Member the games you used to play? We member. The basement at the Hardcore Gamer office has a section known as the Crust Room, with an old grey couch and a big old CRT TV. All the classic systems are down there collecting dust, so in an effort to improve the cleanliness of our work space, we dust off these old consoles every so often and put an old game through its paces, just to make sure everything stays in working order. We even have a beige computer with a floppy disk drive.
Physical fitness and video games are two things that generally don’t go hand in hand. And for the most part they shouldn’t as gaming is something done to relax and have fun. But unfortunately the human body has a number of design flaws, namely that it’s allergic to hedonistic sloth and requires a limited caloric intake of a balanced diet as opposed to eating three pounds of potato chips everyday. Nintendo has a history of making some attempts at incorporating physical activity into their games, lest their consumer base develop the physique of their mascot. The Switch actually has a couple fitness games coming out this month, so since we have exercise on the brain we’re going to switch back to look at Wii Fit.
Wii Fit used the Wiimote and nunchuck controller were utilized, but it primarily relied on its own unique peripheral, the Wii Balance Board. This board could detect the user’s center of balance which was needed to rate the player’s performance in several activities. It also functioned as a scale, which was used to track weight loss progress but also could be used to calculate the user’s body mass index (BMI) using the body test feature. BMI is a standard measurement is determining if someone is actually overweight, but there are several criticisms about it.
BMI is a measure that can roughly estimate whether or not a user is obese, but its accuracy is also limited. It’s a simple height to weight ratio so it doesn’t account for individual variables like amounts of lean muscle mass, bone density or body fat percentage. Some user discretion is advised in interpreting the number. Arnold Schwarzenegger is 6’2″ and was 235 lbs during his Mr. Universe days which gives him a BMI of 30.17, or moderately obese. If you look like that and have that BMI you probably aren’t obese (but may be at risk for steroid-related health problems). But if the Wii Fit Balance board says someone has a BMI like that and you happen to look more like this writer than Schwarzenegger, then that may be a problem. BMI on its own isn’t a great indicator of one’s overall health and fitness as it doesn’t take into account things like muscle mass versus fat percentage, so it requires honesty and analysis from the user.
The body test where Wii Fit calculates your BMI is only meant to get a relative baseline of the user’s beginning state and track fitness progress from using it. Wii Fit offers strength building exercises, yoga poses, aerobics and balance games. One of the key components of overall fitness and athleticism is having a variety of exercises. Wii Fit looks like it is trying to address the overall fitness of its users by covering a variety of different areas, but the question is how good of a workout does one get from Wii Fit.
To answer the effectiveness of Wii Fit for achieving one’s fitness goals, the answer is kind of. Tokyo’s National Institute of Health and Nutrition conducted a study which found that only 22 of the 68 activities in Wii Fit qualify as medium intensity, with the rest being low intensity. Additionally, certain activities on Wii Fit such as the jogging trail require the user to run in place. Running in place can work up a sweat and increase heartrate, but it’s not as beneficial as running on a track or even a treadmill. The Wii Fit is not going to get you jacked, but it can offer fitness benefits, and as a fitness peripheral game it does do some things well but there’s a lot of room for criticism.
Wii Fit is good for fitness accessibility in a judgment free Planet Fitness sort of way. Not everyone who likes games likes exercise and Wii Fit combines the two in a way that’s accessible and approachable. Exercising in the comfort and privacy of one’s own home is always nice. Some of the balance games were enjoyable, and while Wii Fit might not be an actual yoga instructor doing the yoga poses, the guidance of Wii Fit can offer some health and flexibility benefits. The exercises are generally limited to body weight exercises, and while only about a third of them qualify of medium intensity activities doing anything is better than nothing. And doing activities that are enjoyable are more likely to repeated than something boring.
Now some of the things that limit the effectiveness of Wii Fit. The user interface is terrible. The user cannot program a series into a 30 minute program, so even if the player decides they want to do a 30 minute series of moderate intensity activities they’re going to lose momentum and heartrate having to navigate through the menus after each exercise is complete. Getting a proper 30 minute workout could take closer to 45 minutes when manually navigating everything is accounted for, plus the trainers never amp up intensity as the player progresses. Also, the measurements aren’t exactly accurate. According the Wii Fit I am able to run a mile in 5:36, which is phenomenal. None of you know me or what I look like but I am a typical meathead archetype. I will fearlessly put myself under a bar with three plates, but get winded going up two flights of stairs. I’m pleased that I can run a 5k at a 10 minute mile pace, which is nothing to brag about. There’s no way I am hitting a sub six minute mile.
Wii Fit was a popular Nintendo peripheral and game that sold well, but falls short in being an effective fitness trainer and fun game even with some positives. It does promote fitness, and while many of the activities fall short of providing a great workout, they do get the user off the couch and moving. It’s not so much a great fitness program, but maybe a stepping stone to better things. Some of the activities like balance games or rhythm boxing are kind of fun. Other things like the yoga poses may introduce yoga to the player and they could decide they like yoga and want to pursue it to a great degree. Or Wii Fit can show people they feel better when they exercise and can use Wii Fit to get in better shape or continue using it to supplement a more dedicated fitness regime. It might not be the world’s greatest home trainer, but it does show Nintendo taking gaming in an outside-of-the-box direction, which is something they’ve consistently done with mixed results. But ultimately it’s a moderately fun game that can have health benefits.
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