When I decided to test out the new Wii Fit game system, I was sure a computer had nothing on me. I highly underestimated the power of technology.
Also, if you’re going to fool with the Wii Fit, you should stretch. That was the second place where I went wrong. At one point, I thought I pulled something in the Trapani region of my lower back. Then I looked it up, and Google informed me that Trapani is actually a region in Sicily. Good to know.
But we’ll get to all of that. When I was asked to review the Wii Fit -- the workout component for Nintendo’s wildly popular Wii system -- I immediately agreed. The Wii Fit, like the Wii console itself, has become something of a pop-culture phenomenon because of its appeal to hard-core video-game aficionados and recreational players alike. Seemingly everywhere I go, someone has a story about playing the system at a party or using it to get in better shape.
Naturally, I was skeptical. As a videogame enthusiast, I’m not all that interested in a system that’s based on a gimmick. (Instead of a traditional controller with buttons, the Wii uses motion-sensor technology to detect a player’s movement; for example, rather than bowling by pressing a button, you hold a rectangular remote and swing your arm. With the Wii Fit, you put a platform on the floor and do your exercises on and around it.) And as someone who’s been an avid gym devotee for 15 years, I doubted the Wii Fit could challenge or replace my regular exercise program.
Besides, at age 31, I recently demonstrated amazing athleticism by completing my first flip off a diving board. I’m pretty sure that qualifies me for the Olympics or something. But whatever. It was no big deal. (Contact my agent for autographs.)
Despite my video-game abilities and obvious physical vim, though, I was willing to give the Wii Fit a try. Here, then, are the notes from a workout that proved more difficult than I had anticipated.
BEFORE THE WII FIT will let me dominate it, the system needs to know my height and weight so that it can correctly calculate my awesomeness later on. I step on the platform and learn that I weigh 165 pounds. Because I’m five foot 10, my body mass index is 23.7. “That’s normal,” a gleeful computer voice chirps.
Next, I take a balancing test. For what purpose, I have no idea, but I’ve seen 2001: A Space Odyssey enough times to know that you don’t argue with a computer if you can help it. When the Wii Fit tells me to lean left, I lean left; right, and I lean right. Not so hard. A few seconds pass before the Wii issues this message: “Looks like the basic balance test isn’t your forte. Do you find yourself tripping when you walk?”
Funny. Very funny.
I threaten to strip the Wii for parts and refashion it into a decorative microwave.
Adding to the insult, my Wii Fit age is, inexplicably, 44. “That’s a difference of plus 13 years,” the infernal machine explains. “That means your body is much weaker than it should be.” I’m beginning to think technophobes are on to something.
With the preamble concluded, I’m ready to work out. There are four modes of training -- strength training, balance games, aerobics, and yoga -- but I’ll be testing only three. I don’t do yoga. Not anymore. I tried it just once at the urging of a Dallas Mavericks dancer, who merrily twisted me into impossible positions. In the end, she laughed and I was immobile for the better part of a week.
I still think about it sometimes late at night -- usually while in the fetal position.
I THINK this stupid machine is broken. On the jackknife/abs exercise, I score 90 points and learn that I have “amazing abs.” I do equally well on the lunges, scoring 100. In both the abs and lunges categories, I earn the label Bodybuilder. Hard to argue.
But when it comes to torso twists, simply turning one way and then the other, I record a lowly 41. It’s just twisting; arthritic septuagenarians could do better. Worse, when it’s time for doing push-ups, something at which I normally excel at my real-world gym, I earn zero points. Nothing. Zip. Most humiliating of all, the computer tags me with the title Couch Potato.
Which is true -- I am. But how does it know? Is the computer reading my mind?
I don’t like it when a machine is smart enough to get inside my head. Suddenly, I’m paralyzed with fear that an army of Wii Fits are mobilizing to enslave their owners and become our electronic overlords. Beware.
OF ALL THE activities, the balance games are the most enjoyable. In soccer, kids fire balls at my noggin, and I have to lean one way or the other to head them. In the ski jump, I keep my knees bent and my weight forward before standing up at the end of the ramp in order to gain the maximum distance. I do fine in both of these pursuits.
I do far less well, though, in slalom skiing and tightrope walking. In the slalom, I hit almost every gate on my way down the course. Bode Miller won’t have to worry about me at next year’s world championships. Tightrope walking is even worse. A tightrope connects one rooftop to another, with nothing but a terribly long fall in between. I make it just a few feet before my character plunges to what must be a very gruesome virtual death indeed.
“Unbalanced!” the computer cries out.
Maybe so, but it’s fun nonetheless. Also, shut up.
IT SHOULD BE NOTED before we go further that I’m the least aerobically fit 31-year-old within three states, maybe four. I’ve only run once in the last 10 years; I went five miles with a 43-year-old female friend. She destroyed me. At one point, I begged her to stop. I think so, anyway. My memories are hazy. It’s possible that I blacked out.
And while I excel at the Wii Fit’s hula-hoop game -- you simply move your hips in a circle, just as you would in real life -- I nearly go into cardiac arrest during the basic run, which is a total misnomer, by the way.
While holding the motion-sensitive remote in one hand, you run in place for five minutes. No sweat, right? Except I start panting, oh, let’s see … about 17 seconds in. Not long thereafter, the aforementioned salami begins weighing me down like an anchor. I suppose that shouldn’t be surprising -- about a year ago, I went to a party and ate my weight in delicious cheese cubes. On the way home, I cramped up and got a terrible pain behind my rib. My friends called it my “cheese rib.”
I love food, and yet it hates me.
Halfway through the run, a miracle happens. No, I don’t suddenly breathe better or run faster, and the lactic acid doesn’t ebb either. Instead, my brain clicks on and I realize that the motion-sensitive controller recognizes only that I’m pumping my arms. I stop moving my legs altogether. “Good job!” the Wii Fit tells me as I swing my arms furiously.
Heh. The stupid computer isn’t so smart after all.