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Xbox Avatars to 'encourage exercise'?

7:38 AM
Xbox Avatars to encourage exercise

Microsoft patent details technology to make 360's avatars have same physical appearance as their real-world counterparts--and thereby promote physical fitness.

Microsoft has shown a keen interest in boosting the Xbox 360's status as a community hub. Leading this initiative has been Xbox Live Avatars, which offer a 3D representation of their owners on the online service. Now, Microsoft is contemplating tying real-world health and psychological data to said avatars in an effort to discourage many-a-gamer's sedentary lifestyle.

Last week, Microsoft's patent application titled "Avatar Individualized by Physical Characteristic" popped up in the US Patent and Trademark Offices' online database. The filing details a way in which Microsoft can introduce a heightened degree of reality into the appearance of gamers' avatars by utilizing a third-party health-care data repository (Microsoft gives Health Vault as an example) or a Wii Vitality Sensor-like device.

To incentivize people to improve their physical well-being, Microsoft's filing notes that gamers will be locked out of certain components of a game or a chat room until the proper health parameters are met.

"Physical data that reflects a degree of health of the real person can be linked to rewards of capabilities of a gaming avatar, an amount of time budgeted to play, or a visible indication," the filing reads. "Thereby, people are encouraged to exercise."

"For example, a locally executed video game on a game console or other device capable of interactive play rewards players that have achieved a degree of health or athletic skill in real life, even if played in a solitary fashion," the filing reads. "Alternatively or in addition, the degree of health can unlock additional playing time or can unlock certain aspects of a game, such as additional levels."

Microsoft's patent application might tie in with Project Natal, the Xbox 360's forthcoming camera-based motion-sensing add-on. As part of its 2009 Electronic Entertainment Expo press conference, Microsoft showed off how the device will scan a person's body and represent it onscreen via physically proportionate silhouette. It also showed off several activity-oriented titles in development for Project Natal, including the physically demanding Ricochet, a 3D, full-body version of Breakout.

Microsoft's filing goes on to note that it wouldn't just be physical characteristics that could be refined. "The physical characteristics can be further extended to psychological traits associated with the physical person, including intelligence, religious beliefs, political affiliations, and hobbies that affect the rendering of an avatar," the application reads.

The filing also indicates ways in which Microsoft can facilitate determining an individual's mental health or mood. "For example, as a person utilizes Voice over IP to chat with a viewing person in the virtual environment, stress could be detected to gauge honesty," the application notes. "As another example, skin resistance, pulse, and breathing could be detected to gauge mood."

According to the filing, the data will be beneficial to individuals looking to "meet and become acquainted with particular types of people." Microsoft's application notes that while self-defined avatars allow people to "overcome shortcomings that would otherwise inhibit them, such as pertaining to self-consciousness," there are those who would prefer to have "the cues that are available in meeting someone in person.

By Tom Magrino, GameSpot


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