Saturday, March 28, 2009

All the fun that fits

While Noel was taking his mini-vacation to Batesville, Arkansas, I broke out the Wii Fit. Much has been written about this fitness game, but after a couple of sessions, I now understand what's revolutionary about it.

Sometimes a product's concept just doesn't sound as game-changing as it actually turns out to be. How many people just couldn't fathom how a machine could make reading better than a printed book -- until they got a Kindle? (I think I've met most of them.) Similarly, even if one is inclined toward technological enthusiasm, it's easy to be skeptical about how good a video game could actually be at encouraging exercise.

But this is one clever package. First of all, although some complain that too much emphasis is placed on balance, I've got no issues there. Balance, posture, flexibility, and body control are areas I desperately need to work on. And that training targets the muscles at your core, those big groups that begin to tremble (if you're flabby like me) after only a few minutes of concentrated flexing.

And really, it's the incentives that make this irresistible. Games like hula hooping, step aerobics/dancing where you perform for a crowd with a bunch of other avatars, and slalom skiing let you accumulate points and set records (along with personal bests). After you spend enough time doing an activity -- or overall -- new activities are unlocked. And it's not hard to spend that time, since each session inevitably concludes with a push of the "play again" button while thinking "I can do better than that." Only when your muscles protest do you remember that you're not just playing a video game -- that there's a limit to how many times you can ski down that hill before diminishing returns related to your thigh muscles set in.

Exercise is all about getting up and doing it every day, over and over. And what the Wii Fit does brilliantly is to give an arc to that repetition. It feels like doing different things every day -- or doing the same things better, and getting rewarded for it. And given how many decades have been spent trying to make exercise into something that doesn't require superhuman willpower to keep doing, that truly feels like a revolution.

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