Nintendo gives gamers a Wii bit of exercise

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Video games have come a long way since the 1980s.

Back then, the old Atari 2600 offered games like Combat, Asteroids and Pac Man. For the time, those games were the cutting edge of technology.

Oh, how times have changed.

Nowadays, the video game industry is booming. But it’s not just a joystick, a chair and a television anymore. Not even close, thanks in large part to the development of the Nintendo Wii gaming system.

The Nintendo Wii is revolutionary in the fact that it not only lets people play games with a joystick, but also gets gamers off the couch and on their feet.

“It’s very cool, especially in a party setting,” said Federal Way gamer Sean Thomas, who owns a Wii, along with other gaming systems. “Everything has gotten pretty good reviews.”

Nintendo markets the video game system as exercise. In addition to the game unit’s motion-sensitive controllers, the system also comes with Wii Sports, a five-games-in-one software package that really highlights the Wii’s technology.

The Wii Sports package includes tennis, golf, baseball, boxing and bowling games, where players use the remote control like they are actually playing the game.

But Nintendo took the video game exercise craze to another level last month with the release of Wii Fit. The $90 add-on for the popular Nintendo Wii game console offers a wireless balance board and on-screen yoga, strength training and aerobics, along with balance games such as snowboarding and tightrope walking.

“The consumer response to Wii Fit was ex-ceptional,” said Denise Kaigler, a Nintendo spokeswoman.

Wii Fit was released on May 21 in the United States and was released in Japan last year, where it has already sold 2 million units. The package is also selling like crazy here. The Game Crazy store in Federal Way is currently sold out of the Wii Fit bundles after customers pre-ordered all the copies the store received last month.

The Wii Fit package comes with the pressure-sensitive balancing board that connects to an existing Wii console. The board, which resembles a bathroom scale, calculates body mass index (BMI), then gives a personalized weight-loss (or weight-gain) plan to help a person attain an ideal BMI. There are more than 40 types of training activities, including muscle conditioning, quick cardio and balance games, such as snowboarding or skiing through a slalom course.

The health benefit of the Wii gaming system is even spawning plenty of research. Justin White, a student at Canada’s Dalhousie University, is currently conducting an experiment about the effects of video games as exercise.

“I was playing Wii boxing with a friend and noticed how exerting it was,” said the fourth-year kinesiology student. “I thought to myself, ‘I’m working up a sweat doing this Nintendo thing; I might run with that.’ So I put together an outline and the class thought it would be a good project to take on.”

It was the boxing game that White and 27 of his fellow classmates tested against more traditional forms of exercise — a walk in a park and a “boxercise” video workout.

Every student participated in each activity for 30 minutes as their classmates measured heart rates and levels of perceived exertion – how hard the participants thought they were working out.

It seems that while the Wii’s boxing game isn’t vigorous enough to provide a comprehensive cardiovascular workout, it can play a role in maintaining or losing body weight, especially for someone starting from a lower level of fitness, according to White’s study.

“If they’re looking for cardiovascular fitness, I’d advise them to do something else because it’s really not intense enough,” White said. “But if they’re just looking to lose weight, it’s a good way to get started. It can also be a gateway to other things, and may get people interested in the actual sports themselves too.”

But the study does think there is immense potential in the get-off-the-couch phenomenon the Wii has begun.

“Just look at some of the other things that have been happening over the past 10-12 years with video games in learning for kids,” White said. “There are so many computer games for math, spelling, language skills – all of these things that used to be taught using books are now becoming interactive. The same thing could easily happen with exercise.”

All you have to do is look how far the video game industry has come since the days of Combat, Asteroids and Pac Man.

Sports editor Casey Olson: 925-5565,

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