Tag Archives: Balance Board

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.

Ungood.

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.

Doubleplusungood.

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.

In the beginning…

My New Year’s resolution was to shed a few kilos. In high school, I was fairly skinny, but when I got to university I no longer had compulsory sport to keep me exercising — and then I fell in love with beer and restaurants. So I’ve put on some weight.

As usual, my New Year’s resolution has been more of an aspiration, really. I haven’t done a lot about it. Occasional bursts of enthusiasm might lead to a couple of jogging or cycling expeditions, but they quickly subside. I find it hard to stay motivated, and I can’t afford a personal trainer.

That’s where Wii Fit comes in. I follow Nintendo fairly closedly, so I’d seen the early demonstrations of the Balance Board — and, to be frank, it looked rubbish. It looked like an expensive set of mini-games; dull, repetitive mini-games at that.

But after it launched, I think it finally clicked with me what it’s all about. Michael Abbott recently described Wii Fit as a “health hub” and sees it as something that relies on games technology but is not a game at all. Nintendo’s new strategy of selling Wii Fit through non-traditional outlets like sports stores suggests that’s exactly what the designers were thinking.

When I took myself out of the gamer’s perspective, Wii Fit started to look more interesting. It offers the structure and motivation to make exercise a part of your daily routine, but without pressure. And 4cr’s Great Experiment proves it can work — if you stick to it.

And that’s exactly what I plan to do.