January 2010 rolled around and I decided to make a birthday resolution – to buy a Nintendo Wii and to get more active by playing games which I liked. My birthday was only a short 4 weeks away, so timing was perfect for a little self splurging.

When the day came, I could not contain my excitement as we made our way to the video game store where my geek friend M is a regular customer. This was of course after I binged out at Tony Romas for a special dinner of delicious beef ribs and sinful desserts. What! A girl’s gotta enjoy her birthday first, right? I would offset it with multiple sessions of Wii, I promise!

At the game store I quickly pointed to what I wanted and there it was, beautifully boxed and ready to jump out! I whipped out my credit card, added the points to M’s membership card, and tada! I was now a new and proud owner of the Wii. I wanted to get the Just Dance game too at the time, however the store ran out, so I had to be contented with my sole purchase and walked home with the one game that came included in the box, the Wii Sport. Additional games could come later.

Fairy & The Wii

Got a Wii for my birthday resolution - exercise or die trying!

M helped me to setup the game console at home, as he always does (hey, the birthday girl gets to kick her heels off and get her geek friend to setup new tech toys for her) and pretty soon I was in business. Since I only had one game, I was to be satisfied to play only that for just another day. I made sure every sweat dropped over virtual tennis and bowling was worth the time and effort. I even bought indoor shoes so that my toes wouldn’t blister over my shiny tiled floors!

The following day I made another quick trip back to the game store. This time, after a little bit of research I purchased a new game called Wii Fit. It was a revolutionary game (at least for me it was) in that it came with something called a Balance Board which resembled a scale. The Balance Board is a platform you could step on, and underneath the hood were sensors that could detect your weight, body balance and movement. This intelligent peripheral worked beautifully with the series of games that were on the disc, ranging from yoga, strength, aerobics and some fun balance games.

The first thing that I had to do in order to play Wii is to setup an avatar which is essentially a graphical representation of myself which could then be used in the Wii Fit game. After keying in some personal information such as my sex, age, weight and height, I anxiously stepped onto the Balance Board which calculated my body to ascertain the status of my current weight: underweight, normal, or overweight (not sure if it had the ‘obese’ category, oh heaven forbid).

During that first weigh in on the Balance Board, I laughed out loud when I saw how the first-skinny avatar’s body filled up as the weight increased during measuring. However when the meter counting finally stopped, so did my laughing because I saw that my weight was dangerously edging the overweight area. Yikes. I was still barely in the normal range, yes, but that didn’t pacify me. I reminded myself that this was why I bought the Wii, and I knew I had to get working and try to bring my BMI down before it crossed the dreaded overweight line.

What also impressed me about the Wii Fit game was how it was able to tell you your physiological age based on some tests. Yes, I may have only been 30 years of age but after trying out some balancing acts and response games, I found out that physically I had the body of a 45 year old! That was a reality check – my first assessment and I’m already in midlife?! That was so uncool. That showed how way off balance and how out of tune my body was.

Remembering how I didn’t quite enjoy yoga moves based on my previous DVD purchase experience, I decided to try the ones that were on Wii Fit and I quickly discovered that these flexibility moves were to become my best friends. Not only were they easy to follow, but the Balance Board also showed me if I was correctly positioned in the stance shown on screen by use of a simple but clever graphical indicator. If my red dot was not located in the blue area, I knew I had to shift my body and hold it there in order to gain the maximum points. Prior to starting the move, a short blurb would appear on screen to tell me which body areas would reap the most benefit from the pose. Oh, that was lovely. Finally, a self-yoga routine that talked back to me, what more could a DIY girl ask for?

With the addition of yoga on the Wii, my blue yoga mat quickly outgrew its defunct function and began seeing the floor of my living room and the soles of my feet more often. Not to mention more than a few drops of sweat!

The other cute games on Wii Fit were a scream too, especially funny balance games like hula hoop. One looks really silly trying to whip around a virtual hula hoop (if it makes you feel better, you can actually try to use a real hoop along with it), but hey if I was going to trim the waist and burn off those abdominal fats, who cared if the neighbor saw me looking like a psychiatric patient off her medication?

Another feature I appreciated highly on the Wii Fit was a calendar log function that records down the days on and duration which I exercised. At this point I was still using the Wii Fit version 1 game (I upgraded later to Wii Fit Plus) so I didn’t know how many calories I burned for every game I played. But that didn’t matter, what was important is that I finally had a plan to exercise, and pretty soon I was firing up my Wii 3-5 times a week, about 30 minutes at a time. Waking up on the weekends to do yoga or walking the tight rope on the Wii proved to be very entertaining and rewarding, and time spent on exercising seemed to fly by.

While all of this was happening, I was finding Just Dance an impossible game to purchase locally. Very popular game, I thought, so I went online and just made an order on Amazon. While I was at it, I also bought a game called EA Sports Active which was a highly recommended game by many Wii gamers who were into exercise games, plus Bob Greene, the man behind the game, is Oprah Winfrey’s trainer. Not that that says much about the potential of the game (Oprah isn’t exactly permanently slim these days, but who knows, I could be watching old seasons of her show) but after seeing some video previews of it, EA Sports Active became even more intriguing. My newly ordered games were due to arrive in a few weeks and when they did, I ripped them out of their packaging like a hungry wilder beast clawing for meat.

Just Dance was like an old familiar friend, I popped in that CD and got reacquainted fast with the game play. I’d play that thing almost every night, committing myself to at least 5 songs. My family would find me randomly playing it as late as 10PM on some week days and are stunned that I’m causing a ruckus so near bedtime. Sure I looked ridiculous dancing in the living room in the middle of night all by myself, but when you’re on a roll, you’re on a roll, baby. Move over, Britney!

My weekly dosage of exercise Wii games: Wii Fit, Just Dance, EA Sports Active

EA Sports Active was a more serious approach to exercise, with a combination of strength, aerobic and toning. Everything had been tailor made to suit your difficulty level, from easy, intermediate to advanced. I did everything at easy pace at first, of course. The game box came with a few interesting accessories, including a red resistance band and a velcro holder which I would wear on my thigh and in which I could slip my secondary Wii nun chuck controller (this was to monitor and record moves that required leg movement such as lunges, squats and running). To make my life easier I followed the pre-set 30-day programme (which I never really completed in that time given because I had so many games to play), which basically asks that I do 30 minutes of their planned activities for 2 days, then get 1 day rest for recovery, then continue again with another 2 days, and so on.

This particular game was also an eye-opener for me as to how poor my aerobic condition was. I was just literally out of breath and flat during the running sessions, cursing and wishing the rounds were shorter and could end more quickly (they could if I could run in place faster!). Simple moves like the knee lunges and squats were killer on me too. I couldn’t understand how people could actually hold a squat for an entire minute (try it and see how it burns!), God that was painful! For me that was the true test of endurance, if you could hold a squat in midair for 60 seconds without feeling like you’re going to murder the game developers, ladies and gentlemen, you pretty much don’t need this game.

EA Sports Active also made use of the Wii Balance Board from Wii Fit, so I could use it for moves like the roller blade race. This one was challenging too for me, you basically had to squat in order to get the character onscreen to rollerblade faster, and when you came up to a ramp, you had to gently yet quickly straighten up your legs in time (but don’t jump on the board, the game will stop if you do) so that the character jumps off and lands successfully and continues on. I got to know my lactic acid buildup level a little bit too intimately during these times, but hey if these moves were going to kill off my thunder thighs, I’m sticking with ‘em!

Playing with the resistance band was a new thing to me. It essentially is a long rubber band with a soft handle on each end that I could slip my hands into whilst holding the Wii controllers so that the game tracks my arm movements. I would drop the middle section of the band on the floor and step on it to hold it in place, and with a corresponding game move, I pulled the ends of the band over my head, to my sides or in whatever position the game required me to do. The main aim of this simple yet effective tool was to tone the arm muscles. A few months after doing all that, I visited a couple of friends for dinner, and as I was sitting on their couch I laid back and extended one arm on the couch head area, to which one of them exclaimed I had toned biceps! Wow, I didn’t see that coming, though I was grinning sheepishly at the compliment. It’s funny how sometimes people notice changes in you before you do.

In short, I found that video game exercises worked for me because one, I loved video games, and two, I loved how simple and interactive they were, they really were like having your own personal trainers. Of course, the initial investment is quite high, but really, how different could it be than paying for a gym that you might not even go to. Having a video game console at home is something you’ll never get to run away from. Unless you’re planning to live in your car.

The games that I owned had many things in common, such as the point system and virtual trophies and awards that you could collect as you went along the programs, motivating you to do even more. Furthermore, the games recorded down all your activities and the time spent on them, so you didn’t have to write them down anywhere if you were lazy to do so. This is especially important to monitor your progress and to see how much time you were spending on exercise.

In this regard, the Wii Fit was my absolute favorite because it also chartered my weight status, so when I started losing pounds, I could graphically see the lovely dip trend on the game. A few months later, I discovered a radical feature on Wii Fit; the game eventually grants you a “Progress” button after about 10 sessions or more of working out. When I clicked on the button, I could see my avatar shrink in correspondence to the weight lost, right before my eyes, as though the extra mass was melting away in fast forward motion! Now while such an occurrence in real life is a scary indication that you might have tape worm in your intestines, it was gratifying to see such a powerful representation of all my hard work on the Wii, converted into just a few seconds.

In conclusion, exercising with video games would later on pave way for my involvement in other physical activities and other bold attempts at sporting events. But that’s material for another chapter.