster, and in Pac-Man it's harder to travel up the screen than down.
The company is working to get indie game developers involved in creating new games specifically for the system. An online gaming platform where SymGym users can challenge and play against each other via the cloud is also in development.
At a glance, SymGym's relative simplicity is less sexy than other fitness gaming machines we've seen like the Icaros, which is designed to provide a core workout through virtual reality gaming while lying prone in a special harness with the ability to move enough to work a number of muscle groups. In the long run, though, SymGym's ability to emulate a controller across multiple gaming platforms could make it more versatile and accessible to a wider array of gamers and consumers growing bored with regular workouts.
The company has gone through several iterations of prototypes over the past few years and hopes to launch a product designed for use in its own SymGym Studios.
"Our plan is to open SymGym studios in major metropolitan areas, college towns, park districts and other areas w ith large gamer populations by next year (2017)," spokesperson Sarah Koenig told New Atlas in an email. "SymGym Studio is a video arcade that is also an exercise facility. Where treadmills, ellipticals and the like motivate only the most dedicated, SymGym Studio will attract those who'd prefer to play games, compete, and workout using our patent-pending SymGym controller."
SymGym Studios will charge for each game/exercise session, with monthly memberships also available.
Symgym is one of five finalists in the inaugural Sports & Fitness Industry Association (SFIA) Start-Up Challenge, happening this September in Denver.
Get a closer look at SymGym in the promotional video below.