The Wii Fit has generated a lot of discussion since its release several months ago. Does a video game that uses real world objectives still get to be called a video game? Has it become something entirely new? Instead of beating a final boss, the obstacle the game relies upon is a real one: your own physical status. You play out the exercises while the game is constantly gauging your progress, offering suggestions, and continuing to challenge you to reach a goal that exists only in the real world. Yet it still rewards your exercises with the typical prizes of improved looks for your avatar, digital money, and unlocking content.
Essentially, Wii Fit uses video game rewards to coerce real world accomplishments. As one of the first mainstream games to attempt combining reality with the virtual one, Wii Fit bears the mistakes inherent with being a pioneer and the respect that such a pioneer deserves as well.
US: 19 May 2008
Due to the nature of the device, I decided subjectivity was inevitable since so much of my play experience is going to boil down to me. I am going to engage in one of the saddest of journalistic endeavors: the before-and-after piece. The three sets of photos in this review show my progress with the Wii Fit over an 8 week period. I’m 25 years old, 6 foot 3 inches, and have practiced yoga, spin classes, and lifted weights heavily in the past. One month before taking the Week 1 photo I discontinued my gym membership and went on a month-long ‘sit on my ass and pretend it’s justified’ binge. I don’t eat fast food, I avoid desserts and potato chips, and I would say the main source of my calories is large portions and beer. Otherwise, I didn’t really diet except when following the Wii’s advice. I drink a cup of green tea in the morning, keep a pitcher of it chilled in the fridge, and drink plenty of other teas at night. Before starting this article I’d kept my weight at about 210 for the past year, exercising and falling off the wagon as the situations go.
Week 1: 208 lbs.
The exercises themselves are…mixed in terms of quality. There are about 8 really good yoga poses, 6 good physical exercises, and two cardio games that are worth the physical pay-off. This evaluation will vary from player to player, so take that for what it’s worth. I only used the hula-hoop game for cardio, as a skiing injury ended my jogging days years ago. The balance games do exist and could be fun if you’re into them, but I never got much out of it. The device begins a new person with a limited set of exercises. You have to keep using and trying out exercises at their lowest setting before you can increase it to the maximum number of reps and options.
For example, you start off only being able to do 10 sit-ups, then after several sessions you can do 20, and then 30. It keeps you from hurting yourself and lets you slowly adapt to all the exercises, but it’s an imperfect process. Because it’s a video game reward structure you inherently do more reps as soon as the game will let you. I ended up hurting my right shoulder because I mindlessly assumed I should keep increasing the number of ‘push-up and side plank’ reps as the healthiest option for me. It’s awesome that I immediately pushed myself to the limit, but the game doesn’t really have a way to adjust your reps rate beyond an arbitrary ‘more = better’ method.
Week 4: 207 lbs.
The game employs two methods of making sure you’re doing the exercises and generating commentary. One is the weight distribution on the Wii board, which is constantly detecting the shifts and cluing you in on the best pose. It also helps you sync up with the exercises that involve a lot of movement. Rather than just tell you to do a leg lift, it rings a bell, detects your shifted weight, then rings a confirmation bell. It’s a good system and it really seizes on the Wii Fit‘s mixture of reality and video game: your body is the method of input and gauge of success. The second gauge is a posture test that detects where your weight is centered. A small red dot represents you while a yellow sphere represents the acceptable area for the dot to be located. You then challenge yourself to keep the dot still.
As nearly as I can tell, the entire game mechanic was introduced to give someone who isn’t already overweight something to do while playing. The average person isn’t accustomed to watching their posture this closely and will be able to work on this for the first few weeks of playing. It also makes many of the exercises mind-numbingly tricky despite the fact that I’m enjoying their real world benefits. Take the yoga stretches. I’m still doing the stretch, but I’m getting a low score because my body is shifting around while I wave my arms or stretch. I appreciate the desire to improve my posture, but the game should put more emphasis on me doing the actual exercise.
This leads us to what may be the Wii Fit‘s most potent advantage over an exercise video or a private instructor: video games will make you work your ass off.
Week 8: 205 lbs.
When I first stepped on that board, I knew it wasn’t going to be pretty. My little Mii inflated to a disgusting size and the game woefully informed me that I’d need to lose twenty pounds before the little guy would be skinny again. Having the game be completely honest about my weight was both unpleasant and also motivating. I want that little Mii to be thin again, very badly. This also brings us to the game’s greatest flaw: it doesn’t really help you lose weight. My stomach muscles are doing great, my shoulders are tone, and I really enjoy stretching every morning. But my weight loss has been negligible over this period.
The best way to fix this would be to cut out the constant clicking of the Wii-mote to get through exercises and to stream it into one well-paced work-out. It also might do well to add a Diet Diary to keep track of eating. The game suggested I cut back on my portion size and stop eating after 9 p.m., which has worked fine, but it could do a lot more. The Hula-Hooping game is brilliant, and the jogging exercise seems productive, but ten minutes of cardio is hardly enough. The other exercises are paced and equally dull physically. I ended up taking hour-long walks or riding my bike to supplement this deficit just to keep from gaining weight.
The game has a few other quirks as well. For some reason, it insisted I use the male instructor on random days because the female one was busy that day. Even now, I really don’t know what to make of that quirk. It also recommended I switch to a heavier weight for the tricep bends but didn’t offer any advice on how to hold the Wiimote and a weight at the same time. But these are minor complaints for a game that, as the first of its kind, has left me in better shape than before I started exercising with it. I used the Wii Fit every morning, 6 a.m., Monday to Friday, for 8 weeks straight. I averaged 50 ‘game’ minutes per work-out. The fact that it won’t lie and say that I’m thin even though it has been 8 weeks…is perhaps only fair. There have still been rewards: I’ve started eating smaller portions, toned my body, and cut back on my beer drinking. And it’s all thanks to that fat little version of myself cheerily encouraging me to keep at it.
Whether or not using real world benefits in a video game is valid game design may be beside the point; when I finally whittle my Mii down to size it will still be one of the greatest rewards a game has ever given me.