Are Wii Getting Into Shape Yet?

“Get out of the basement! It’s a beautiful day outside and you’re cooped up staring at your video games! Go play outside!”I’m sure this, or something like it, is the most often uttered phrase by moms on summer days. I heard it so often in my youth that I started to barely hear what was said before my automatic response of “just let me finish this level so I can save” was past my lips. Moms have been battling their kids battling space aliens since the Atari 2600 first hit mainstream Western Civilization way back in 82. And kids have always loved them.But are video games an unhealthy past time for kids? I have to admit, I’m still somewhat of a gamer myself, though not nearly to the extent of what I was in years gone by. As such, I’m a little biased on the subject. The way I see it, I’d rather have my kids playing interactive games that test hand-eye coordination, expand spatial perception skills and have them solve puzzles – in other words, use their heads – than sit like passive vegetables in front of the TV. Plus, at least gaming is more likely to bring a little counter-culture into their lives as opposed to the mono-cultural wasteland of commercials, fluff sitcoms and reality programming. But I digress.

The biggest complaint heard about video games, other than the inappropriate nature of some of the content, is that it keeps kids from a)being outside and b) exercising. Although, if we compare video games to television they’re really on an even keel. But video games may be pulling ahead in acceptable after-school/work activity, especially now that the Nintendo Wii has introduced “Wii Fitness”, a game in which the player actually exercises as part of the game. With a special peripheral, the game actually measures your weight and, by entering your height, the game measures your body mass index and gives you a rank known as “Wii Fitness Age”. Players can track their progress in the many activities including yoga, strength training, aerobics and balance games.

Wii Fit is another in a recent line of games in which players are, more and more, expected to actively participate with whole body movements rather than simple thumb twitches on buttons. One of the more notable of these games is Dance Dance Revolution in which players dance by touching their feet to an appropriate foot pad in time to music. A study done in 2007 showed that playing Dance Dance Revolution burned as many calories as strenuous exercise. The game Wii Sports which was initially released with the Nintendo Wii has also been reported to be a good workout with people reporting weight loss anywhere from 10 to 50 pounds.

Could the active video game be the new trend in home entertainment, leaving the first-person shooter or role playing adventure to the annals of video game history? Is the stereotypical gamer, pasty-faced and overweight with a bad case of carpal tunnel, going to be replaced by a new, buff gamer athlete? Probably not. The best selling games on the market still tend to be the “shoot the alien” or “become the mob boss” type game. But none the less this trend in physical gaming is a positive turn. We may see our kids finding a new appreciation for testing the limits of their whole bodies rather than just the limits of their thumbs.

Keep in mind that these games are not intended to be used instead of regular exercise. The makers of the games themselves state that playing their games shouldn’t be used as a replacement for a normal exercise routine, and I have to say that I agree. Although we may see a new trend toward healthy gaming, you still need to get out of the house, play sports, go for a walk, a cycle or a swim and interact with people face to face. At the very least, as your mom always told you, you still need to get out of the basement and see the sun.

The Healthy Foodie is Doug DiPasquale, Holistic Nutritionist and trained chef, living in Toronto. You can email him with questions at dugdeep@gmail.com.