I'm not as, um, fit as I once was.
OK. To be honest, I'm not sure I ever was really fit once. So let's just say I'm not as fit as I want to be. Of course, if I really wanted to be fit, there's nobody locking me in the attic to keep me from it.
All right, fine. I'm a whale!
Still, do I want a video game pointing this out to me? And forcing me to let you know about it, too? My wife has the right to raise an eyebrow and poke my middle as if I were the Pillsbury Doughboy. And I don't mind that my children smile when they try to squeeze me into the camera viewfinder frame during family photo ops. (I used to assure them that the camera adds 10 pounds until they started asking how many cameras I'd actually eaten.) But a video game telling me I'm, um, not fit is quite another story!
You Have Been Judged ...
I'm done complaining and feeling self-conscious now. Nintendo's Wii Fit has a lot of things going for it. First of all, it minimizes the boredom and makes working out a game. The equipment sets you back about 90 bucks, but what's that when compared to a monthly gym membership? And it brings the exercise to your living room, so you don't have to spend your kids' college funds on gas to get to said gym.
The nifty heart of the system is a sturdy plastic balancing board which connects to the Wii console wirelessly and features several internal weight and pressure point widgets. After imputing some basic height and birth date data for your Mii character, Wii Fit has you step up on the board and takes you through a few simple body test exercises—measuring balance and weight 60 times a second—to determine your BMI (Body Mass Index) score and give you an approximate body fitness age. Amazingly, it didn't set off a "Send this man to the hospital immediately!" alarm when I first stepped on it, so I found myself warming up to the experience a bit.
... And Found Amply Pear-Shaped
After that, exercises are broken down into four different categories: muscle, aerobic, balance and yoga. The yoga and muscle categories feel the most like actual stretch-and-grunt exercising, but even they aren't so bad. The yoga section—which does not connect itself to meditation or spiritual practices—is a series of 15 stretches and poses that range from simply standing still and breathing (one of my strengths) to one-legged side stretches and inverted shoulder stands. The muscle-toning section has a similar range of 15 challenges mixing lunges and push-ups.
To guide you through, the game lets you choose between a male or female trainer, both of whom just happen to be the most pleasant animated characters to ever set digital foot in my house. After I collapsed during one set of push-ups, my trainer didn't chew me out or call me names, but simply kept encouraging me with, "Are you still with me? You're doing great, don't give up now." Not once did I hear, "Should I call 911?"
The real fun, though, comes in Wii Fit's 18 aerobic and balance games. Boxing, step dancing, hula hooping and jogging are all very visually interactive and soon make you forget that you're lathering up a good sweat. Ski jumping and snowboarding games are just as involving. For the record, though, my favorite is a weeble-wobble, weight-shifting table tilt activity.
All of this, of course, is designed to firm your muscle tone, give you a better sense of balance and help you burn more calories than you would with a TV remote in one hand and a bag of chips in the other. And Wii Fit keeps track of your progress with each visit. You can readily spot differences in how you balance your body and, with time, the game helps you reach weight-change goals and rewards you with improved fitness/age reports.
Too Fit To Be That Fat
But that brings me back to my original question about video games making note of the acreage in your ever-expanding waist-land. For in truth, Wii Fit isn't the most scientifically accurate of instruments when it comes to determining your individual fitness. It judged my weight, for example, to be 20 lbs lighter than it actually is—which certainly made me want to say glowing things about it. But then it told my fitness-minded teen daughter that she had the body of a 46-year-old. (With a gasp, she started over and got a spot-on 16 in another session.)
Those kinds of measurement blunders aren't unique to us. A report in the U.K. newspaper Daily Mail told of a 10-year-old girl who was informed by the Wii Fit software that she was "fat." She was pretty upset and her parents were none too pleased, either—worried that she was already getting too many media messages that pointed to an anorexic adolescent ideal. Nintendo apologized and said that the game may not be "entirely accurate for younger age groups."
What's the lesson here? If you're gonna play the game, you might not want to take everything it tells you too seriously. And parents might want to prep their kids for inaccurate verdicts of "fat" or "46." Here's what the lesson isn't: "Stay away from your Wii." It's a great thing to have a game that helps us unfold from the couch potato position now and again. Especially if we keep in mind that it's just a game, after all, and get all our real health assessments from our family physician.
After playing through a number of Wii Fit sessions, my body felt pretty good, and my mind felt pretty good, too. The next step for me? Pulling my bike down off the garage wall and going out this weekend for a little (more) exercise.