Oh to Wii Active

What my inner voice will always aim for… damn you!

As a twenty something woman, it often becomes second nature to question my appearance. There’s always a discussion of the pressure on women to fit into ideals with the way we look; even in the world of games, female icons such as Lara Croft become a must do costume for cosplayers because of the image of desire she has become to so many gaming men (thanks Angelina for your help on that one!).

Given the fact that a large proportion of my time is often spent in front of a computer or the TV with a time consuming RPG, adventure or brain busting puzzle game, getting into the habit of actually doing some physical exercise can feel quite demanding, regardless of my desire to get fitter. Day by day something can or will crop up that requires making a choice between doing a workout at the gym, seeing friends or going online to bust zombie balls! To tap into a commonly used excuse, there just aren’t enough hours in the day to do it all. Due to the fact I usually opt for friends and games, needless to say I resort to being one of those annoying women who will occasionally moan about the way I look but never really dedicate enough time or commitment to actually doing anything about it.

During a normal day at the secondary school where I work, the subject of weight loss often becomes the conversation of choice with the office ladies, and needless to say the latest crazes, fad diets and home weight loss aids pass through everyone’s lips but recently out of nowhere came something I did not expect. Enter Alana; fellow twenty-something, bubbly smile with an interest in night life, shopping and apparently her Nintendo Wii. Admitting that she was not a real ‘gamer’ of sorts, even she was going home at night to play on her console thanks to a well publicised new fitness game called EA Sports Active: Personal Trainer.

Her rave review was focused on its 30 day challenge, which claims ‘a better you, in just 20 minutes’ exercise a day’. It’s almost as tall a declaration to make as not eating carbs will give you the body of an Adonis; but like any fitness trend, empty promises are often big business regardless of the truth behind them! As sceptical as I was to believe that a game could answer all my toning problems, I decided to place myself on the 30 day challenge to give it a run for its money; what was the worst that could happen? I’d still need to go to the gym four weeks on, so what’s new!

Using a Wii Remote does nothing to disguise the fact that I punch like a girl

After the soonest possible dash to my local games store I finally had my hands on the solution to my fitness needs… supposedly. Inside my theoretical miracle box was what looked like a giant orange rubber band and a Velcro Nunchuck holster. Being used to hi-tech looking machinery at the gym, I almost felt the need to shake the box like a packet of Frosties to see where the hidden surprise for my perfect body was. On initial setup the game uses personal information such as height and weight to design the workouts and also chips in questions on eating habits and lifestyle to encourage a healthy diet throughout use.

My overly pleasant personal trainer also informed me that it would be creating daily workouts from a choice of 25 activities to tone, shape and burn off the crap I ate yesterday which, if you believe what you’re told, will get rid of those midriff love handles in no time. Half way through my first work out I started to believe that it might actually be possible thanks to the sensor bar’s ability to monitor just how low I was squatting, how high I was raising my arms and the sound of my trainer pushing me to keep up! After completing my first work out I have to admit I actually felt quite tired. The familiar exercise leg wobble was definitely there, and partly due to the July heat wave I was definitely working up a bit of a sweat. 29 days to go and I wasn’t being entirely pessimistic!

It would also probably help if my living room was this bright and spacious!
It would also probably help if my living room was this bright and spacious!

After a positive start to my month’s challenge I felt rather reflective in the ability of a game to encourage me to actually do the exercise I always know I should, where other fads have failed. Thanks to motion sensor technology, the gaming market has expanded and opened up the door to more possibilities. Nintendo in particular has become rather renowned in recent years for their nifty habit of finding ways to target people who wouldn’t normally consider buying a games machine; the ability to tap into a market such as health and fitness has also brought along big business.

For Electronic Arts, EA Active has been a massive hit since its release. Sold as ‘a virtual fitness product [which] offers the benefit of a personal trainer in a box with customisable workouts that can be done from the comfort of home’, it’s a statement which was undoubtedly successful given the fact it sold 600,000 units worldwide within two weeks; it’s still a top 3 seller for online shopping sites such as Play.Com and HMV.

boxOn first impressions it’s obvious that it’s a product aimed at women. The packaging features an athletic looking lady mid punch and brings back memories of the promises found on the aerobic work out videos that often cluttered the shelves at home. Looking at the box, I couldn’t help but wonder if Nintendo had found its fitness market by just reinventing the home workout video; that its interactive design had allowed it to target that desire buried in many women, and men, to attain that perfect body and make them believe that this time, and thanks to the Wii, this product would really work.

wii3A week down the line I was actually getting into the routine of turning on and strapping up to my Nintendo Wii. Having a much appreciated rest day also allowed my legs to recover from the surprising barrage of exercise that they were getting. However not all aspects of my life were changing, and due to the fact that the nagging little voice that was telling me to squat lower wasn’t around 24/7, the rest of my lifestyle had some catching up to do. Unfortunately I think Nintendo have failed to take into account the little ‘facts’ that most people, especially women, instinctively lie about to make themselves feel better. Does a Dominos Veggie Supreme pizza count towards my 5 a day? With the point and click of a Wii Remote it does and gets me a brownie point from my personal trainer! Mmm brownies…

Being on the doorstep of the 2012 Olympic Park site, sports are a large part of the development of schools in my local area. A big factor in aiding this development is the Youth Sports Trust, an organisation which works alongside schools nation wide to encourage young people to get active. In a casual chat at work a week or so into my EA training, I discovered that our resident Youth Sports Trust manager, Nathalie Fitzgerald, has recently received funding to bring the Nintendo Wii into schools to encourage young people who would otherwise shy away from PE, to get interested in sports activities. That sneaky little machine is cropping up everywhere!

The idea that a games console had become a teaching aid came as quite a surprise. Where many parents are telling children to get off their Playstation or Xbox, some teachers are now encouraging them to pick up a Wii Remote and play; American schools have been using the Nintendo Wii for some time as part of PE lessons, some having as many as 300 consoles available to their students.

Learning this, I couldn’t help but question what evidence there is that the Wii has any significant health benefits. Logic would tell us that sitting in front of the TV waving your arms about will obviously give you more exercise than playing with a normal controller, but actual health improvement? While speaking to Jamie Sains, Head of PE at Leytonstone School, my reservations were mutual: ‘In my opinion the Wii fitness games are fantastic fun, giving gamers an innovative new experience that they have not seen anywhere else. However, it is just that – fun, and does not and will not help with the ever increasing level of childhood obesity.’

Enthusiasm for the console and its games with the younger gaming population
With enthusiasm for any activity, the Wii is often popular with the younger generation

‘As Head of PE my pupils’ exercise and diet are of close concern to me’ Jamie continues ‘and I have questioned many pupils on this matter as well as seeing their diets first hand. Many of our pupils eat ‘chicken and chips’ for dinner 5 days a week. Some eat it for lunch and dinner 5 times a week. Many of the parents of these pupils advocate this diet and even fund it. The benefit of Wii fitness games is a ‘catch 22’ situation in my opinion. Children who are already unfit and not exercising enough will use the Wii as a short term attempt while the novelty is still there, but after time will undoubtedly fall back into old habits without support, healthy diet and positive lifestyle change.

‘Children who are educated in healthy eating, good and regular exercise through supportive parental influence and guidance will use Wii sports games as an easy and fun alternative to their regular conventional exercise but – they don’t need it! The children that will or do use the Wii as an alternative fun exercise are most probably the ones that are educated enough about exercise and diet that it isn’t going to benefit them anyway. The ones that wouldn’t use it because they lack the education, support or desire to lead a healthy lifestyle are the ones that need it most.’ In the day of the couch potato you feel compelled to agree that the Wii could have a positive influence on people of all ages to get active, but only if they really want to make a change and have the will power to make it stick – isn’t that the downfall of us all?

As part of my attempt to delve deeper into the mindset of Wii players, and with the thought provoking ideas from Jamie, I began to pick the minds of the biggest collection of gamers I could get my hands on – the Leytonstone School staff and students; all 950 of them! I was quite shocked at the response and eagerness to my need of Wii owners; too many questionnaires to manage later, my thirst for knowledge was in need of a much earned rest. Children and staff alike were responding to the console’s popularity, and from their answers several things became apparent.

Boys and men who owned a Wii were still more interested in consoles such as a Playstation 3 or Xbox 360 and showed little interest in fitness games such as personal trainer, whereas the girls and women although not consistently agreeing that it was always successful in making them feel any fitter, said that the range of fitness games had a big influence on their decision to buy a Nintendo Wii in the first place.

During a Wii play session with a small group of students my general findings were ringing true. Having disliked PE at school, the thought of being able to play on a Wii instead seemed quite appealing, but today’s students surprisingly say no! The general census enjoyed doing sports such as football, basketball or cricket and liked the fact they could run around rather than being tied to a TV. The girls seemed much more positive about the fitness games and agreed there was an appeal, but that their older sisters or parents tended to play them more. Although the kids loved their games, they liked playing sports with their friends more, and as Jamie had predicted aside from their love of sports, these students were educated in being fit and active enough to not fall for the gimmick on the side of a box. Kids these days have a lot to teach us!

Leytonstone School students give the Wii a thumbs up for fitness fun, but still reach for their footballs!
Leytonstone School students give the Wii a thumbs up for fitness fun, but still reach for real tennis rackets and footballs!

Three weeks down the road of my EA Active challenge and after a particularly gruelling round of virtual inline skating, I wondered why in a world where the importance of healthy living is constantly reinforced, people still place their trust in products which will inevitably not be as good as the real thing. Busy lifestyles, lack of money or that fear of going into a gym where people will probably be fitter and in better shape than you; all are possible and probably have far more influence over people’s decisions than needing to get fit alone. Being able to regularly take part in a football game or a round of tennis with friends fades in adulthood without the constant positive influence and work of teachers like Jamie. It paves the way for over hectic lifestyles, bags of self doubt, and more importantly droughts of will power but plenty of excuses.

The fitness genre has obviously been successful in targeting people wanting more active lifestyles as the games are consistent high sellers, even if their ability to help people actually get fitter isn’t guaranteed. Organisations like the Youth Sports Trust, and teachers such as Jamie are reaching out to young people and are giving them the confidence to take part in other sporting activities, sometimes with the help of the console and its games, and will hopefully encourage them to stay active as they get older. A big issue in adults being able to take a more proactive step in fitness or weight loss is having to do just that while fitting it into a lifestyle, be it jobs, children or a mixture of both after years of routine living their lives in a less healthy way.

After a month I'm getting a dab hand at this!

While games such as EA Active appear to offer solutions to the lifestyle factors that stop many people reaching for a treadmill rather than a Slimfast and balance board, undoubtedly nothing can claim to be better than the real thing. After 30 days of taking part in the EA Active Challenge, I still find myself having to choose between games, friends or turning on my Wii and strapping my nunchuck to my leg. It feels like less of an ordeal when it’s in front of me, but do I actually feel more compelled to choose that over everything else? If I’m honest, probably not, but until I change my mindset and take responsibility for my own fitness, the lack of improvement will only ever lie with me.

It’s no miracle cure, but after a month of training I lost 2 pounds, I feel more proactive and probably a little more toned, but in perspective only more than I would do after a month of nothing at all. I know a more proactive lifestyle of gym sessions and healthy eating would have a much stronger impact on my health and shape, but Nintendo have offered a more easily accessible workout to people who might not have the time, means or will power to seek other options. As they say, something is better than nothing, and people will hopefully use games such as EA Active as a stepping stone to greater health and not as the only solution. Now if they only made a game to target determination and will power, then we’d all be talking!







10 responses to “Oh to Wii Active”

  1. The Rook avatar
    The Rook

    Great blog Loz.

    I bought EA Active a while back but haven’t started it yet. Still need to finish reading the instructions before I start, the manual did however surprise me. Never before have I read a manual which advised me to take care to avoid death. :O

    Healthy diet, plenty of exercise, these are not things I do well. I do have a good little walk between the bus stop and work each day, but I don’t walk as much as I used to.

    I have heard a few people say good things about using EA Active and I must try giving it a go at some stage. For now thou, I’m off for a cheesecake breakfast. 😀

  2. Mark avatar

    Cool, I often get people ask me which of these new fangled excercise-wii-mabobs works best, so I’ll point them in this direction.

    Oh, and do you mean “Ode to Wii Active”? Just wondering 😛

  3. Loz avatar

    no just an oh, as in “oh i really should get off my butt and do something!”

  4. Michael avatar

    I thought it was “Ode” too, for a teeny tiny second, but I figured you wouldn’t have made such a mistake! So, a bit like “Oh to be active?” then? 🙂

    A very good feature, Loz,and kudos for persevering! Would you continue with the regime, even if it’s not as effective as gym sessions, due to that time factor?

    Oh, and random photo fact; the curtains in my living room are virtually identical to those ones. Fact.

  5. MrCuddleswick avatar

    Wow, I very much enjoyed reading about your month – I see a BBC Three ‘quest ‘ show special in the making. Or at least a slot on The One Show!

    I think I’ m at the same conclusion – quick fixes are offered up, and people take them, but the decision to modify one’s lifestyle and stick to it has to be followed up on by the individual.

    I have my vices, and I have thus far failed to kick them. They wouldn’t be so appealing if they were easy to give up I guess.

  6. Darach avatar

    Are there no lengths a Ready-Upper won’t go to for a great blog?! 😮


    Really, it does seem strange doesn’t it? Many of us have seen the whole ‘accessible gaming’ scene over at Nintendo as a kind of ‘entry-level gaming’.

    Maybe now with their ‘lifestyle games’, we’re seeing a kind of ‘entry-level life’.

    🙂 It’s life… but a bit easier, and with smaller rewards 🙂

    Oh, and next time there’s a review needed for “Wii Lazy” or “Wii Lie-About-On-The-Sofa-And-Eat-Crisps” I vote that you should get the job, you definately earned it 😉

  7. Loz avatar

    thanks for the really positive replies guys, after alot of hard work its nice to know that people enjoyed reading it!!

  8. Lorna avatar

    I really enjoyed this feature and the responses of the school children was especially interesting…at least the younger generation isn’t as couch potato oriented as we may think.

    I also suffer formt he can’t be arsed but will moan regardless syndrome and you are quite right…regardless of how you do it and what fad you do it with, it comes down to will power and perseverence which are so much more rare.

  9. alva avatar

    that is me in the first photo aarrgghh!!!!!

  10. Loz avatar

    It certainly is Alva! thanks again for all your help and enthusiasm!

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