When my body started to slow down in my in the middle of my Navy career one of the things I had to slowly let go of, much to my chagrin, was physical training (PT). I slowly went from miles of running a day, to elliptical training (didn’t you know this is “no-impact”?), to swimming (this was actually a good change for me), to days where I was only allowed to do small amounts of stretching and yoga. Even now, I am allowed to swim only a few laps at a time, which is really all I can handle, and the other types of exercise I can do change with the season.
Additionally, because we live in a climate where we have these things I am told are called “seasons” (which we did not have in Hawai’i but I vaguely remember from Michigan), going out to do exercise is a hassle. It is tiring, it takes work, it takes spoons, and all of that is before I even step foot in the gym. Going to the gym can be a draining event, physically and emotionally. I hated going as I grew less confident about my body, because the military can be such a cesspool of fat shaming and body negativity.
So, when the Nintendo Wii introduced the balance board I was over the moon with excitement at the thought of bringing exercise into my own home. I had some store credit at a GameStop from being hosed from trying to get into the Warhammer Online Beta while running a Mac machine (they would only give me credit). So, I brought the thing home and happily plugged it in. Home gyms are expensive, and gaming is a pricey hobby. Two in one! How could I go wrong?
I will tell you that the board’s usage itself, along with Wii Sports game pack included, presented everything that I was looking for, and to this day I’ll rave about the Wii’s schtick. With the exception of the Yoga in the included game, which required me to hold one pose for far longer than my body can do comfortably—rather than giving me options to move from one to another (and I still can not find one that will do this)—the Sports pack was exactly what I needed to fit a little bit of motion into my day. There was a walking track that let me move in place. There was a step aerobics game, all kinds of fun balance games, and they were all in small enough bursts that I was not overwhelmed, or drained. Some other people with more motor function or motion control issues than I have might not be able to manage it, though.
First, though, the Wii wanted to do a fitness assessment. I had to stand on the board to be weighed, something I dreaded. I had to move around, to see if I could get this little dot in the center of the screen by shifting my weight. The game had to match my “physical age” or some such with the age I entered into the database and give me an arbitrary number that was supposed to equal how old my body was based on what shape it was in. I watched in horror as the little Mii I had created plopped out a big belly on the screen and reflected a cartoon-y version of me that I fear I’ll see when I look in the mirror—the version of me that will always be there because I have body dysmorphic issues from years of eating disorder recovery.
Then, every time I used the damned thing, it wanted me to “weigh in.” The game reminded me that it had been “X” number of days since I had used it, and even though you don’t have to set a target weight goal, there it was; the option to set myself up to fall off the edge of progress gained. I just didn’t need a creepy personal trainer fat-shaming me on top of losing my job, my declining mobility issues, and an increasing relapse into body hatred.
Eventually, I couldn’t use it. There were days I wanted to, but I would nearly have a panic attack at the thought of taking it out. I couldn’t use the Wii Sports anymore, and I haven’t used it again in a really long time.
What could have been a really positive experience for me, something the video game industry was trying to push, turned into a negative, fat-shaming, concern-trolling nightmare.
I love the idea of interactive entertainment that allows for movement. Like I’ve mentioned before, video games are working towards a place where they’re accessible to more people, but the exercise game industry has to get a better understanding of its audience. More importantly, they need to consider the ramifications of projecting shame onto people who want to exercise, but who are already finding barriers to accessing exercise for any number of reasons.
I’ve not had the opportunity to try out the Kinect or the PlayStation Move, so I have no idea if the exercise games in their bundles have similar deterrents, but I don’t think I’ll be able to use my Wii to get that benefit from it ever again.