I’m “suspiciously viral PR looking”

Three things I’d do differently if I really was a viral marketing campaign:

  1. I’d hook my Wii up to a video capture card, so that the product I’m trying to virally market looks half decent instead of blurry and indistinct thanks to crappy photos of my crappy CRT television.
  2. I’d probably avoid bagging the software I’m trying to virally market; you know, by not posting about how Wii Fit encourages kids to tease their siblings for being fat.
  3. I’d certainly not post a picture drawing attention to the fact that while Australian currency is almost at parity with the US dollar, Nintendo is gouging Aussie customers — US$90 should be AU$95, not the AU$119 my boss paid, and definitely not the AU$150 RRP!

But hey — you read it on the internet, so it must be true.

My boss paid for my Wii Fit

I work in a desk job. It’s very sedentary, and the most physically taxing activity is walking to the building next door for meetings. Because of this, the office has a health and fitness policy, which allows employees to claim an allowance of $150 per year for fitness-related equipment or services: sports clothes, gym memberships, that sort of thing.

Well, I submitted my form to apply for a reimbursement for Wii Fit. And it came through no problems:

Wii Fit reimbursement

I’d been a bit worried that I’d have to explain what it was, or why a video game should be covered by the policy, but I didn’t need to. In fact, the man responsible for vetting the claims told me his son had been asking for Wii Fit, too!

If you’re thinking about buying Wii Fit, maybe you should check whether your employer offers a similar scheme?

Wii Fit tells kids to tease fat friends

There was a lot of fuss recently about Wii Fit calling kids “fat”. It’s a claim that was repeated not only in the gaming community but across the mainstream media, too.

The claim is technically false, because the software doesn’t use the word “fat”. It adopts the standard terminology used in conjunction with BMI measurements: underweight, ideal, overweight, and obese. But “fat” makes better headlines, so why let the truth intrude?

My initial reaction was “who cares”, because the weight-tracking aspect of Wii Fit is one of its biggest drawcards. I put it down to parents not paying enough attention to the games their children play.

When I thought about it a bit longer, it became apparent that there really is a problem here.

BMI is not a perfect measurement. It’s a rough guide to your fitness, but it has limitations. It doesn’t know whether your weight is made up of fat or muscle, for instance. And it is basically useless for children, because their physiology is different from an adult’s.

That’s where Wii Fit goes off the rails. One of the first things you’re asked when you register a new Mii is your age – this offers Nintendo a perfect opportunity to either lock young users out of the BMI calculations, or at the very least to explain that the BMI is not necessarily accurate and they should talk to their parents about it.

Instead, children as young as two (yes, two) can have their BMI calculated without any explanation as to its applicability to children. It’s not even clear that the BMI scores displayed are based on the alternative calculations that try to account for the differences in children’s bodies.


But it gets worse. After a couple of weeks playing, the Balance Board avatar popped up one morning and asked me how I thought my fiancée was doing: was she losing or gaining weight? Was her posture better or worse? Notwithstanding Michael Abbott’s warning to be very careful, I jokingly replied that her posture was worse, and was told to tell her what I thought, because — no joke — dogs respond better when they get feedback on their performance.

Yes, Wii Fit told me to tell my fiancée that I thought she was slipping. Let’s apply that to children who use the machine. Wii Fit will not only tell a young girl she’s overweight, it will tell her siblings to tease her about it.


Stick to the plan

Extra Life - Wii Fit

Extra Life’s take on Wii Fit is fairly apt, given my week. I’ve been checking in for my Body Test every morning, but haven’t been able to make time for as much exercise as I’d hoped. I did play a game of corporate netball, and do some pushups, but that’s about it. My weight has just sort of hovered.

I got back on track, the last couple of days, though. Yesterday, I worked my way through all of the yoga and muscle exercises I’ve unlocked so far; today I went for a short jog. So with Scott Johnson’s little dig at Wii Fit users hitting home, I’m going to have to make a bigger effort to find time for it this week! I’ll post snapshots of my progress as soon as I have time to fiddle with the camera.

Meanwhile, here’s an interesting interview by Chris Kohler at Wired, with Wii Fit’s creator, Shigeru Miyamoto. It has a great punchline:

You take up gardening, we get Pikmin. You get a bathroom scale, we get Wii Fit. I feel like it would be a disservice to our readers if I didn’t ask: What are your hobbies right now?

I knew someone was going to ask me that question. (Nintendo President Satoru) Iwata has told me absolutely not to tell anyone. Of course, I did go jogging in Central Park this morning.

All right, there’s our clue.

Yesterday I ate a hamburger.

Up and away

I bought Wii Fit last Thursday, so it wasn’t until after work that I was able to fire it up and go through my first Body Test. Obese, it told me. A kick up the arse. I started out with the balance games that I’d seen in pre-launch promotions — soccer, skiing. Then yoga, muscle exercises, aerobics, another go at slalom. Then bed.

Body Test - Day 2

Day 2, and I went through the Body Test again. I’d somehow put on over a kilogram overnight. Disheartening. Wii Fit helpfully advised that your body naturally fluctuates +/- 1kg over the course of the day, so it was advisable to take the test at the same time each day for consistency. That sounded sane enough, so I decided I’d better stick with mornings. If I make Wii Fit part of my wake-up routine, I should be able to do the Body Test at roughly the same time each day. Then I can fit in some of the exercises in the morning or in the evening.

Body Test - Day 3

On Saturday, Day 3, I found I’d put on a touch more, but nothing major. Perhaps there is something to the fluctuation theory. Anyway, on Friday I’d eaten pretty badly: McDonald’s for breakfast, Nando’s chicken and chips for lunch, takeaway vindaloo and samosas for dinner. Plus chocolate. I was actually quite suprised not to have stacked on some weight.

I also knew that if I was going to reach my goal, I’d have to be a lot more disciplined. I was pretty good during the day on Saturday, but a family dinner at a Docklands restaurant meant beer, Coke, a huge chicken parmagiana, and a very rich icecream cone for dessert.

Body Test - Day 4

In the morning, Day 4, I was keen to see the damage. I lost 0.1kg. Not bad! Lesson: if I’m disciplined during the day, I can go out for a big meal and still break even. Good to know.

So that day I tried to eat smaller portions. A hash brown for breakfast, a single slice of pizza for lunch, and Pakistani lamb curry for dinner. I walked around Melbourne for an hour, but that was really my only exercise. I didn’t do my Wii Fit workout because I’d been playing Super Mario Galaxy and didn’t want to have to swap discs.

Body Test - Day 5

Today, Day 5, I got a bit of a surprise. I dropped 2.3kg!

BMI Graph - Day 5 Weight Graph - Day 5

The ball is rolling; let’s see if I can keep the momentum up.

Score to beat: BMI 33.8, 110.8kg.

Weighing in

The moment of truth. My first Body Test.

I hadn’t weighted myself since I was, what — fifteen? sixteen? Back then I was 178cm and 75kg or thereabouts. How would I do now?

Body Test - Day 1

112kg, with a BMI of 34.22.


Obviously, I have some work to do. Ideally, I want to be down to the “normal” range, which means my long-term target weight is 80kg. I want to get there in time for my wedding next year, so I’ve got ten months to lose 32kg. Let’s make it nine months, to make sure I’m ready in time to fit my suit. That’s a target of just over 10kg every three months.

The Wii tells me I’m going to need to lose 1.6kg each fortnight, which is slightly more than the 1.4kg it recommends. I’m going to stick with my own target for now; see how I go.

The silver lining is that I appear to carry my weight fairly evenly, though I need to stand forward on my feet.

First impressions

Before I get started with my personal fitness diary, let me share a few of my initial thoughts about the Balance Board and the Wii Fit software.

The packaging is nice — a carry handle, minimal plastic, no styrofoam. Very enviro-friendly.

The Balance Board itself is an impressive gadget. It’s crisp and white, and looks like a nice set of bathroom scales. I actually expected it to be a little bit bigger than it is, but it’s not uncomfortable to stand on. It feels very solid; there’s no comparison with some of the Wii’s “plastic shell” peripherals. From the moment you slide it out of the box, you know the Balance Board is the real deal.

Running the Balance Board on four AA batteries is a bit of a pain. There’s a claimed battery life of 60 hours, but we’ll see. A built-in charger like the one in the DS would have been nice. I’ll have to invest in some more rechargeable batteries, or maybe go with a third-party option — I use a dock for one of my Wiimotes and it’s tremendously convenient.

On screen, your Mii is sized up using some kind of height-measurement equipment, but nobody has those in their living room. I had to rummage through my drawers to find a ruler, then mark the wall and add up the ruler-lengths. It would have been nice if Nintendo had thrown in a cheap tape measure, even if it was just a paper one like those they give out at IKEA. That’s a minor quibble, though.

Once you’ve got your height calculated, setting up your Mii is very straightforward — and fun! By giving instant feedback about centre of gravity and weight and BMI and what-have-you, the process doesn’t feel like a chore.

The Balance Board avatar is quite cute. I was worried when he first popped up — Clippy, anyone? — but he’s actually got an interesting personality. Quirky and friendly.

The FitPiggy and FitCash concepts seem a bit forced. Using the time you’ve spent on activities as the basis for unlocking harder tasks? Great. Converting the time into FitCash and storing it in a FitPiggy? Not so much. It doesn’t fit in with the software’s minimalist aesthetic. And since the FitCash graph shows your play time in minutes anyway, I just don’t see the point.