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Family Room

Wii Puts the “Active” in Interactive Gaming

So while Sony and Microsoft concentrated on super-powered processors and mega-gigabyte graphics cards, Nintendo was busy creating Wii, a more physically engaging, family-oriented gaming console.

"Wii sounds like ’we,’ which emphasizes that the console is for everyone," said a spokesperson for Nintendo. "With each passing year, video gaming has become an exclusive experience. The complexities of some of the newest games have alienated those who used to play games with their entire families. Wii changes all that."

To this end, the inventive system supports multi-player, interactive titles that make the most of a new wireless controller. A one- or two-handed setup, the device uses infrared detection and a combination of accelerometers to sense its position in 3D space. In other words, you wave the thing around and it moves images on your TV screen.

Parents trying to limit children’s access to virtual shoot-’em-ups and marathon mystical quests will appreciate Wii’s back-to-basics approach. The Wii Sports game that comes with the console has five different activities: boxing, bowling, golf, tennis and baseball. Anyone can jump in at a moment’s notice. Broad sweeps of the arm power a baseball bat, send tenpins flying or turn a dimpled white ball into a projectile. All without leaving the den. A second title, Wii Play, continues the fun with billiards, table tennis, laser hockey and more.

"It’s a lot of fun to use, and the movements are the types of things that might be promoted in physical therapy or occupational therapy," William Li, a medical researcher, told Time. While some doctors caution that Wii Sports may cause repetitive stress injuries, many gamers are just thrilled to get off the couch.

"Playing kickboxing on Wii is like an aerobic workout for 15 or 20 minutes," a 26-year-old nurse told Newsday. "It’s so nice to do this at home, without having to go to a gym." Another man lost nine pounds in six weeks simply by adding a 30-minute Wii Sports regimen to his daily routine.

But is the technology truly as omni-generational as Nintendo claims? Electronic Gaming Monthly put Wii to the test, taking the new console to a retirement community and setting up 74- to 86-year-olds with a variety of fun challenges. They ate it up. So much so that Mildred, one of the residents, asked EGM for Wii brochures … and a senior discount.

Newsday also noted that Wii gives people with disabilities a way to remain active. It spoke of a young girl with cerebral palsy who now plays sports from her wheelchair, as well as a teenage stroke victim who uses the games to rehabilitate his right arm.

The Wii was the clear leader in console sales through the first two months of 2007. In fact, it doubled Sony’s PS3 sales in February, proving that there’s still a market for good, clean fun. Family-friendly sells. And although serious gamers keep pressuring Nintendo to add more edgy fare, Wii currently supports only six M-rated titles, a fraction of those available for the PS3 and Xbox 360. Here’s hoping it sticks to the family plan.

Nintendo game designer Shigeru Miyamoto (the creator of Mario, Donkey Kong, Legend of Zelda and others) says the company’s goal is to keep things light and friendly. He stated, "We always want that final result, that final emotion, to be a positive one." Frankly, so do wii.

Published March 2007


Plugged In Plus
Those early concerns about Wii-related repetitive strain injuries have borne out in the years following the popular console’s debut. Excessive play has resulted in numerous reports of carpel tunnel syndrome, back pain, knee and shoulder discomfort and the equivalent of tennis elbow. The Internet has even boasted blogs and entire websites devoted to the hazards of too much Wii. That’s not to say families should avoid the game entirely, but rather play in moderation and take precautions, such as stretching the same way they would before playing actual sports.

Dr. Mark Klion, an orthopedist with the Mount Sinai School of Medicine, told Blisstree, "I’ve seen and felt times when I’m [Wii] boxing with my son, that I occasionally develop a little bit of shoulder or elbow discomfort. You’re playing an activity that you normally wouldn’t do in real life."

He noted that even when it’s a sport we do play, the dynamic is very different, which can lead to overuse. "When you play the tennis [video] game, you can hit so many tennis balls. But when you were playing outside, half the time you’d be chasing those balls. [In the game] you’re able to do a lot more in a shorter period of time. … We’ve seen a bunch of injuries from the Wii, most of them related to the upper extremities—to the shoulder, elbow and wrist."