March 2009 Archives

The most common complaints I see on the Wii Fit are: 1) No one uses it after the first day anyway, and 2) it's a placebo - any benefit that people see from using it they could just as easily could/would have gotten from any other exercise.

To both of these complaints I say: who are you to tear something successful down, and you're wrong, besides.

If you know me, you know that I have very little time for people whose first reaction to success is to minimize and denigrate it.  Their efforts add nothing to the world and take much from it.  There is utility in analyzing a success to learn how it was done, and even more utility in looking at how something harmful has become successful and how to stop it.  But the arguments against the Wii in general, and the WiiFit specifically are not doing that.  Here's an example:

Talk to anyone that actually works in fitness - it isn't actually Wiifit helping them get fit. Wiifit is essentially a placebo. You'd get the same amount of exercise trying to play with the dial on a measuring scale by shifting left and right.

There were two paragraphs in this person's comment, but they both said just that: there are other ways to do this, the WiiFit is fake.  Now, there is nothing productive here.  WiiFit makes *some* people lead healthier lives, gives *some* people the little nudge they need to do that thing they'd been knowing that they should.  That nudge might send them to the gym, in other circumstances.  But in the cases under discussion, the nudge came from WiiFit.  And there is nothing *wrong* with that.  Additionally, if they're not misusing 'placebo', then it actually argues against them. 

Now, my frustration with this has an element to it that is very relevant to textuality.org.  One thing that is very special about playing and about games as they promote play is the creation of a space, temporal and physical, where some of the rules of everyday life are suspended.  In that space, you get a chance to try something that you would not normally do.  The "magic circle" around games allows people to practice at things as well as to sublimate antisocial desires.  Sometimes the thing being practiced is useless, but sometimes it's very very useful, as in the case of WiiFit.

I will, begrudgingly, admit that there's very little "game" in the WiiFit as people commonly use it.  There are mini-games within it, but they are by no means the focus, and there's no metagame around them.  

What there is, however, is a $70 peripheral, a console, and a whole bunch of software creating a "magic circle" ... around *exercise*.  Whether or not people get really into it, at some level they are role-playing a healthier person.  A home is a private place, which makes it excellent for self-conscious people to exercise in; the WiiFit gives them a structure to do that within.  It tracks their progress.  It lets them fail an exercise without embarrassment.  It makes them focus on the screen and their progress rather than on the jiggle of some body part that shouldn't jiggle.   And yes, I speak from experience.

Sometimes the lovers need to wander off into the forest and be enchanted by fairies to sort out their squabbles.  Sometimes a White Wolf LARP is enough to teach someone to socialize.  Sometimes a "game" is all that's needed to change habits, because what's really needed is an excuse to be someone else for a little while.  Sometimes the placebo works, and that's productive. 

A while back, and spread over a year, two friends and I had a discussion of the semantics of links, spurred by some irritating automated dictionary linking. I tried to summarize the discussion in a couple of ways, but I couldn't do better than the original. Here it is.

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