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Wii Can Make You Stronger, Faster, and for a lot less than $6M by Ernest Lilley
SFRevu Editorial  ISBN/ITEM#: EL0701
Date: January 1, 2007 /

Too many of us are science fiction fans barely alive. But there's hope for us, and it's fun. Honest.

Nintendo's Wii isn't the first computer game to move players outside the computer, but it's the first one to get any sort of real traction in the market. I'm hoping that we're on the verge of a new day not just in in computer interaction, but in the balance of what we let computers do for us, and how we use computers to make us stronger, faster, and even smarter.

It's a pretty silly name, Wii, and who knows what it stands for. Coming from Japan it could be anything, though it's probably not wireless interactive interface, which is pretty much what it is. But it's more than just another game console. It's our last best hope in the battle against the pork side.

The last time I played computer games seriously was a decade ago when they were just coming into their own with quality graphics and realistic physics. Realistic except that my favorite game was X-Wing, which replicated aerial warfare in space combat. Even so, it had pretty consistent game physics and I spent a fair number of hours with my joystick clutched tightly in hand and time slipping away unnoticed. But I put down my controller one day and haven't touched it since because I suddenly realized that with the exception of the virtual villains and very real time I'd killed I had nothing to show for my efforts. I wasn't better at anything in real life, didn't have any more friends than before, and probably had gained some weight besides.

Gaming has gotten more social over the years, though getting together with a few friends and killing people has a certain lack of defensibility when you look at it from a certain point of view, and it's still lacking when compared to pre-computer play in terms of physical skill building and exercise. Until now, that is.

I often cover consumer electronics shows and technology events for TechRevu and other publications, and I've been watching for computer gaming to step outside the box. One approach that's been pretty interesting has been pioneered by Eye-Toy, a company that uses green screens and cameras to "put" you into the action in a computer game. Though you need a PlayStation 2 to use it, the device itself costs less than $50, and comes with sports and other games. And never quite seemed to take off.

I've also seen a variety of dance interfaces come along, and these at least seem to have gotten into some homes...including my 8-14 year old nephew and niece's. I recently played Konami's "Dance Dance Revolution" against them and came away with mixed feelings. I liked the exercise portion fine, and the skill challenge as well...but calling it "dance" is a slur on a great activity. It seems to me that you could just as easily use this technology to teach dance steps and save generations to come from social trauma when they try to interact on an actual dance floor. Does this mean I'm a dance bigot? Hardly. I can jump up and down to rock and roll with the best of them, or so I recall, but until you've tried dances that involve actual moves you won't know how much fun angular momentum and kinetic energy can be. Especially with a partner.

But Wii seems to have the right idea. Rather than making the games overly complex they've taken cues from games that exist outside the set and made them accessible to everyone, young and old. If you already know how to hit a tennis, golf, or baseball you already know how to swing a Wii controller. I've seen toddlers and octogenarians wrapped up in intense games of Wii sports, breaking a sweat after fifteen minutes or so and totally engrossed. Never thinking about the fact that they're getting exercise and (hopefully) learning physical skills too.

Currently the interface is a bit rough, and the precision you can get with a real ball and bat isn't there by a long shot. But that's just a matter of time. Of course, it's no surprise that people are experiencing all sorts of sports injuries now that they've gotten up off their couches, but I'm really hoping that the first court case for Wii elbow gets thrown out by a laughing judge.

And why stop with just the physical? Maybe someday Wii, or its descendants, will encourage me to exercise my little grey cells as well as the long and short muscle fibers. It's true that computers may be able to take the effort out of almost anything given enough time, but it's not the effort I want to see us spared...just the boredom.


Our Readers Respond/Comment

From: Eric Pobirs
EyeToy is made by Sony and uses no monocolored background screen. Sony has moved well over a million units of the camera in the US and has a fair array of games usable solely with it. Third party products, like the DDR series, have also incorporated the EyeToy to get both the arms and legs engaged.

EyeToy hasn't set the world on fire but it has made a good bit of money for Sony. The funny thing is that Sony likes to tout themselves as the originators of the technology despite having a strong relationship with Harmonix, a company best known now for Guitar Hero, that was trying to sell the same stuff on PCs year before the EyeToy. And Harmonix in turn was building on products available on the Amiga in the late 80s.

The exercise value of the Wii can be greatly exaggerated. Everything can be achieved with wrist motions while planted on the couch. It's less fun that way but the exercise value is purely voluntary.

As for exercising the gray matter, have you seen Brain age on the Nintendo DS?

From: Michael Grosberg
As far as I know, "Wii" simply means "We", with the pair of "i"s instead of the "e" also serve as a graphic representation of two people standing next to each other.

Me, I'm still waiting for augmented reality games which, using some sort of semi-transparent VR goggles, overlay their game on a view of reality.

From: Ernest Lilley:
Eric's right, naturally, about the green screen. Eric is one of those folks who you wouldn't want to fenxe facts with, being a tech reviewer himself...and the owner of a license plate frame that says: I'd rather be reading Science Fiction...oh wait, I am. (or something close.)

...and Michael's comment reminds me of William Gibson's Virtual Light (1993) which I actually did read while driving from NYC to my family's homestead in VT. Mostly while stopped in holiday traffic, but only mostly...

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