Saturday, June 14, 2008

Reach Your Fitness Goals, the Severed Panda Head Way

Some friends of ours got Wii Fit, so we had a chance to try it out yesterday. In a nutshell, most of the horrible things you've heard about it are true, but it's more fun than you might think.

Wii Fit got some negative press when it was first released because it told some guy's 10 year old daughter that she was fat. Nintendo apologized and said BMI isn't necessarily accurate for "younger age groups". Or for anyone else, I might add.

I figured maybe the Wii Fit had some other fun stuff in it, if you just didn't do the BMI measurement part. That turned out to be partly true, but the system won't *let* you not do the BMI part. At the beginning, you select your Mii and then it asks you your height and date of birth, and then you step on and it weighs you and calculates your BMI. You can't get past that part to get straight to the game.

The BMI thing is interesting. They obviously thought parts of it through pretty carefully, even though the entire premise is ridiculous. You step on and it asks you how much your clothing weighs (!), and then it tells you your BMI. And then in an awful but hilarious twist, your Mii expands to reflect how fat it thinks you are. It never displays your weight on the screen; in fact, you have the option of using a password to protect your weight so that nobody else can ever look at it (of course, if they know your height and the BMI formula then they can calculate your weight). It does tell you if you are "Underweight", "Normal", "Overweight", or "Obese". It doesn't use the word "Fat", so the news stories about Wii Fit telling that girl she was "Fat" must not have been quite right. Anyway, for some reason I found it kind of funny standing there waiting for it to tell me how fat I am. I was thinking that 5 years ago I would have been really bothered by a game calling me "Obese" in front of my friends, but now not so much. In fact, I was probably the least bothered out of all of us, since I knew there wouldn't be any surprises. Some others got called "Overweight", which was pretty surprising. Everyone took it well, though, and I don't think anyone plans to go on a crash diet or start purging as a result of the label. But one extremely messed up thing is that not only does the game tell you that it is best to be "Normal", but it also says that within the "Normal" range, people with a BMI of 22 are the "least likely to get sick". One of us had a BMI of a little over 23, which is in the "Normal" range, but the game told that person that they should really aim for 22. Of all the BMI nonsense, that was the one thing that made me blow a gasket. I guess you can never be Normal enough!

After the BMI test comes the balance test. This I found extremely strange. Does anyone out there who knows Japanese culture care to generalize as to whether the Japanese are obsessed with posture and balance? Because I definitely got that feeling, but it could just be this game. You get a lecture about how putting more weight on one leg when you stand causes you to have bad posture, which in turn will somehow cause you to be less healthy -- and to get fat! (Don't ask me what the connection is.) You have to stand on the pad for several seconds and then it shows you where your "center of balance" was during that time and how much it moved. The goal is to have it right in the middle and perfectly still. Then you get this test where you have to lean a certain amount to the left or right and hold it exactly there for three seconds, and if you move out of the correct range then it starts the three seconds over. There are five tasks like this and they're all timed. It's a pretty hard task (especially when you've had a cocktail or two). I did well, but one person did so hilariously badly that a couple of us broke out into uncontrollable laughter verging on tears. At the end of the balance test, the game gives you a score, and if you do poorly it tells you that you have bad balance and asks, "Do you find yourself tripping a lot when you walk?"

Once you've finished the balance test, you get your Wii Fit Age. Somehow it takes your real age and then it figures out how old you really seem. Your Mii stands there looking nervous and drumming its fingers together while the Wii calculates your Age, and then you get a big number on the screen. I figured it would tell me I was really old because of my BMI, but surprisingly I was the youngest in the group by far. We're all in our late 20s/early 30s, but our Wii Fit Ages were 31, 39, 41, and 51. I was the 31, which was described as "+1" meaning that my Wii Fit Age is one year more than my actual age. Er, OK, my 31st birthday is less than a week away -- which Wii Fit knows perfectly well since it asked for my birthday -- but whatever. Anyway, I'm not sure exactly how the Wii Fit Age is calculated, but it is obvious that the balance test is the most important thing. The 51 year old in our group tried the balance test again and instantly took off 20 years with a performance that was much less hilarious than the first time (and surprisingly, this was *after* a shot of tequila).

After you get your Age, you get to set a goal. The goal is very narrowly defined to mean a *weight* goal. I find this terribly lame, but on the positive side, the goal can be anything you want including no change at all. The game doesn't judge your goal. The "Normal" person in our group decided to gain 22 lbs. in two weeks, thereby moving into the "Overweight" category. I thought the game might try to discourage this or issue a reminder about how great it is to be "Normal", but it didn't say anything. In fact, later when the Personal Trainer came on the scene, he actually used the goal as motivation during a workout: "Come on! You need to gain 22 lbs.!" We didn't play around too much with the weight goals, but there don't seem to be any limits. Although I appreciate the lack of prescriptivism in some respects, I think this could be dangerous in the hands of a child or a stupid person, or especially a stupid child. (Or, on a more serious note, a person with an eating disorder.)

Finally after you go through all that body testing stuff, you get to the game. There's a lot of yoga and aerobics stuff we didn't try. We basically focused on the balance games. Which are hilarious. There is a slalom ski course and a ski jump, both fun. Then there's a table with a hole in it where you have to tilt the table to roll a ball (which, weirdly, has your Mii's face on it) into the hole. That one is hard. And then there is a tightrope, where you kind of pick your feet up a little bit to simulate walking, but you try not to lean too much or your Mii plunges to his/her death. The best part about the tightrope game is the Jaws of Death. After you make it 19 yards on the tightrope, the Jaws of Death come at you (because, you know, walking on a tightrope isn't enough of a challenge). You have to squat and then quickly stand up, at the exactly the right moment, to simulate jumping over the Jaws of Death. None of us was able to time the jump correctly, so the record stands at 19 yards. But the best balance game (so far) is definitely soccer. You stand there while a bunch of kids line up and kick soccer balls at you in rapid succession, and you have to shift your weight to position your Mii's head in the right place to head the balls away, and you get points for every ball you head. But the trick is that it's not just soccer balls coming at you. For every four or five soccer balls, instead of a ball some kid will throw a foreign object at you (see, this is why I'm not having kids), which subtracts points if it hits you in the head. One such object is a soccer shoe (with cleats, as I recall). The other is THE SEVERED HEAD OF A PANDA. And no, I am totally not making this up. The problem with the panda head is that from a distance it looks like a soccer ball, but just as it approaches you realize there's some red on it (THIS WOULD BE THE PANDA'S BLOODY NECK STUMP) so you have to shift your weight away from it quickly or lose 3 points. What can I say, it's fun, until you think about it.

In fact, I'd say Wii Fit is like one big severed panda head. Yes, it is furry and fun to play games with, but ultimately it's a dead panda.


Sweet Machine said...

Holy shit! I am blown away by the severed panda head. Did the tequila make that better or worse?

Mary said...

Yeah, really, in all the media coverage about Wii Fit you'd think someone would have thought to mention the severed panda head. Which I would say is definitely better (or less bad, anyway) after tequila. In fact, I can't recommend that anyone try Wii Fit soccer without first taking in considerable amounts of alcohol and/or other mind-altering substances.

Mark 7 said...

Great post - I'll be back for more.

I've been looking for the Wii Fit, it's the reason I bought the Wii in the first place. Finding one is as much of a challenge as getting the machine.

Maybe that is part of their marketing strategy?

Mary said...

Hi Mark, thanks, and welcome!

You may be right about the marketing strategy...

So I see from your profile that you're in Temecula. My friend got Wii Fit in Rancho Cucamonga, which is about an hour from you. I could find out the name of the store for you if you're up for a road trip.

meerkat said...

I finally tried this game today because my friend got a copy. I was looking forward to the severed panda head, but I think the red part is actually the mouth rather than the bloody neck stump (hard to be sure because they move pretty fast).

I put in my height as the maximum it would go, 250 cm. My mom put in her best guess and got her Mii blown up to obese. She was considering getting this game but decided against it. I already knew I would hate it, but I nevertheless enjoyed the skiing part, and with some practice I might get the hang of the soccer part.

Mary said...

OK, it's been a while so I guess I can't dispute the idea that the red stuff is a mouth. And my friends ended up returning their copy of the game to the store, so I may never know for sure, unless you can get me a screen shot. :) Either way, I still like the bloody neck stump idea better!