Thursday, July 03, 2008


Wii Fit

Wii Fit couldn't have come at a better time for me. The local gym just adjusted its pricing structure out of my reach, the home treadmill broke down, and I'll be damned if I'm going to go for a walk outside like a chump.

So thank goodness that Nintendo struck upon the idea of making an exercise video game, because God knows I wouldn't have had the slightest interest if it was a Sony or Microsoft product. Seriously, I was on board from day one. I put in a pre-order on Amazon as soon as it was possible. And it turned out to be a clever bit of foresight on my part, because it's starting to look like the demand for the product is going to outstrip demand for the Wii itself.

But what is Wii Fit? What can it do for me? After spending six weeks with My Electronic Fitness Instructor, I can begin to answer these questions with the utmost confidence and/or lack of any real weight loss expertise whatsoever.

How do I do the Wii Fit?

Wii Fit is a game about exercising. Remember Brain Age? Then you've got a pretty good idea of the structure this thing takes on.

The first time you start the game up, you create a profile for yourself and take a "Body Test". This consists of measuring your weight and playing a game where you have to shift your weight back and forth. If you don't do well enough at the game, it means you're 87 years old, I guess. Point is, your Wii Fit Age is meaningless and can be discarded without penalty.

Once you've overcome the shock of finding out that you're 60 pounds overweight for a person of your height, you're invited to set a weight loss goal for yourself. I decided that going from Obese to Overweight by the end of the summer was a pretty good starting point. Properly ashamed and humiliated, you're let loose into the Training activities.

Again, the setup is pretty familiar for Brain Age veterans, except that instead of solving math problems and reading out loud, you're doing pushups and jogging in place. You can choose from Yoga, Strength, and Aerobics exercises, offering up at least one way to work out any major muscle group you could care about.

Thing about the Balance Board is, it detects weight and shifts in weight. So, although it's a pretty fair judge of whether or not you've done a regulation pushup, the only thing it can really comment on for most exercises is your posture. Most of the Yoga and Strength exercises give you a score in the end based on how steady you kept your center of gravity while you were exercising. Which is helpful and interesting, but hardly as interactive as I was hoping for; you can still screw up your poses and exercises without the system complaining, and there's even room to consciously trick the system into giving you an undeserved score.

Much more interesting are the Aerobics exercises. There are only four of them, but really, at the higher duration levels, that's all you'll need to make a half hour exercise session. Ironically enough, my very favorite activity in the game is jogging in place, which doesn't use the board at all; you slip a Wii remote in your pocket, and the motion sensor works like a pedometer to measure how fast you're jogging, which translates into the animation of your Mii jogging around Wii Fit Island with Bill Clinton, Albert Einstein, and all of the other celebrity Miis you've downloaded from the Check Mii Out Channel. Rhythm Boxing and Step use the board like a very simplistic DDR mat, simply detecting whether you've stepped on or off the board. And the Hula Hoop ("HULA HOOP" IS A REGISTERED TRADEMARK OF THE WHAM-O TOY COMPANY) game measures with uncanny accuracy how you're swinging your hips, and uses this information to judge whether or not your Mii can keep those hoops a-twirlin'. The Aerobics activities just feel more like "real" games, primarily because it's more difficult to trick the system into thinking you're doing an activity than it is to actually do it.

Oh, and there are Balance Games, in case you need to be bored.

Can You Use Wii Fit to Lose Weight?

This is the big question, isn't it? It's one thing to say that your video game encourages people to lose weight. It's quite another to prove that your video game actually gives people effective tools to use for reaching that goal.

The sad fact is that, yes, Wii Fit seems to be just as good as any other piece of home fitness equipment or any other exercise video I've ever encountered. The exercises you perform are, after all, real -- provided that you're doing them the way you're shown, you will burn calories and build muscle mass doing the workouts that Wii Fit has available.

But it's not a magic wand. If you have tried other home fitness equipment or exercise videos and haven't had the results you wanted, chances are Wii Fit isn't going to do it for you either. The Wii Fit package never claims to offer any shortcuts. It never says that this is going to be quick, easy, or even fun. The only thing you can really say about Wii Fit is that if you put something into it, you'll get something out of it.

Many reviewers have lamented the fact that the game doesn't come with any sort of officially-sanctioned workout routine. While I can sympathize with this sentiment to an extent, I understand why they didn't do something like that. It's because Nintendo is a video game company AND MAYBE WE SHOULDN'T BE LOOKING TO VIDEO GAME COMPANIES TO ANSWER QUESTIONS THAT CAN HAVE AN IMPACT ON OUR HEALTH.

If you really want to lose weight with Wii Fit, you're going to have to do it the hard way. You're going to have to set up your own exercise routines and get yourself on a diet. The question, then, is why we need this package in the first place. Really, as far as actual exercise goes, there's nothing going on here that you can't do without the balance board. You could get roughly the same results with just about any exercise video.

But there's one major difference.

When you pop in an exercise video, it's not going to comment on how long it's been since your last session.

An exercise video isn't going to track your weight from day to day and demand an explanation for those three pounds you gained.

An exercise video isn't going to call you out if you stop after three reps.

What Wii Fit gives you is real-time encouragement, motivation, and advice. It's the next best thing to having a real person looming over you to keep you on task. You want to succeed, you want to push yourself, because there are psychological consequences for failure.

When I first got Wii Fit, I figured I would just play it here and there and see what happened. Even though my first Body Test ranked me on the shallow end of Obese territory, I really didn't expect that I was going to be altering my lifestyle too much.

But then the next morning, I found I had put on over a pound, and the game asked me to think about why that was. I saw that steep jump in the graph, taking me well into my post-college weight, and I had this image of myself just apathetically putting on pound after pound day after day. And so I resolved to nip it in the bud.

No more sweets. No more beef. Lots of vegetables. Smaller meals spaced three to four hours apart. And half an hour of exercise every morning, six days a week. Three days for aerobics, three days for strength, on alternating days. I got some pretty good advice regarding diet and exercise from, of all places, the GameFAQs message boards, where a gentleman by the name of Pow Pow Punishment took it upon himself to dispel all of our misconceived ideas about exercise and weight loss.

Seven weeks later, I'm down into the high end of the Overweight region and dropping all the time. I've lost thirteen pounds and two belt notches. I'm never starving myself. I feel FANTASTIC. And I'm finally starting to set some high scores in the Yoga exercises.

The value of the software is that it turns your weight loss goals into a game. Just as Miyamoto promised, you can't help but start to take an active interest in your personal health as you clock more and more hours into it. It's the same feeling of accomplishment that you get from watching your Pokemon level up and evolve, except now you're watching your BMI shift toward a more normal weight category and seeing your 20-pound weight loss goal dwindle into the single digits.

It's a Keeper

There are a lot of games that I like, grudgingly or otherwise, but there are very few that I consider to be essential for myself. Super Mario Brothers. Shiren the Wanderer. Samba de Amigo.

Well, you can add Wii Fit to the list. I haven't played anything like it, and I doubt I will again. (This is because I won't be playing the "Me too!" clones that come out in the coming months.) It makes me feel like I'm still at the gym, in the comfort of my own living room, using nothing but a small platform about the size of a bathroom scale.

To me, the package has justified its cost. I can't help thinking that it's going to continue to provide value to me for years to come.


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