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Video Games

Wii Fit

Fit to Be Tried: Two new products follow Wii Fit’s lead encouraging active gaming.

By Charlie Deitch
Posted // July 1,2009 -

EA Sports President Peter Moore made headlines recently when he challenged President Barack Obama to take a 30-day challenge on his company’s new fitness game, EA Sports Active, for 30 days. President Obama had just made comments about video games to the American Medical Association similar to the ones he had made about companies not holding conferences and conventions in Las Vegas. “It means going for a run or hitting the gym, and raising our children to step away from the video games and spend more time playing outside,” said Obama.

In the past, you wouldn’t expect the heads of video-game companies to have much of a retort. But thanks to a booming fitness-game business—generating $2 billion in the past 18 months—the timing was perfect. “I’d be willing to bet there are more consoles getting far more use in American homes than there is exercise equipment, so it’s up to us to continue to use the platform for good,” Moore wrote on his company’s blog.

While you expect Moore both to defend his company and take advantage of a lot of free publicity, it’s hard to argue with his logic. There have been active games in the past—Dance Dance Revolution, for example— but never have there been so many games developed and marketed purely as fitness tools. We wrote about the Wii Fit when it was released, and it continues to be the No. 1-selling video game in the country. There have been a whole host of games released under the Wii Fit banner since then, and they don’t hide the fact that, in order to play, you have to get your ass off the couch—something gamers haven’t done since Pong blipped onto their screens back in the BN (before Nintendo) dark ages.

Now, just because something is pitched as “healthy” doesn’t mean it is (see: Vitamin Water). The two latest forays into fitness gaming, however, really do seem to be worth the time and effort. Released within a week or so of each other, EA Sports Active for the Wii and Personal Trainer: Walking for Nintendo DS are must-haves for those sucked up in the recent craze.

Moore’s much-bragged-about Active comes pretty close to his hype. The game is a mixed bag: The activities are wonderfully challenging and strenuous, but the controls leave something to be desired. It comes with a leg strap to hold a device that records your movements and a really lame rubber strap circa 1975 to use during the activities.

The leg strap isn’t very comfortable and doesn’t always capture movement. But as long as you’re moving, you’re working out. Be wary, however, of cheap imitations. I purchased an extra set of equipment for multiplayer workouts, but the off-brand was cheap and flimsy, requiring constant adjustment.

The other title, Personal Trainer, is tough to review because it isn’t really a game. It consists of two digital pedometers and a game cartridge that reads data off the pedometer. There are some little activities that you can do, but mainly, it’s a device and a program to analyze the data off that device.

But I love it anyway. First off, in the past three years, I must have burned through about six pedometers. This is an extremely durable and extremely accurate device that records your steps, when you took them, and plots on a graph when you’re the most active and inactive. It’s amazing to see not only how many steps you take, but also your “life rhythm” (as the game calls it). You start out by registering your pedometer and setting a step target for the day. The game default automatically starts you at 3,000 steps, but 10,000 steps a day—roughly 5 miles—is where you want to aim.

After you walk for a day, you input the data, get an analysis … and that’s pretty much it. That’s the game’s best feature: You actually have to go outside and take the steps. It’s actually odd even to think of it as a video game, since it’s a true fitness tool.

But then there’s the cost. EA Sports Active rings in at about $60—more if you want an extra set of equipment. While that price isn’t too hard to swallow, it’s pretty high for a disc, a strap and a rubber band. Again, the game content is excellent, but I’m not so sure about $60.

However, that price is nothing compared to the $50 cost of Personal Trainer. That’s right, $50—and it’s not even really a game. That’s not to say that $50 is a lot when it comes to good health, but you can’t help but wonder if the price would be so high without the fitness-game craze.

Still, it’s hard to fault the game companies when the general public is willing to pay the cost. Why are we so willing? Peter Moore nailed it: More consoles than exercise equipment. Why go out and take a walk when you can stay inside and pretend?

 
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