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Exergaming gets a Wii bit technical

CALL it The Great Indoors. From May 8, Australians will be able to do ski jumping, snow boarding, even tightrope walking — indoors. With the help of a video game, of course.

Computers have often been accused of fuelling the sedentary, stay-at-home lifestyle. Nintendo’s latest product, Wii Fit, will keep its users at home, to be sure, but its backers claim it is anything but sedentary. But why fork out $149.95 for Wii Fit when you can do the real-world activity, in many cases, free?

Wii Fit is an extension of Wii Sport, released in 2005, which allowed users to “play” simulated Nintendo sports while watching a computer-generated character of themselves competing. Wii Fit, by contrast, uses a wireless motion-sensitive “balance board”. Stand on the board, and Wii Fit will measure Body Mass Index and centre of gravity. After that, there are 40 exercises: balance games such as ski jump and tightrope walk; yoga poses; muscle workouts; and aerobic exercises including boxing.

The Wii Fit and console are available thru an American company called Exergame Fitness. E-Fit is the leader in interactive fitness programs for kids, teens and adults in America. On their USA website they sell Exergame Fitness equipment to YMCA’s, Schools, Park Districts and more.

Tom Seilheimer CEO of
Exergame Fitness says “The Wii Fit and Wii gaming console is really bringing Exergaming to the forefront of the fitness industry. A rapid incline of obesity rates in America is affecting every demographic age group therefore Exergaming is a positive way to bring families & kids together by associating fitness with gaming. These 2 simple concepts combined will deliver mind blowing health benefits without the needs of traditional fitness routines. It’s 2008 and kids love to play games…why not just add healthy benefits to what they are already doing?!”

All the exercises, except jogging, involve placing some body part on the balance board “so your on-screen instructor ensures you perform every exercise correctly”. Wii Fit, of course, stores all the fitness data on the Nintendo’s hard drive.

Wii Fit is, to use industry parlance, an example of “exergaming”. But why do people need computer software to do something as basic as push-ups?

“Generation Y are technologically savvy people, they like doing stuff in front of computers. It’s what they’ve grown up with,” said Shannon Ferney, from the University of Queensland’s School of Human Movement. “It’s the next step, (going from) sitting in front of the computer playing the game to being the person (in the game). Me, I’d much rather go outside. I haven’t spoken to anyone who says they like using (Wii).” Dr Ferney obviously hasn’t been to Japan, where Wii Fit has sold nearly 2 million copies. It will be released in Europe this week, in Australia on May 8, and in the US on May 19.

Japan has notoriously little space for outdoor sports. But Australia does, so will Wii Fit take off here? “The price is a little high at $150 and a similar fitness-oriented concept from Sony and Nike a few years back called EyeToy Kinetic…was a spectacular failure,” said Australian games writer Jason Hill.

However, “the Wii has been extraordinarily popular in Australia — over 340,000 sold — mainly because of the novel motion-based control scheme, so I’m sure Wii owners will also be excited by the balance board in Wii Fit”.

Wii Fit and Nintendo’s “Brain Training” programs were part of the company’s shift from “kid’s time-waster” games to “lifestyle-oriented gadgetry good for people of all ages”, said Mr Hill.

“The pseudo-science behind the stated benefits is questionable, and Nintendo’s design genius Shigeru Miyamoto has even said, ‘I don’t think Wii Fit’s purpose is to make you fit,’ but I don’t think that matters as long as the games are fun in themselves.”

At the very least, however, Wii Sport and Wii Fit are a slight improvement on traditional video games. A study in February’s British Medical Journal by British researchers found that youngsters playing Wii Sport burned an extra 60 calories an hour compared to those playing sedentary games on a Microsoft Xbox.

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