Wii need to get out more often

Joel van der Veen
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Your balance is terrible. Your co-ordination needs work. You’ll burn more calories if you engage your arms when you run.

I’d expect to hear these comments from my physical trainer (if I had one) or from my jogging partner (again, if I had one), but never from my video games.

Last week, though, I heard them an awful lot from the guide on my Nintendo Wii as I tried out Wii Fit Plus, a recent birthday present from my parents.

Wii Fit Plus has been available for three years, but I’m usually at least a generation behind on video games. (I’m still hoping for an Atari Jaguar under the tree next Christmas.)

The game expands on the original Wii Fit, including strength training, yoga, balance and aerobic activities. The game includes the Balance Board, a plastic platform to stand on while you run on the spot, swivel your hips or move in other ways.

For decades, game companies have tried to combat the accusation that their products are partly responsible for the sedentary lifestyle of many North Americans, contributing to obesity and related health problems.

In 1988, Nintendo introduced the Power Pad, an accessory for the original NES system. A plastic mat roughly the size of a card table, it featured electronic sensors that translated players’ steps into game actions, mostly for athletic-themed games like World Class Track Meet.

It wasn’t perfect. Parents quickly discovered that having kids running and jumping on the floor resulted in a considerable racket, while players realized that slapping the sensors with their hands worked just as well as running. As usual, lethargy won out.

Fast forward 25 years, and Wii Fit Plus uses similar concepts, only with modern technology. In addition to activities, the software tracks your weight, body mass index and exercise time, and analyzes your balance and co-ordination.

The feedback I’ve received has been discouraging. Time after time, I’m told, “That wasn’t your forte, was it?” or “Looks like you should work on that.”

The game then uses your stats to calculate your “Wii Fit age.” The first time, I came away with a fitness age of 38 — 14 years above my actual age.

Later, after a bathroom break, I did the test again, achieving an age of 33. Who knew that was the secret to eternal youth? (I’ve since recorded ages of 25 and 20; clearly, I’m making progress.)

There are lots of activities to choose from. So far I’ve gone jogging, tried to land a ski jump and twisted with a hula hoop. Usually the sound effects aren’t crucial, so you can mute them and substitute your own mix.

My favourite activity involves butting soccer balls with your head, while dodging shoes and disembodied panda bear heads. (Presumably, panda heads were chosen because they resemble soccer balls. Where was the SPCA?)

The software uses your Wii avatar to create an animated version of you on the screen, including your friends as background characters. I’m startled when I go Wii jogging and suddenly run into my dad or my best friend from high school.

It’s fun and, if I’m honest, sort of habit-forming. Because the game tracks my usage, I’m afraid it will nag me or act sullen if I ignore it for a couple of days.

At the same time, I wonder whether Nintendo is shooting itself in the foot with efforts like these. If video game addicts enjoy Wii Fit Plus too much, couldn’t they decide to go outside and try the real thing, leaving behind their game systems altogether?

Nah, just kidding.

Joel van der Veen can be reached at 691-1256.

Organizations: Nintendo, Balance Board

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