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Game developers need exercise too - Part II

Add Comment! By John Graham on October 23rd, 2009

In addition to interviewing Dan Tabar, I had the good fortune to hear some additional thoughts on game development and fitness from Matthew Wegner. Matthew is one of the founders of Flashbang Studios and runs the physics game site Fun Motion (where some of you may have first encountered Lugaru). Matthew's love of physics extends beyond the digital world to his extreme unicycling hobby (He actually unicycled across the country of Vietnam!).

Cliff Jump
This is a picture of Matthew cliff jumping on a unicycle. I think this easily qualifies as a violation of the "game developer stereotype".

In addition to staying in shape, the Flashbang guys been known to pull off development feats like Blursting out a game in eight weeks. So I thought it would be cool to hear Matthew's perspective on how to juggle vigorous development with vigorous exercise. Here's what Matthew had to say:

Are you sacrificing coding time by working out, or does working out make you more productive?

This is a tricky question, because it depends on your views of the necessity of physical activity. What is the net effect of sleeping? Clearly everyone needs to sleep, but there's a sliding scale there. Three hours a night and you'll be a zombie, and get nothing done, but more isn't always better; sleeping 16 hours a night is probably just a much of a warning sign as 3 hours. Very few people will claim that going from 3 to 8 hours a night is "losing" five hours of time.

I view exercise the same way. I don't see myself as sacrificing time by working out. Instead, I'm improving my quality of life, which also improves my mental clarity and focus when I need to get stuff done. On a good week the net effect is massively positive, and even on a bad week I think it's still pretty much a wash. I've never regretted going to the gym.

What seems to give you the most results in the least amount of time?

It turns out that improvement--strength gains, body composition, and so on--are correlated to the intensity of work, not its duration. This is important! It means that milling around your standard gym for an hour or two, where you're sitting--sitting!--on a machines to isolate individual muscles--ignoring most of your body!--is not the answer. 20 minutes of high intensity workout will massively trump even hours a day of low intensity effort. You can actually track human growth hormone and other indicators to measure this.

High intensity is hard! The wall you'll hit is primarily psychological, not physical. There are a lot of ways to get around this: fun, varied workouts; group exercise, with people cheering you on; team exercise, where you don't want to let your partner down; competition, where you want to beat your own/someone else's time.

Do you have any advice to other developers that are considering incorporating a workout program into their schedule?

You should look forward to working out! If it's drudgery you'll never keep it going, and you're probably doing it wrong. After all, the whole point is to improve quality of life.

Greg Glassman's "Fitness in 100 Words" is a great starting place:

"Eat meat and vegetables, nuts and seeds, some fruit, little starch and no sugar. Keep intake to levels that will support exercise but not body fat. Practice and train major lifts: Deadlift, clean, squat, presses, C&J, and snatch. Similarly, master the basics of gymnastics: pull-ups, dips, rope climb, push-ups, sit-ups, presses to handstand, pirouettes, flips, splits, and holds. Bike, run, swim, row, etc, hard and fast. Five or six days per week mix these elements in as many combinations and patterns as creativity will allow. Routine is the enemy. Keep workouts short and intense. Regularly learn and play new sports."

Finally, it's worth viewing "fitness" as a single, unified spectrum. Don't split it up into nutrition, exercise, mental health, stress levels, sleep, whatever. These things are all interconnected. The best route to improving your strength might be to sleep more and reduce stress in your life, not lift more. Try to improve everything together; you can't fix a 14-hour day by going to the gym three times a week!


Thanks again for answering my questions Matthew. There were a lot of good points mentioned here. It's important to remember that you can't treat yourself like a robot (unless you are one :) ) and should approach fitness holistically. Both Matthew and Dan have reinforced the concept of making exercise fun. Perhaps technologies like motion controllers will eventually allow game developers to create methods of fun exercise instead of an excuse to sit down and push buttons. Should we peer pressure Dan and Matthew to make a Crossfit video game?