Better living through playing

Thursday, January 24, 2008

For years, parents and public health officials have been bemoaning the trend of young people spending hours in front of a television or computer screen, watching television, surfing the Internet or playing video games. Wellness advocates have been urging children to go outside and get some exercise, experience "actual" reality instead of "virtual" reality.

The trends in childhood obesity and the health issues that accompany it have provided more fuel for the debate. Until a year ago, when the Nintendo Corporation revealed their new gaming platform, the Wii, the pundits were probably right.

The Wii is a very popular commodity and operates differently than other video games. A standard videogame only requires players to move their thumbs and index fingers, whereas the Wii actually requires players to move their hand or occasionally their entire arm to interact with the game. Games that come bundled with the system include golf, tennis and bowling. In order to play the games, muscle actions used in the real-life version are used.

While Wii is no substitute for real exercise, it does make users expend 51 percent more energy than normal video games. The hand held controllers are opening up an entire new world to young and old alike.

Wiis are being used in nursing homes and allow people that thought they could no longer enjoy these activities a new way to experience the sports. It also provides a common bond between the generations.

We're not sure if the makers had this in mind when they came up with the Wii, but it's a feature that is unique and the unintended consequences of allowing interaction between the young and old is remarkable.

Technology, at its best, is supposed to make our lives better. Sometimes this is the case, other times it simply makes our lives more complex, confusing and frustrating. It's a rare product that hits the mark and even goes beyond.

While we aren't selling the Wii, we are pleased that a piece of technology can give some fun and joy back to people who thought they could no longer have either.