column: Houston, Wii Have a Problem

SLIGHTLY OFF THE MARK



            As a professional exercise avoidance expert (seriously, I’ve got a membership card) who’s also a volunteer firefighter and so needs to be in shape, I constantly search for some form of exercise that I actually enjoy. I constantly fail.

            There are people who enjoy weightlifting every day, and running long distances for hours at a time. They brag about “feeling the burn” and “no pain no gain”. In olden times this was called masochism, and reserved for people who paid leather clad women to whip them, then apply salt. I suppose either way you’d hit your target heart rate.

            Others talk about how great you feel after a workout. I’ve yet to determine whether I’m somehow different at a cellular level, or whether they’re simply lying to me and themselves. As an experiment, several years ago I hit the weight room for a regular, honest to goodness exercise regimen. For eight months I ate better, gained muscle mass and lost weight, felt the burn – who wants to be burned? – and was probably the healthiest I’d been since my factory job back in the 80’s.

            Just as with my factory job in the 80’s, I was miserable every second. I can’t help thinking people just claim to feel better, as part of their attempt to convince themselves all that work is really worth living to age 85, instead of 82. The modern health craze is the only thing keeping the adult diaper industry going.

            Now, there are some things I like to do that could help a person stay fit. Walking, for instance – not running. I actually like to walk, although I tend to go too fast for some people. But not fast enough for it to be running, because then I might spill my Mountain Dew. Let’s not get crazy.

            Most of the things I like to do are limited by cost or weather. I like to swim, and go canoeing, and … well, that’s about it. If you don’t have membership money, none of that works in an Indiana winter. So the problem is staying in something that approaches good shape during the cold season.

            As I was Christmas shopping last winter, I stumbled upon a chance to kill two birds with one stone, in a very fit stone-throwing kind of a way: I bought my fiancĂ©e a Wii.

            A Wii is a video game console, which at first glance would seem counter-productive. When I used to play my roommate’s Atari (yes, I’m that old), I’d end up a fetal position on the floor, trying over and over to protect my cities from incoming bombs with Missile Command. But oh, how things have changed. You see, the Wii came with a game called Wii Sport.

            Oddly enough, there are sports I hate watching or playing in real life, but enjoy on Wii. Although the videogames seem realistic, with Wii I can actually hit a tennis ball – something I’ve never been able to do in real life. Never. Also, I can hit a golf ball in the direction I want it to go, and box without ending up flat on the floor, unless I trip over the coffee table. Which … happens.

            It’s a miracle.

            The real miracle is that you don’t just push a button and move a joystick. The Wii controller is set up so that you actually perform the actions on the screen, so for instance when I swing a baseball bat I have to swing the controller. That’s what gives Wii a chance to be something that actually helps the fight for fitness. It’s as if World of Warcraft players had to pick up a real sword and swing it around to fight off those giant monster thingies.

            It does work. However, as I’ve discovered in the last few months, certain precautions need to be taken.

            First of all, do some warm ups and stretches before you start. The great thing about a game like this is that you have fun, and don’t even notice you’re up exercising, but it still has the same effect on your body. I went a little overboard on 18 rounds of golf once and ended up in screaming back agony for three days, which pretty much defeats the purpose.

            Second, there’s a wrist strap that secures the controller to your wrist. Use it. There have been confirmed reports of broken TV screens and even injuries. You do not want to tell the workers in the ER that you broke your nose playing Wii tennis. Imagine the danger of trying to put stitches in while laughing uncontrollably.

            Go by my house, and look at that broken picture window. Yep.

            (Actually, the picture window was broken by a cat – but that’s even more embarrassing than saying it was done with a videogame controller.)

            There’s also a protective sleeve that goes around the remote, kind of a Wii condom. A Wiidom. Use it to, um, prevent accidents. You don’t have to discuss it.

            Clear the room of anything that might be tripped over. Because you will. Well, I did.

            Finally, if you’re playing as a pair make sure you’re far enough away from each other to avoid a serious impact, ‘cause she’ll never let you live it down and demand not only a special ibuprofen delivery, but backrubs, sympathy, constant attention, and assistance in cleaning out her snake tank. Not that I’m thinking of anyone in particular, and I’d like to mention once again how very sorry I am.

            I just never thought of doubles tennis as a contact sport. Especially in my living room.