Wii is a kind of magic

Column “Dork Talk” published on Saturday 30th August 2008 in The Guardian “Dork Talk – A kind of magic” – The Guardian headline

Stephen Fry is wowed by Nintendo’s magical Wii

Last week I looked at the remarkable rebirth in the fortunes of Nintendo, a renaissance engendered by two products – the DS, a pocket gaming device, and the Wii, a larger living-room machine.

The Wii arrived in Europe last year and demand has been allowed massively to outstrip supply, causing howls of anguish from those who, like Veruca Salt and me, always want it now. You can buy a basic Wii from any old Woolworths, but the Wii-Fit add-on is still made, as the saying has it, from purest unobtainium.

WiiFit460.jpg
Photograph: Itsuo Inouye

Wii is white and dinky. It connects to your TV by ancient Scart connectors, for heaven’s sake, eschewing 21st-century HDMI. Its graphics, power and storage capabilities are nothing like as impressive as those on a PlayStation or Xbox, it can’t even play back basic DVDs – but it has a USP that makes up for all that.

The Wii Remote is the magic wand that transforms the Wii into the most exciting mass-market device for years. Filled with accelerometer, sensor and motion feedback technology, this pointing device (about the size of a late-80s mobile phone) is strapped to your wrist like an épée (sometimes with its companion piece, the fearsome-sounding nunchuk) and within minutes it is an extension of your body. You play tennis with it, you pick things up, put them down, putt, swat, bowl, swipe, climb, jump, run and fly, all with waves of the wrist. It seems like magic at first. This is a gaming system that can make you sweat with effort and have your heart pound with honest exertion, rather than dampen you with the usual hot, sick sheen of fear that attends conventional video-game experiences with their unrelenting panic and din.

Nintendo has supplemented this exercise element by launching the Wii Fit, which features a “balanceboard” on which you can do yoga, step aerobics and ski slaloms, and have your BMI calculated, achievements logged and stamina challenged. At the moment this item is rarer than hen’s teeth and I have yet to try it. But no matter, the basic version can give you a daily workout regimen. I started with a physical age of 63 (according to their calculations) and have managed in a week to bring it down to 58. I expect to be a rorty 17-year-old with accompanying acne and attitude in time for Christmas.

For me and millions of others, anything approaching walking, running or lifting for fitness has always been out of the question on account of the way time slows down so mercilessly. But if our health-giving routines can be made part of some witty, graphically impressive, compelling game, think what this could do for the health of the nation.

The Wii allows Wi-Fi connections to the internet and the inevitable proprietary Market Place whence software can be downloaded. Users can also design an avatar called a Mii for themselves and their online or flesh-and-blood playing partners. The Wii only truly comes into its own when you play with someone else. The first thing you have to do when you buy a Wii, therefore, is purchase at least one more remote. Don’t be fooled into buying the add-ons that turn the remotes into simulacra of baseball bats, steering wheels and tennis rackets – these are a pointless waste of money.

If your wife, mother or lover has a china ornament you have always hated, make sure it is within a 10-yard radius of the TV and you can be sure it will be smashed within a fortnight. Another Wii service for which we can all be truly thankful.

Nintendo’s recrudescence is yet further proof that the market (ie the population) wants machines that don’t frighten, but befriend. The snarling roars of the feral Xbox and the brutal PlayStation are impressive, but Nintendo understands that while play does involve competition, territoriality and rehearsal for war, it also involves silliness, laughter and fun.

Acronyms of the week

Scart That 21-pin connector we Europeans used for connecting videos and DVDs to TVs before HDMI (explained last week) and Component Video took over. Stands for Syndicat des Constructeurs d’Appareils Radiorécepteurs et Téléviseurs.

USP Unique Selling Point, but you knew that.

BMI Body Mass Index. Something horrid made up by doctors to make me feel ashamed.

This blog was posted in Guardian column

24 comments on “Wii is a kind of magic”

  1. kerryb says:

    I got my Wii Fit from amazon.fr when it was released. They deliver to the UK, and as far as I can tell still have them in stock.

  2. robertas says:

    Baaaah BMI is nothing, nothing I tell you compared to them scissor thingies or whatever they are called… you know the ones those horribly chirpy fitness instructors use in the gym to pinch you with on a pretense of determining how much fat you have on you…
    Bloody hell if I didn’t have bacony boobly bits I would not be in the gym to begin with, would I?

    And don’t even get me started on friends who make you go to the super advanced aerobics classes and then mid-through she suddenly comes over all faint and has to go to the locker room to lie down… and I’m left sweating with a fitness instructor from hell shouting at me like I am some kind of a slacker!… Honestly! I aged 10 years I tell you!

    So BMI is nothing trust me. I have a bit of a gripe about the gym :) Having said that I might have to invest in Wii (maybe I’ll become a fit 20-year old whats 10 years nothing)… unless it too has a fitness instructor from hell… then forget about it.

    And great idea about the ornaments :) Although I will have to be very creative since all of our ornaments are placed rather high due to 2 cats and a dog :)

  3. SteveC says:

    Seems Amazon.fr still have it stock. Delivered for £75 (I assume – my French isn’t very good).

    Anyway, good points raised in the blog. From a gaming point of view ‘hardcore’ gamers dismissed the wii. Pointing to the lack of power (compared to the 360 and PS3) and poorer graphic ability they claimed it would fail.

    The initial rush and short supply was down to fan boys buying the console, and even worse it was being bought by the older generation. It was still doomed in the ‘hardcore’ eyes. Nearly 2 years down the line it still sells out, 2nd hand values are often more than the original price and Wiifit is still rarer in the UK than rocking horse poo.

    Still clinging the the belief that power is better are the other 2 console owners. 360 owners are proud of Xbox Live (which is fun, except when 12 year old children are shouting ‘die f****** noob’ when you are not so good at killing as them), also 360 owners are very happy to replace their great console every year when it dies with the red ring of death (overheating issue on the early generation – Though MS eventually caved in and offered a 3yr warranty).
    As for the PS3 owners, well they have a great Blu-Ray player.

    So is bigger and more powerful better, seems not to be. Look at the sales figures and weep (if your MS or Sony).

    (Apologies for the rant and any bad grammer)

  4. amyl_nitrate says:

    I totally agree with what you’re saying about the Wii opening up a world of fitness to those of us who’ve always recoiled in horror at the thought of exercise. I blame school. I was always one of those people who did anything to get out of PE because it was always such a mortifying experience. I never even played sporty games on other game consoles. The Wii’s changed that. Fun and mad games with cute graphics makes getting fit more interesting and it makes the time fly. I can get lost for hours playing some games. To me playing games is about having fun and if you can have a good time with friends and family even better. It also makes a change from playing the same kind of games with similar methods of playing all the time. There are so many more ways of controlling the game then there has ever been before. Some classic games such as the various racing games like karts, dirt bikes and snowboarding seem like they were almost waiting for the Wii to come along and give them that much needed kick.

  5. GarethAdams says:

    I does annoy me when your ‘acronyms of the week’ contain more items which are merely initialisms than real acronyms.

    Anyway, I still can’t get enough of my Wii, and the Wiimote naturally lends itself to physics-based games where you aren’t just using it as an extension of your arm, but as an extension of the game. I’m talking specifically about Mercury Meltdown Revolution and Boom Blox, but there are many others

  6. Gertrude Susanne says:

    Neat little gadget that seems to spring people into action very effectively. But how come people find the time to engage in a workout regimen that can be made part of some witty, graphically impressive, compelling game, rather than go outside and enjoy a brisk walk through nature? Can witty conversations no longer be had with real people whilst enjoying said brisk walk? Is nature not full of images of compelling beauty? Has the world around us become so ugly (and who´s to blame for that, eh?) that we´d rather be stuck in some (hopefully pretty) room exercising in front of a screen? Or does it come for people in the public eye as a welcome alternative that allows them to get some exercise in privacy? How saddening a thought…

    Reducing your physical age from 63 to 58 within a single week is truly amazing!! BUT: To Hades with BMI – it takes into consideration only weight and height, and will not reflect a change in body fat as it is replaced with lean body mass. Better purchase body fat scales (or perhaps also callipers, as has been suggested above) and follow the progress closely. Happy exercising ! :o) GSK

  7. magnetite says:

    The Wii also has optional component cables, which should offer a better picture quality than SCART. They will very likely plug into your shiny new flat-panel screen if it already has an HDMI port in it – useful if you already have another console or appliance filling that HDMI port. Have you noticed though that no advertisement or brochure for these televisions illustrates how these myriad leads will hang down your living room wall (if you have mounted it that way) like digital entrails?

  8. RubyCosmos says:

    I am 27 and was told I am 35. A gentleman friend of mine is 33 and was told he is 22. He also takes tae kwon do, so his balance is ridiculously good.

    For true entertainment, let a toddler stand on it. My friend’s 2-year-old insists on weighing in regularly with her parents. There are few things quite as funny as watching the Wii Fit try to figure her out.

    The trouble with the Wiimotes — although it may not be ‘trouble’ depending on whom you ask — is that performing tasks with them in some games looks a bit wrong. I’m thinking in particular of a minigame in ‘Rayman Raving Rabbids’ that requires you to treat the Wiimote as though you’re shaking a bottle of beer up and down. Not a particularly exciting game to play, but extremely amusing to watch.

  9. JamesG says:

    If you want to see how versatile the Wii remote really is, try this:
    http://www.ted.com/index.php/talks/johnny_lee_demos_wii_remote_hacks.html

  10. TheWetNoodle says:

    Literally everyone around me owns one.

    I need to buy one of these, ASAP.

  11. Jonas says:

    DAMN IT!

    Here I was, not being able to grasp why the Wii should appeal to anyone… and you play the guilt card. The BMI card. Could it be true? Could this be a way of actually *moving* without being bored half to death? Should we consider buying one, despite our lack of funds? Should the fat geek buy the magical console thingy that will decrease the likelihood of a heart attack?

    Argh!, I say.

  12. Mich says:

    It is nice for a system with many games for us non-hardcore gamers (Wii Fits aren’t that scarce here in the US, I have an extra one for some reason, but it’s been claimed). Sadly there aren’t as many games that involve getting up out of your seat for your non-gamer as one would hope.

    But it’s so much fun to play with, and most the gaming activities that come with the WiiFit are fun enough on their own that you don’t really need to go out and get the games like ‘WiiSki’ (which is not as intuitive as one would hope).

    Good luck finding your WiiFit bundle!

  13. Scumbag_Gav says:

    I don’t suppose you’ve a fixed definition for ‘rorty’, do you?

    Whether archaic or creative, I likes it.

  14. Bindy says:

    I don’t enjoy playing tennis/golf/anything that involves hitting/rolling/catching a ball outside and I didn’t enjoy it any more on the wii.

    As for addressing the BMI, it might help mine but won’t do much for my dog’s. So, like the tredmill before it, simply replaces one guilt with another when a decent walk can work for both.

    I guess if I lived in a tiny urban space it could give me sense of adventure and the outdoors where none existed… but I probably wouldn’t have a labrador if that were the case.

  15. Lauren says:

    I love my Wii, but I’m not really interested in WiiFit. Probably because I know I’d buy it, play it for a couple weeks, then never use it again. Same thing happened to my mom’s treadmill. She and I used it diligently for a month then used it for a coat hanger until we got rid of it at a garage sale. Pretty sad, eh?

  16. merseymal says:

    I respectfully disagree about the steering wheel being useless add on as I find that the wii remote isn’t very comfortable to hold horizontally with both hands when mimicking steering.

    I know you can use the nunchuk with it and hold them both vertically, but it feels like cheating.

  17. NeilHoskins says:

    Wii tips of the day:

    – Use the browser to watch BBC iPlayer (or other online video) on your TV rather than at the computer.
    – Install Orb on your PC then use the Wii’s browser to listen to your music downloads and ripped CDs on your home entertainment system rather than your PC’s crappy speakers.

  18. just john says:

    Some of the chips for the Wii are made where I work, in East Fishkill, NY.

    And yeah, that fitness stuff is high on my list of reasons for wanting one.

  19. Porfyria says:

    I bought a Wii bundled with Wii Fit about 2 months ago for a couple of reasons.
    1. Most important reason, I wanted one (lets get to the other self righteous justifications in a minute). I thought the Wii looked like fun, and I could never get around to some one else’s house who had one to try out.

    2. I was hoping it would get my 12 y/o son, who seems to have had his flesh melded with the controller to the Xbox 360 moving around a bit more.

    3. I really wanted the Wii Fit for exercise purposes. Yes – I could go for a walk, but when I bought the Wii Fit, it was the middle of winter (in Australia) and ever so dark at 6.00 am. At least this way I could still get up early, and exercise in the relative warmth of inside, and have a bit of fun, as well as track my progress.

    3A. I didn’t want to join a gym because I have a history of getting sick of the gym and letting my membership lapse, and the gym I priced before the purchase of the Wii Fit tried to give me the hard sell, which just gave me the flaming irrits, and this way, I have a games console too.

    I do have a few gripes about the Wii Fit:
    – It can take about 3/4 of an hour to do a half hour work out, what with the messages urging you to have your Wii-mote securely stowed and all that.
    – The weight sensor is ridiculously sensitive – I really don’t understand how I can lose and gain up to 5kg (sometimes) in a 48 hour period – and then it wants to know why you’ve gained this weight, then lectures you about it.
    – It tries to make you feel bad for not coming every day.

    But having said all that, I am really pleased with the console. It is fun to play the Wii Sport games with my family, and it is soooo easy to use. So easy in fact that my mum was able to pick up how to use the Wii-mote and play competently (therefore having fun) in a few minutes. So she’s now buying one for herself.

    And yes – I have lost some weight, and I’m pretty sure I have increased my aerobic fitness as well – no longer quite as sweaty and shagged out by a number of the exercises.

  20. LynxLuna says:

    I’ve had a Wii for a year and I have to say it’s the best console anyone has ever achieved. It had to be Nintendo’s, of course. Sony and Microsoft, with their Playstation and Xbox, have always bet for graphics’ quality increasing. Nintendo, on the other hand, has always bet for fun/interaction increasing, putting in their machines the latest tecnological achievements and the most original ideas. That’s what makes them so powerful and so competitive in a market that seems like a battle field.

    I’ve tried the Wii-Fit in my brother’s, and now I want one for myself. It’s fun and it actually makes you sweat, which it’s the point of the whole thing. I tried it about a half an hour and time literally flew, although I was so tired I barely could stand. Mario kart is pure fun too, you feel the car as if you were actually driving it. And besides, the magic thing has one of the better and most beautiful Zeldas you can play.

    Worth buying, worth playing.

  21. Chris Wood says:

    Doctors are fiendish and must be ignored for the general good. And perhaps Wii could launch some specific ornament smashing software? Seems only fair, really.

  22. StickyKeys says:

    I adore the Wii, and if you have any kids at home under the age of 13 you MUST have the accessories. Don’t owrry though, the kids will get sick of them soon enough and then you can pass them on to the next bunch!

  23. libbysl says:

    i absolutely love my wii, its something me and my kids can do together!

  24. wiifitbloke says:

    I’ve had a Wii and Wii Fit for a couple of months now, and love them both. I haven’t played computer games for years, because of the obsession with boring first-person shooters and other carnage based games which seem to demand you surrender your life in order to get any good.

    The Wii has made me enjoy computer games for the first time in ages.

    The Wii Fit is also helping me enjoy exercise more. Like Stephen, I find most exercise utterly tedious. So Wii Fit is a godsend. I’ve also just created a forum for Wii Fit users at http://www.wiifitforum.org/, where people can get a bit of mutual support and share ideas and tips. It’s brand new, so there isn’t much on it yet, but check it out and sign up to join in if you a Wii Fit user.

    Paul

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