Reality hit hard as I stood on the balance board of the Wii Fit. After Nintendo’s fitness game asked my height and weighed me, it began redrawing my Mii, my cartoon self, making it rounder and rounder until I was downright obese.
My name is Sherry. I am a former size 2, which is how I had drawn myself; a pair of glasses was my only nod to time and age. Looking at my Mii, I was forced to admit that my temporary pregnancy weight was not so temporary.
Now, I know how to eat. In fact, I can eat just 1100 calories a day without a hunger pang. For most of my life, that and a few nights a week at the gym have been enough. No more, not at age 48; gym time’s been crowded out by two boys, 4 and 6; a full-time job; a book due at the publisher’s; and the care and feeding of two cats, three frogs, and dozens of fish. Fortunately, at 35-by-50 centimeters, the Wii balance board fits in a tiny New York City apartment.
The balance board, essentially a low-rise electronic step, is the centerpiece of Nintendo’s fitness game. With sensors similar to those in a digital bathroom scale in each of its four corners, the board can read when you’ve moved forward, backward, and sideways; it’s sensitive enough to measure your balance even if you tip slightly to the side. The Wii can measure not only my weight but also my success at yoga, hula-hoop hip swish, and soccer.
Wii Day 1. As my Mii stared back at me past chubby cheeks that looked frighteningly like my dad’s, I resolved it was the first day of my Wii Fit diet. This Mii shall be thin again!
Wii ended day one by kissing up a little bit. After asking me to walk in place to measure my balance, it declared my Wii age to be only 33 and offered me a dreamy hunk of a yoga instructor—that is, if you’re into the strong mannequin type. This would actually be fun, if only the game would stop saying ”oof” every time I step on board.
Wii Day 2. Tonight I ran a slow mile through a Wii-generated trail complete with virtual waterfalls, trees, buddies to run with, and puppies to run past. I had time to notice the familiar faces in the crowd—Miis I’ve created for the boys and some friends—to cheer me on. Sadly, I find running in place exceptionally uncomfortable—and a little too active, if I’m to remain on friendly terms with my downstairs neighbor. You don’t even get to run on the step. Instead, your speed is measured by the up-and-down movement of the Wii remote—the game system’s original wireless hand controller. So my first Wii run will be my last—in my opinion, a well-executed game failure. Still, the effort has left 20 coins in my little animated bank, one for every minute I’ve exercised. I feel richer and thinner already.
Week 2 . I am down 1.4 kilograms, despite being as awful at the hula hoop as I was when I was 12. So I’ve fallen back on old gym habits of step aerobics (yes, I know, this locates my formative years in the heart of the disco era). I have now stepped far enough to have unlocked the advanced game. That means I no longer have to look at my Mii and other Miis walking up and down to truly boring music. Instead, the Wii lets me set a timer and asks me to pick up the Wii remote again. The device has its own speaker, designed originally to enhance the wireless Wii gaming experience. Now that speaker plays a low beat, a metronome to which I can step while switching my monitor from Wii Fit to network television. So with the Wii quietly counting for me, and Wii Fit running invisibly in the background, I watched ”Ugly Betty” and walked 6 kilometers in my 28-square-meter apartment.
Week 4. Down 3 kg. I have learned I can’t beat my 6-year-old at any version of soccer that throws balls, shoes, and pandas at me indiscriminately. I am, however, a pretty good boxer. On the Wii, boxing is essentially step aerobics again, but you get to punch stuff.
Week 5. Nintendo has invented a new kind of race, ”Catch a Wii Fit.” You play it in the real world. Despite the fitness game’s US $89.99 price tag—not insignificant considering your Wii already cost you $250—it’s been out of stock since its introduction. The local Nintendo store has long lines for the few it gets in daily, and Amazon is offering cellphone alerts for its sporadic allotments. Then you get to race to be the first to buy. I lost this race five times until winning twice—gifts for my two sisters. My brother is on his own, as I’ve used up my Amazon Wii Fit allotment of three.
Week 8 . Down 6 kg, and my older son has mastered the tightrope walk, complete with death-defying leaps over birds. Mom just falls off, again and again, but so does the weight. I must be doing well. The Wii offered me a night off.
Meanwhile, the little Miis are taking on distinct personalities. Mine steps around and does a lot of yoga. The kids Miis look like they’re tightrope walking in place. A friend who created a character and then never came back has a Mii that perpetually snoozes. Some people in the Nintendo design team had a little too much time on their hands.
It looks like I am going to miss my 10-week goal of losing 9 kg. One of the Wii cast of characters has taken to asking me if perhaps I want an easier target. Presumptuous little gadget.
Week 12 . Down 8 kg and no longer ”obese”! Tonight I am merely overweight.
Week 20. I lose weight any week I’m on Wii Fit and none when I procrastinate, despite a very strict diet. I am down 10 kg and resolve not to miss another week this year!
About the Author
Sherry Sontag is coauthor of the best seller Blind Man’s Bluff: The Untold Story of American Submarine Espionage (Harper Perennial, 1998). In July 2008, she pitted the Amazon Kindle e-bookagainst two of its rivals for IEEE Spectrum . Sontag lives and works in New York City.