According to the American Heart Association, approximately 40% of Americans say exercise is “not fun.” This apparently gives them all the reason they need to keep their ample duffs planted on their sofas. Perhaps anticipating the heart attacks to come, last month the AHA and Nintendo joined hands “to help Americans establish healthier lifestyles” by using the video game console phenomenon known as the Wii, and more specifically the game Wii Fit.
Personally, I find this news disturbing, if not alarming. Weren’t we born into this world to… experience it? Aren’t we supposed to embrace nature and people? Shouldn’t we be out there, breathing in the air (fresh or foul), jostling up against others, breaking into a sweat? Aren’t we supposed to be doing certain things… naturally?
Well, some of us are. But not the “Wii people.” Wii people, as Nintendo would have us believe, need never leave their homes to experience the “magic” of the universe. Over the years, that magic has included “playing instruments,” “rescuing dinosaurs” and more recently “doing exercise.”
Apparently, the philosophy behind these Wii exercise games is that staying indoors to participate in a fun-filled activity such as tennis is somehow preferable to doing so outside — where, I don’t know, maybe the sun might be shining. But in the Wii universe, the sun, air, other elements — and, more importantly, other people — aren’t necessary. No, all you need to master your domain is a Wii wand and the ability to shake, rattle and jerk it to get your screen avatar to do all the fun things that you could do, too — if you just opened the damn door and walked out of your apartment.
Early ads for Wii exercise games in Japan featured teams of older and younger Japanese celebs waving wands, sharing smiles and jumping for joy. The message, I guess, was that the cross-generational thrills of the Wii world could bring all of us together in ways heretofore unimagined.
The Wii also tapped into the single female market with an advert focusing on a youthful woman dressed in her unitard, balancing on one foot in her darkened six-mat room while she parroted the movements of her onscreen Wii guide. While she wasn’t convulsed with the fake smiles and laughter of earlier ads, the woman showed how easy it was to tighten her hamstrings or fall flat on her face — without having to endure the judgmental stares from fellow yoga club members.
It was this shift in advertising strategy that started to make me uncomfortable. Wii Fit and its popular cousin, Wii Sports Resort, have sold millions of units worldwide. While the Nintendo wizards may have initially hoped to bring us together, I think they have helped to isolate us even more. The fact that the Wii was created in Japan is the clue: many young otaku here seem perfectly content to hole up in their hutches, keeping any contact with living, breathing creatures to an absolute minimum. The Wii, in its many forms, gives them endless opportunities to do just this.
But I’d like to tell them something that the Wii doesn’t want them to know: unless you are a special needs student participating in a “virtual PE class,” an invalid, or down for the final count, it’s actually not necessary to stay inside and play games in dark, hellish little cubicles. You see, we have something called “outside.” When you go outside, you can see other people. Interact with them. Walk and run with them. Maybe even… fall in love with them.
With the Wii, what you might learn is: the more you stay “inside,” the more you’ll want to. Continue to play Wii games long enough, and you might believe you’ve gained “control” over your life. Except you don’t really have a life: only the Wii does.
David Chester is a professional songwriter, voiceover actor, screenwriter and short filmmaker based in Tokyo.
This commentary originally appeared in Metropolis magazine (www.metropolis.co.jp).© Japan Today