June 24, 2008

New Generation of Video Games Are a ‘Wiilly’ Good Time

By Elizabeth Simpson, The Virginian-Pilot, Norfolk, Va.

Jun. 23--Want to see a fitness instructor cry?

Say these two phrases next to each other:

Hours of summer freedom.

New computer video game!

But all is not lost over at the Paull household in Virginia Beach.

It's the first Monday of summer vacation, and 5-year-old Tiernan Paull is running after a yellow dog in the living room.

Lush green trees flash by, waterfalls flow in the background, and bouncy music makes this whole exercise seem like a game.

Hey, wait a minute, it is a game.

It's the new Wii Fit.

"First you follow the human," Tiernan says, his red hair bobbing up and down on his head as a cartoonish replica of himself runs down a path on the video screen. "And then you follow the dog. You keep running till the finish line."

There's even a trainer -- OK, not a personal one -- but a disembodied voice and words on the TV screen to urge him on:

"You're halfway there! Keep going!"

There was an odd turnabout in the Paull household last month. It wasn't the kids fighting to stand in line for the latest video craze, but 35-year-old mom Robyn Roche-Paull. She got up before dawn the day Wii Fit was released to stand at Target for two hours.

She was second in line. Her three children -- 5, 9 and 12 -- couldn't get over it:

Mom standing in line for a computer game.


She liked the idea of a game that got her kids off the sofa and figured it would be exercise she could fit in between a full-time job, household duties and running kids to their activities.

The Wii Fit is a game by Nintendo -- retails for about $90 -- that fits into the Wii video game console. It comes with a board you stand on that can detect your weight, balance and movements.

You can choose from yoga, balance games, aerobics and strength training. The board figures out your body mass index, keeps track of how often you're exercising, measures whether you're losing or gaining weight, and whether you're keeping your balance correctly. It even admonishes you if it hasn't seen you in a while.

"Well, if it isn't Mommy," says the Wii system when Roche-Paull, who admits she hadn't been on in a week, climbs on board for yoga.

Is it being sarcastic?

"I haven't figured that out yet."

She clicks on the yoga program and assumes the position of the lithe person on the screen, two arms ups, one leg held akimbo. A red dot on the screen tracks her center of gravity and alerts her if she's unbalanced.

"Let's work together on improving your posture," the trainer says. "... Breathe slowly as you hold this position. ... Visualize your spine stretching."

"Yeah, mom feel your spine streeeeettch," 12-year-old Morgan says from the sideline.

Daughter Siobhan, 9, stands by her side and assumes a like position.

Siobhan, though, prefers the more active hula hoop game, where she swings her hips side to side as her "Mii" replica on screen spins the hulas on her hips. Then Siobhan points her hands in the air to catch hula hoops that come flying her way.

"Mom, what's your score on hula hoops?"

"Seven hundred and ninety-eight. I almost cracked 800. One more rotation and I could have gotten it."

The system keeps track of what all the family members do , both in terms of the time they spend on the game and how well they measure up on balance and precision.

At the end of every game, it lists the person who has logged the most points.

"I'm still in the lead on yoga, yessss," Roche-Paull said, pulling her fist to her waist.

This is her family's review:

First, the pros. It's fun and entertaining. It pulls you in with the competitive nature of it. You want to log more hours to get more points. There are a lot of games on the system, and once you hit a certain level, it unlocks a harder set of exercises.

You can use it in private at home, and it's always available no matter the time or day, or the level of the smoke warning outside.

The cons: It's set up for one person to play at a time. Someone is still left lounging on the sofa. Mom's complaint is you can't set up a routine of favorite exercises to do over and over. You have to keep returning to the main menu.

Roche-Paull said it doesn't replace the kind of workout she can get on her ellip tical machine -- each exercise takes a fairly short time.

The balance board gives you a "Wii Fit Age," based on weight, height and fitness indicators it tracks. Roche-Paull said the ages were pretty accurate for her kids, but way off for her.

"It told me I was 49. I may be out of shape -- I'm not going to lie about that -- but 49?"

And it's not outside. Roche-Paull still kicks the kids out of the house for bike rides and skating and such.

Bottom line:

It's fun.

Siobhan likes it even better than regular video games.

"I like this because when you play Xbox, it cramps up your thumbs."

Another local family's take:

Isabel Perry was skeptical at first.

The 23-year-old graduated from James Madison University in May and figured the Wii Fit her Virginia Beach parents bought wouldn't be much of a substitute for JMU's fitness classes.

Once she started using it, she was hooked by its competitive feel.

Boxing is her favorite.

"As you step forward, throw your first punch from the right side," the trainer says: "Right block, left block, left block. All right, let's do this together."

Perry punches away, stepping forward and back, smacking toward a punching bag on the video screen that could easily double as a stress reducer. "Go for the knockout," the trainer says.

"Ka-boom." Her character on the screen lunges forward, as the real Isabel punches and then breaks out laughing.

Meanwhile, her mother, Socorro Folkes, gives her advice from the sideline.

"I like them to do the exercises proper ly," Socorro said.

Next, Socorro's husband, 38-year-old William, gives the aerobics a try.

If you do it a certain way, with the proper timing and with your arms pumping appropriately, you get more points.

And it lets you know if you did it right or not, a point that's often in dispute.

"He normally gets mad," Socorro said about her husband. "He'll go, 'But I did that!' "

"I'll be in my room and he'll be in here alone, and I'll hear him say, 'I did that!'" Isabel said.

Socorro, 48, prefers the hula hoop game.

"My stomach is hurting," she says, swaying her hips and laughing at the same time.

"Don't go so fast," Isabel says. "Go slower. Large, neat circles."

Their review: Fun, engaging, keeps you coming back for more.

William says he didn't give up his runs outside on the Navy base where he's a chief warrant officer, but he still likes spending time on the Wii Fit .

Even if he has to yell at it now and again.

Elizabeth Simpson, (757) 446-2635, [email protected]


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