Wii, SCHMEE... When I first learned of Wii Sports I may actually have yawned. The mere thought of interactive video versions of baseball, bowling, boxing, tennis and golf seemed pointless to a girl whose major draw to athletics were marbleized bowling balls, crocheted golf club covers and a handsome tennis pro correcting my backhand. Yes, there's a competitive streak beneath my I-could-care-less facade, but pitting myself against two-dimensional, Weeble-like cartoon figures hardly seemed a way to satisfy my secret killer instinct, let alone help me lose a few pounds.
But here's the shocker: I love Wii sports. I may have permanently crippled my right arm and will most likely need to see my chiropractor to have him unlock my left hip, (more on these side effects later), but this doyenne has gone gaga for a pentathalon of dorky, TV-screen games. Amazing indeed, but the road to Wii love was winding.
My original lack of enthusiasm for Wii Sports may have been fostered by an article in the Chicago Tribune. The piece described how Wii-bowling fever had swept a local retirement community. According to the story, 72-year-old Flora Dierbach and her husband found tossing air balls down a virtual alley "addictive." I was certainly pleased that Flora and her hub had found a new pastime, but I balked at the prospect of pretending to roll a big fat ball of nothing at my own TV for fun. I am, after all, a good decade-and-a-half younger than the Dierbachs and still able to hurl a real ball of something heavy down an actual lane. (The fact that I haven't done so since the early 90s requires only the briefest mention here as I know I could blast a fast one if I really wanted to...) But I mentioned the Trib piece to an aide at my mom's assisted living facility and was surprised when she said, "Oh, Wii bowling is a total hoot... even if you're sober, which is more than I can say for the real thing."
Wondering just when my mother's caregiver might choose to get toasted for a bout of real bowling was unsettling, but the gal's enthusiasm about Wii made me feel as if I might have been hasty in my judgements. Further research seemed essential.
I put in a call to my 17-year-old nephew.
Naturally, Mack had copious experience with all five Wii Sports and was happy to educate me. Here's what he said: "[Nintendo] sacrificed the more advanced graphics and more traditional gameplay of say, the PS3 or XBox 360, for the fun, easy-to-use motion technology that makes the Wii what it is. Whereas the other two systems cater to hardcore gamers, the Wii is accessible to everybody." My first reaction was, "Gosh. The boy is freaking articulate." (I'm his aunt for God's sake.) But the thought bubble above my head as I tried to comprehend the first half of his input read: "Huh?" Happily, the final part of his assessment was accessible even to the likes of me, and seemed to indicate that I might actually be able to play Wii Sports. But what kinds of experiences might my peers have had with the system?
I posted a query on a women writers' website and 48-year-old humorist and author, Donna Cavanaugh was kind enough to respond. It was Donna's college-aged daughter who introduced the games to the Cavanaugh home, but before long, Donna and her husband had taken a shine to bowling and tennis in particular. "I didn't think I'd like it as much as I did," she confessed. "The bowling alley sound effects do make you feel as if you're on a real lane, and one of the best things about Wii tennis is that no one's in the stands making fun of you if you're really bad at it." Asked if she missed the alcohol-enhanced ambience of a true bowling establishment, Donna disclosed that she and her friends have indulged in Margarita-and-snacks Ladies Nite tourneys of bowling, followed by muscle-relaxing soaks in the hot tub.
Sadly, the floor of my ancient Brooklyn apartment would never support the weight of a Jacuzzi, but the heft of a pitcher of Margaritas seemed manageable. My impressions of Wii Sports were beginning to morph. That said, Donna advised me to be cautious. "The one thing you need with Wii Sports is enough space to flail your arms. Otherwise you can do real damage to your home and competitors. It's also fairly important to strap on the [player] remote so you don't hurl it through the TV." Points well-taken, D!
It wasn't long after my interview with Donna, that I heard from an old college pal, Jake Silverstein. In the course of our email banter Jake acknowledged having done his own share of Wii bowling with his wife and two kids. On the minus side of his evaluation he observed that the faux game displayed a "shocking lack of fried food" compared to the real thing, but Wii's echoey alley sounds sparked positive memories of "crinkle cut French fries." He also confessed that the games brought out a strain of competitiveness that neither he nor his wife had suspected as running through the family fabric. "Suddenly we were all sneaking in behind-the-scenes practice sessions. My wife would practice and go sort of Zen on us. In the right state of mind she'd wipe us out, but that only meant that no one wanted to play with her."
In addition to bringing out the shark in players, both Silverstein and Cavanaugh conceded that Wii game forays provided more of a workout than they'd expected. Per Cavanaugh: "The day after I first played, my right arm was sore. It took me a while to figure out that it was from hitting the [air] ball so hard. The harder you throw or hit the ball, the more of a workout you get."
It was the workout element of Wii Sports that finally nudged me into asking for a console and software for my birthday. The games might be silly, I thought, but if they can help me sweat off an ounce or two, what's the harm? Isn't that what addicts say about one little hit? And so it was with me. One little hit of the air ball and I was hooked. But surprisingly, it was my left hook that made me happiest.
Despite finding bowling and golf fun, tennis and baseball fantastic, it's Wii boxing I consider a knockout. Could it be the stress-reduction quotient? The private vs. public release of aggression so valuable in a place like New York? Or merely the fact that you use both arms when other Wii games employ only a dominant appendage? Whatever the reasons, I'm happiest in mid-wallop, which is great considering that of all Wii sports, boxing is the one that burns the most calories. In fact, researchers have found that Wii Sports provide more of a workout than the more recently released Wii Fitness routines. Of course no Wii game involves the same level of exertion as its real counterpart, (see info at top right for details), but that doesn't mean Wii Sports don't require a warm-up as much as any other form of exercise— especially if the last game you played was a round of Putt-Putt in 1971.
Doctors have found that Boomers jump into Wii Sports with the same level of abandon and overkill that they bring to actual play arenas, and this can cause unforeseen strains and injuries. Consider the New York Times columnist who required surgery on his rotator cuff after delivering a singularly wicked Wii tennis ace. Or the Minnesota couple cited in a Wall Street Journal article as suffering shoulder and back pains after three hours of play on Wii's lanes and courts. Orthopedists report that cases of "Wii elbow," the video-game-player's version of tennis elbow, are on the rise as well. But perhaps the most extreme injury caused by Wii, albeit by a fall taken during a Wii Fitness program, is the persistent genital arousal disorder experienced by Amanda Flowers of Manchester, England. According to a Fox News story, Amanda reports that the sexual urges she experiences as often as ten times a day can sometimes build up "into a trembling orgasm."
My Wii warrior wounds aren't nearly so fun. As mentioned above, my right arm was temporarily paralyzed by over-enthusiasm, and the alignment of my left hip has been out of whack since I delivered a homer to left field during a Wii baseball at-bat. Snicker if you will, but learn from my mistakes and take advantage of the warm-up exercises detailed at bottom right before you gear up. And remember: "Moderation in all things."
Of course such radical physicality isn't needed to rank high in the annals of Wii Sports victories. A well-executed flick of the wrist can produce the same score results as a grunt-inducing lunge or swing. In fact, in 2007 an 84-year-old Wii bowler trounced a 74-year-old real bowler at the interactive video game, proving that subtlety is a skill to be fostered for a lifetime.
Of course by now you've gathered that my final appraisal of Wii Sports is far from subtle. It's an unlikely love story for certain, but as it turns out— Wii were made for each other.
Real Baseball burns 7.3 calories per minute.
Wii Baseball burns 4.5 calories per minute.
Real Bowling burns 7.2 calories per minute.
Wii Bowling burns 3.5 calories per minute.
Real Boxing burns 10.2 calories per minute.
Wii Boxing burns 7.2 calories per minute.
Real Golf burns 3.9 calories per minute.
Wii Golf burns 3.1 calories per minute.
Real Tennis burns 8.1 calories per minute.
Wii Tennis burns 5.3 calories per minute.
Don't laugh. Warming up before you dive into a session of Wii anything is the way to go. British chiropractor, Tim Hutchful, recommends the following easy ways to prep for a Wii Sports workout. He also cautions players to take regular rest breaks— "every 45 minutes for most people, but 20 to 30 minutes for those who do not exercise regularly." Hutchful also cautions: "Don't forget— pain is a warning sign, so if you feel any pain, no matter how slight, stop!"
MAKE A FIST With your arm held at a right angle from the elbow, make a fist and tense it. Hold the tensed fist for 2 to 3 seconds. Release and allow arm to fall to your side. Repeat 3 times.
STRETCH YOUR WRIST With your arm fully extended, slowly stretch your wrist backwards and hold at the farthest-stretched point for 2 to 3 seconds. Next, slowly stretch wrist forward, hold stretch for 2 or 3 seconds and relax wrist. Repeat 3 times.
STRETCH YOUR NECK MUSCLES Slowly bend your head forward toward your chest— as if trying to make a double chin. Hold lowered head in this position for 2 to 3 seconds then slowly bring your head up. Repeat 3 times.
GIVE YOUR SHOULDERS A SHRUG Slowly raise your shoulders toward your ears in an exaggerated shrug. Hold at highest point for 2 to 3 seconds, then release. Repeat 3 times.
LOOSEN YOUR LOWER BACK Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Slowly circle hips in wide revolutions to the right 5 times. Repeat with 5 revolutions to the left.