Digital World: Wii Fit: A virtual rudeness workout for your health

The Wii Fit system can be turned into a virtual personal trainer through interactive fitness activities and games.

By DAVID SHAMAH
June 9, 2009 10:05
Digital World: Wii Fit: A virtual rudeness workout for your health

Wii fit system 88 248. (photo credit: Courtesy of Wikimedia)

 
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Been putting on a few kilos lately? Still working on getting rid of that weight you put on over Pessah? There's only one way to do it - and that way includes exercise. So now what? You don't want to shlep off to the gym; you just know that all the in-shape kids are looking at you with dread, saying to themselves, "Man, did s/he let him/herself go!" Besides, it's expensive. There's always the treadmill - if you don't mind the boring repetitiousness of running in place. And forget the community pool; with school out, you'll barely get a lap in before swimming into the middle of a kids' water volleyball game. Short of getting an expensive personal trainer, what can you do to get in shape? Get a virtual personal trainer - in the form of the Wii Fit system (http://tinyurl.com/nmoxnw), an accessory of the Nintendo Wii gaming console (http://tinyurl.com/m3ftad). Thanks to the Wii Fit, we have a new term - "wiicersize" - referring to the interactive fitness activities and games you can play using the system. With the Wii Fit, you can box, jog, do yoga and sit-ups, or activities that help improve your internal balance, guided by a virtual "personal trainer" (they come in male and female varieties). But beware: These trainers have a sharp tongue, throwing insults at users it decides aren't in good enough shape (http://tinyurl.com/3fapbo). Unlike personal trainers who get out of line, you can't fire these two! The Wii console itself, if you're not familiar with it, allows you to interact with your TV, using a remote control to control your on-screen avatar while playing games. Your game avatar does exactly what you do on this side of the screen. In tennis, for example, when you swing at the ball, your on-screen persona hits it, sending it back over the net, as in a "real" tennis match. You get the experience and activity of playing tennis without having to actually go to a tennis court. The Wii Fit takes this interactivity even further, enabling you to participate in a virtual boxing match, aerobic-step activity, or strength-training exercises, with the system measuring your activity and how effective the workout is. In the Wii Fit virtual aerobic step, for example, the system evaluates how well you did based on how you kept pace with the on-screen trainer leading the exercise. The better you "step right," putting your feet on the Wii Balance Board accessory (http://tinyurl.com/2gmgjw) that comes with the Wii Fit system (which also acts as a scale, measuring weight and BMI), the higher your score. As you exercise, your on-screen personal trainer guides you, giving you helpful tips on how to do the exercise ("tighten your abs," "really extend your legs"), as well as what are supposed to be inspiring affirmations ("while you work out, visualize your ideal body"). Until a few months ago, Wii Fit, and Wii systems altogether, were hard to come by. But since February or so they have been in plentiful supply - meaning they'll be easy to find if you're traveling abroad this year (the Ben-Gurion Airport duty-free stores have a good supply as well). Note that there are hundreds more activities for the Wii system itself other than workout programs: adventure, role playing, sports, music interactivity, etc. (check out the Amazon Wii game page at http://tinyurl.com/nytgsr). Also note that many "true gamers" who prefer Microsoft's xBox or Sony's Playstation 3 have nothing but contempt for the Wii, which they consider far inferior in graphics. But none of the competition has an interactive exercise system as sophisticated as the Wii Fit. When the system was introduced last year, it sold out almost immediately (along with the Wii consoles needed to run it), and a shortage developed that extended into the early months of this year (whether it was one of those "engineered shortages," as speculated at http://tinyurl.com/l2m6sd, is still an open question). Wii Fit isn't the only virtual exercise program, but it is credited with kicking off the current craze - and it's still by far the runaway best-seller. A new exercise program by Electronic Arts (http://tinyurl.com/ndkq46) that makes use of the Wii Balance Board and has workouts like the Wii Fit has gotten some good buzz online, and many users are happy with My Fitness Coach (http://tinyurl.com/qwp9pf) and Gold's Gym Cario Workout (http://tinyurl.com/n5u8ag). Wii systems cost between $250 and $350 depending on where you buy them, while the Wii Fit exercise package costs about another $100, with the balance board included. For less than $500, you get access to a "personal trainer" who will lead and inspire you to get in shape. That's a lot cheaper than a gym membership. But is it effective? Can you lose weight or get in shape as effectively with a Wii Fit's virtual trainer as you can with a real one? That depends who you ask. Some criticize the whole virtual exercise thing (there are now four major packages for the Wii, with the Wii Fit by far the most popular), saying there's no way to prevent cheating and truly measure effectiveness without the human touch. Wii Fit advocates reply that the system is very finely and accurately tuned, and that it's very hard to cheat (that's not strictly true, as the fellow at http://tinyurl.com/lut7kh demonstrates). A Mississippi scientist (http://tinyurl.com/7nqczq) is currently studying the Wii Fit's effectiveness in fighting fat, but according to these young scientists (http://tinyurl.com/mtj9dw), there is a definite benefit to interactive Wii exercise. In the end, pros will tell you, it comes down to motivation. Now, there are two ways to motivate: positively and negatively. Personally, I find the Wii Fit's attempts at the former annoying (although I do like it when the female trainer applauds you at the end of your workout for sticking with it). Wii Fit has plenty of negative motivation, though - to the point where some accuse it of being rude. It doesn't shy away from calling you overweight or even obese based on your BMI, which many say is an inaccurate way to tell who's overweight (http://tinyurl.com/ym7yan). The virtual trainers have some choice comments for those who slack off in exercises, and if you gain weight, your avatar (called a Mii) gets fatter too! Personally, I can't think of a greater insult than being made fun of by a computer program. My first choice would be to smash the thing to pieces - but I spent too much on it. Instead, I'll make it eat its words - by working out harder. Now that's motivation! http://digital.newzgeek.com

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