05 October 2008

Wii Therapy And Exercise

The Wii is all about innovation and opening up gaming to a whole new audience. With the console now being used for exercise and therapy, has it gone beyond Nintendo’s wildest expectations?

Simple answer to the question, yes. When Nintendo started bleating on about the Wii a couple of years ago they constantly talked about expanding the gaming horizon. They wanted to get new people playing videogames and to create a system with a hugely varied userbase. What they’ve got, is a cultural revolution. When something catches the imagination of the world like the Wii has it tends to get some fairly interesting press.

The other day a story popped up about how the Wii is being used by the US Army as a means of healing the wounded. Never in Nintendo’s wildest dreams could Nintendo have expected this. Over the last few months we’ve seen it being used in old folks homes, as part of exercise regimes and even as a method of shedding the pounds to get into shape. All of these cases have demonstrated one thing: the Wii can move beyond the videogames industry and into wider culture. Once there, the world of ‘self help’ is its oyster. Fitness and gadgetry are two of the biggest obsessions in Western culture, and the Wii is able to tap into both. The media has an obsession with telling us how we can get fit and healthy and there are always new and ‘exciting’ ways of doing so popping up. The Wii is perhaps the biggest new entry on the scene.

At the Sedgebrook retirement community in Lincolnshire (USA), where the average age is 77. A report in the Chicago Tribune details how the residents, most of whom have never picked up a video game controller in their life, are turning to the Wii for entertainment.

"I've never been into video games," said 72-year-old Flora Dierbach last week as her husband took a twirl with the Nintendo Wii's bowling game. "But this is addictive...They come in after dinner and play," she said. "Sometimes, on Saturday afternoons, their grandkids come play with them. A lot of grandparents are being taught by their grandkids. But, now, some grandparents are instead teaching their grandkids." Sunday afternoon at the home is now all about the Wii. This sort of thing is great publicity for the Wii.

Over the years the industry has gotten some very bad press, but feel good stories about the Wii bringing together kids and grandkids and helping keep the eldery healthy and entertained is a glowing endorsement of what Nintendo are doing. It would seem that in one swift move, all the negative stigmas about gaming in the mainstream press have somewhat been ebbed away.

In an article published on the online version of the US military newspaper Stars and Stripes, it has been revealed that in certain cases the Wii can prove to be a useful tool for healing the wounded. Army Spc. Shawn Roberts who is assigned to the 581st Signal Company in Kuwait, volunteered to use the game as part of his therapy routine. The Wii is being used to help him regain full movement after he broke his wrist and elbow and partially tore his rotator cuff when the vehicle he was in rolled over. He couldn’t move his wrist for more than a month because of the screws holding it together.

“I wasn’t expecting much out of it,” said Roberts after using the game. “You know, it’s a video game. How much could it really do? But you don’t notice it while you’re doing it because your mind’s on the game. But then when you’re done? I was sore....I do all the same exercises, but with the Wii, your mind’s off of it, and you do it a lot more. It’s more fast paced and that kind of thing.”

Staff Sgt. Bryan Vallerie, an occupational therapy technician, said the game wouldn’t replace anything in the department’s physical therapy repertoire but could enhance treatment for some patients. “It’s a healthy, fun alternative to doing these things,” he said. The department are going to analyse the results of using the Wii for therapy. The advantage of using the system, they claim, is that it gets rid of the monotonous tedium of physical therapy. With the Wii, you’re doing the exercise but at the same time you’re having fun.

The most detailed analysis of the Wii’s impact on personal health came thanks to one man’s idea to use the Wii to get into shape. Entitled the ‘Wii Sports Experiment’, it aimed to prove that playing Wii was a viable method of exercise. Mickey DeLorenzo, a 25-year-old living in Philadelphia, decided to meld exercise and gaming together and form a full report on what he found. The blog he kept attracted a huge amount of interest from publications such as the New York Times, CNN, the BBC, TIME, The LA Times, The Sydney Morning Herald and also on TV through FOX and NBC. The media circus that surrounded one mildly plump man playing Wii to get a bit more toned was somewhat ridiculous. But it worked. Mr. DeLorenzo got into shape, lost 9lbs, his body fat percentage went down from 19% to 17.2% and his body mass index (BMI) went from 25.2 to 24.0. The full results of the experiment can be read through here:


So what does all this tell us? Well, whilst industry analysts go on about how the Wii is making a huge difference to the demographic of the gaming market and Nintendo drone on about how many units they are selling, perhaps this is the real story of the Wii. It is a cultural phenomenon, albeit a somewhat brief one so far, and it is really making a difference. Little by little the Wii is changing the world...sort of.

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