I was cynical but the Wii fit is a great bit of kit. Like its relatively unsung predecessor, the PS2 Eye Toy, its potential for educational use is the most exciting thing about it. I first saw Eye Toy Play in 2003 on a six-hour stop-over in the otherwise barren airport lounge at Doha. No idea what it was. No instructions, but three bored boys taught my 8-year-old to use it and he taught me. At first simple games like Kung Fu and Wishi Washi seemed a harmless way of passing the time, but observing and playing them myself it seemed to me it was capable of development into a formidable tool for the rehabilitation of stroke victims and for other physiotherapeutic uses. The way the games motivate effort chimes with the kind of approach a Bobath therapist uses.
Briefly, a child with cerebral palsy may have limited movement from an early age. In order to improve, the child must be encouraged and enticed to use the parts of the body affected by the early brain injury. Otherwise, the longer a part of the body goes unstimulated, the more it loses its potential – use it or lose it applies in a major way to very young children with this condition. A child, whose right arm is affected will favour their left arm overmuch, and may ignore the right completely, leaving it to atrophy and greatly magnifying the consequences of the brain injury for the adult they become. Conversely, actively using affected limbs will reap big rewards. Cerebral palsy is a physical disability, not a mental disability and it can be alleviated and overcome by physical activity. Making very small children appreciate that is difficult if not impossible. But it’s in the early months and years that huge gains are possible.
Looked at in this light Wishi Washi and Kung Fu could be the perfect tool for making a child work both sides of the body evenly and spontaneously, as that’s the most efficient way to get the high score. So whether the child appreciates its benefits or not, it’s potentially an excellent way of getting a small child to literally play along with a physiotherapist. Or even possibly without one.
More to come on this subject