Tech Toy of the Month: Nintendo Wii, Part I

wii_console.jpgFor those of you familiar with the Nintendo Wii, you may be wondering why I’m writing about it now, nearly a year after it was released. One reason is that there are still many people not familiar with the Wii. Even today, obtaining a Wii is pretty difficult. Most stores sell out of them nearly as soon as they get them in. So even people who are interested in a Wii have not had the opportunity to use one. Even after a year, the Wii is still very much a sought-after tech toy, with more and more people hearing about it for the first time. Since I finally got my hands on one (thanks Danelle!), I will write about my experiences with the WIi. However, the Wii has so many interesting features, that I need to write two articles. In my next article I will cover the Wii’s Virtual Console (for us old-school gamers), the Wii’s Internet connectivity, and some other features. In this article, however, I will finally answer the question everyone wants to know, can playing a video game make you sweat?

For those not very familiar with the Nintendo Wii, I’ll give a quick summary. For more details, please visit and The Nintendo Wii is a “next-generation” home video game console, roughly in the same generation as the Sony Playstation 3 and Microsoft XBox 360. However, the main difference between the Wii and other game consoles is in the way players interact with the games. Where Sony and Microsoft’s new systems are basically souped-up versions of their last systems, using pretty much the same type of handheld controllers as before, Nintendo decided to create an innovative control system. Simply speaking, the Nintendo controllers are wireless and motion sensitive. Players can control games with physical motion as well as by pressing buttons. As an example, instead of playing video game tennis by sitting on a couch and pushing buttons on a controller, you actually need to stand up and swing the controller like a tennis racket, both forehand and backhand. Swing slowly for a soft lob. Swing harder for a more powerful shot.

As expected, at least for the few games my family and I have played, this method of playing video games is quite intuitive. My girls, ages 3 and 5, are very comfortable playing the Wii games and have had a lot of fun. It literally did not take them more than a half hour to grasp the concepts of how to control the games. The first couple of nights we had the Wii, they played so much they were actually hot and a little sweaty when they were done! One unexpected side-effect of playing sport-type games on the Wii is that my girls have actually expressed some interest in the real-life sports, such as baseball.

One small word of warning. Please be careful when letting young kids play the Wii. There they will smack each other with the controllers if they are not careful! Just keep an eye on them and don’t let them wander too close to each other. Also, make sure they wear the wrist straps provided with the controllers. Already, my girls have occasionally lost their grips on the controllers during frenzied moments of gameplay and if not for the wrist straps, the controller could have hit someone or broken something (like the TV!).

In playing the boxing game on the Wii, which requires the use of a controller in each hand, I can definitely say that you do get quite a workout. While the physical motions required for the different types of punches don’t quite emulate real-life (probably only an issue for someone like me who has studied martial arts), the action of throwing hundreds of punches and moving my body around to avoid virtual punches did make me work up a sweat. I’m in pretty good shape, but I actually had some slight soreness the day after a 45-minute boxing “workout” on the Wii!

While the sport-type games for the Wii will probably require the most physical action out of a player, I can see that other games might also require significant work out of a player. For example, while I’ve not played the “Zelda” game for Wii yet, the character in the game uses a sword and shield, which requires the player to swing one controller like a sword and use the other like a shield. I can imagine that after fighting enough bad guys, players could burn a few calories!

The real significance of the Wii is that with its popularity, it is triggering a revolution* in the video game world. Remember, as advanced as the Wii’s control system seems today, it is only the first generation in what will undoubtedly be many future advancements in physical game control. I can foresee that in the not too distant future, playing video games will no longer be considered a “couch-potato” activity. Future generations will wonder how we ever had any fun playing video games using only our thumbs and fingers! And it will be very likely that the future development of physical control systems will have significance in things other than video games.

* The Wii’s “code-name” during its development was “Revolution”. Do you think Nintendo knew they were on to something big?
If you have any ideas for future Tech Toys, please let me know!