Virtually Healthy

Wii Fit is part of this balanced breakfast, but not the main course

Wii Fit, Nintendo’s newest foray into the “doing non-game things with game systems” market, has been described as everything from a paradigm shift in the home exercise field to a $90 hula hoop. It’s neither of these, but describing Nintendo’s featherweight workout program inaccurately is amusing, as it is itself an inaccurate description of something more complex.

There is a danger to Wii Fit. With Wii Sports, a cartoonish and technically inaccurate representation of baseball, no one would believe that they’re trying out for MLB. But the similarly outlandish aerobic façade of Wii Fit has the capacity to fool optimistic users into believing that they’re getting the whole workout experience. They aren’t, and while the prospect of using a game to trick people into becoming interested in fitness is a tantalizing one, the possibility of a backlash—that Wii Fit inadvertently becomes “enough” exercise for millions of users—is an alarming one.

It’s another one of Nintendo’s softly Spartan “Apple goes console” set-ups. Get your Mii out of virtual mothballs, enter your height and age, step on the included Balance Board, set some goals, and get to work. The exercises maintain the kind of brightly austere atmosphere popularized by Wii Sports. Everything is shiny and easy to understand, leaving complexities and difficulties for the translation between the user’s movements and what happens onscreen. Wii Fit’s interface easily allows anyone to figure out what to do, even if the how of it is initially beyond them.

While Wii Fit’s presentation gets high marks for its delivery, the content itself—the meat of that aforementioned what—leaves much to be desired. Observe, for example, Wii Fit’s reliance upon BMI. BMI, or body mass index, measures body fat as a ratio of weight and height. Wii Fit calculates this automatically so that end-users aren’t unnecessarily straddled with fitness and math. What they are straddled with is a formula which is, at its core, a gross oversimplification of the intricacies underlying an individual’s true fitness.

In my case, my BMI of 27.4 (5 feet 8 inches, 180 lbs.) is two and a half points above BMI’s “overweight” threshold—enough to cause Wii Fit to transform my Mii into a dumpy little spud. It’s a great incentive for me to set some goals and possibly stomp a couple of Balance Boards into oblivion in the process—if I didn’t already have a 32-inch waist.

I’m not saying that I’m some kind of Schwarzeneggerian titan (unless it works, ladies), but variables like the approximate 18 percent difference in density between muscle and fat show that BMI by itself does little to accurately measure a person’s total fitness. For Nintendo to use this as a basis for Wii Fit’s calculations is a risky proposition.

Did Nintendo have other options? I wouldn’t go so far as to suggest Wii Glucometer or Wii Signed Note from Physician peripherals, but a Wii Tape Measure with instructions on various body measurements and a more complex calculation that takes them into account, for instance, would have done wonders to improve the system’s accuracy. It wouldn’t be any more embarrassing than doing yoga in your socks on a Balance Board, and although the potential exists for doctoring the numbers, Wii Fit already trusts the user to tell the truth about their height, their age, their birth date, and the accuracy of their Mii’s hairline, so that’s not really an issue.

That’s not the only problem Wii Fit suffers from. Interaction with the Balance Board ranges from intuitive to infuriating; some exercises would have been better served by a different input system altogether. Focusing on low-impact exercises, though understandable, isn’t going to work any miracles. The system itself seems to grant neither reward nor punishment to users whose programs are well-rounded, or for those who choose to focus on their own problem areas. Once all of the exercises are unlocked (and yes, you have to actually unlock many of them), there’s not much to do but repeat them.

In all fairness, I’m being a little harsh. The Good Morning Americas of the world have blown the Wii Fit thing out of proportion, prompting legions of housewives to take what should be considered a fun, small part of a larger health-and-fitness regimen and wish it into a self-contained panacea for a sluggish nation’s addiction to fast food and channel-surfing. The snake-oil campaign isn’t Nintendo’s; as with so many modern legerdemains, the fault lies with the public’s ravenous desire to believe their way to a better future without actually putting in the legwork.

So by all means, if that’s what it takes to get you at least thinking about the repercussions of your sedentary lifestyles, go and buy the damned thing, you McDonald’s-grazing over-rationalizing lemmings. Let the dust settle on your Chuck Norris Total Gyms and your ThighMasters and your gym membership cards, and if the harsh light of the sun casts a glare across your frantically-gesticulating Miis and threatens you with premature perspiration, just close the blinds. Nothing good ever came from working up a sweat, right?

© 2008 MetroPulse. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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