Today one of my colleagues was in conversation with a national newspaper journalist when the inevitable comparison between Gamercize and Wii Fit came up. This in itself is not surprising, because Gamercize is based on cardiovascular fitness machines, and Wii Fit has "Fit" in the name (and herein lies part of the problem).
Nintendo has been great news for Gamercize. We love you guys! You have raised awareness of the possibility of using video games to keep fit. Without the good intentions of the Wii, I doubt Gamercize would be in so many homes, schools, offices and gyms across the world.
I'm fully aware of the customer comments from Gamercize customers, and I feel pretty good about how we are changing peoples lives for the better. I thought it was worth looking out for Wii Fit success stories, just to boost the exergaming feel good factor!
I searched for blogs that had "Wii Fit" and "Day 1" or "Diary"; when the results came back, I am sorry to say, I was in for a shock and there is a sad story to tell; Wii Fit is not working. People are actually getting worse in fitness terms or gaining weight or seeing their BMI go up, not down. So much for feeling good about exergaming!
A lot of blogs have Day 1, up to Day 4 or so and then a week of no posts before changing the subject and having posts about other things. Only one blog I have read has a success story, but that was only due to the extra exercise being done outdoors and with swimming.
I was in a very good mood, but these stories are thoroughly depressing, so I gave up looking for any more. The ramifications for exergaming of such a high profile failure are very bad. But Wii Fit includes plenty of exercise ideas, so what is the problem or what are people doing wrong?
What my colleague had said in conversation earlier came back to me:
"With Gamercize your mind is 100% in the game, and the exercise is automatic - only becoming noticeable if you stop, which pauses the game. With Wii Fit the game is 100% exercise, it's just not sustainable and its just too easy to get bored or distracted."
That's OK for Gamercize, we know that when the next big title is released, the hours of gameplay go up and the weight comes off. Not so good for Wii Fit though. 100% Exercise as an approach which falls into the same category as the unused exercise bike in the bedroom, the rower in the garage or the weights at the back of the wardrobe.
I think the 100% exercise approach explains the diaries that start off with good intentions, only to be replaced with Mario Kart Wii or any other great game titles. One blogger explained that because Mario Kart was in the Wii when it was turned on there wasn't much point in changing discs!
However, it does not explain the people trying for weeks and getting nowhere with Wii Fit. I think the problem is the hype before release making people believe they can eat what they like, never exercise again (apart from using Wii Fit) and magically they will loose weight and become overnight sports stars.
Don't forget that Nintendo officials and even the game designer say Wii Fit will not get you fit. Wii Fit adverts on TV warn that weight loss is only possible with a calorie controlled diet. Advice from designer Shigeru Miyamoto encourages people to track their health and fitness and use this knowledge for a more healthy and active lifestyle.
I would also add that weighing oneself every day is not a good idea. You should only do this once every two weeks or so as weight varies naturally over this time period. Wii Fit is not a single one step fix, give it time. If you are not motivated then try one of the other exergaming options that actually involves popular video game titles.
I hope that what has been achieved with exergaming so far is not damaged beyond repair with Wii Fit. I do hope Wii Fit is properly understood, used by the people it was intended for and generates the (health) success it deserves. A respected medical expert view echoes this post:
Dr. Goutham Rao, clinical director of the Weight Management and Wellness Center at the Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh, says of Wii Fit
"One of my bigger concerns is that it teaches that physical activity is not a part of your everyday routine," he said. "I can't see children sustaining this for very long. At best it will be a novelty for a few hours or a few days, even."
I would love to hear your stories about your own personal health benefits of Wii Fit. If you have sustained use for four weeks or more and noticed the difference to your life, not just your BMI, then post a comment and help us out here!