One of the most useful aspects of the Wii board for us is the ability to measure balance, how you’re distributing your weight. If you’re placing your weight too much on one side this provides excellent onscreen feedback, useful to a hemiplegic who will tend to favour one side excessively. As far as I can see, there’s no way to call up this feature at will. It kicks in as part of the ‘Body Test’ feedback and lasts for a few seconds. Ideally, this should be a separate feature, a mini game on its own, allowing the user to focus on the feeling of being in balance for longer. This allows for deeper learning.
The balance tool is also useful when doing a downward-facing dog pose in yoga, where the weight should be distributed evenly between arms and legs. But it’s impossible to look at the screen when in the position. There is some aural feedback, a small ‘bing’ when you hit the spot, but not enough to allow you to feel how near or far you are from being correctly posed. A possible solution would be a gentle rising and falling tone to allow the user to understand when they’re getting closer and further away from it. A nice rising and falling ‘om’ might help.
Just watching BBC World news on the new X Box offering- the new game looks like it will also add to the physical immersive experiences already offered by Eye Toy. All games that extend the ideas in this area and the possibilities for interactive physical play for people of all abilities can only be good news. While they are useful for general entertainment my main interest is in how they can be used for physiotherapeutic reasons with kids and adults with cerebral palsy, especially right or left-sided hemiplegia. This one looks like it’s worth keeping an eye on.
And the Wii Fit takes this possibility a step further. Another issue for mild cerebral palsy cases – and for many people without the condition – is posture and balancing the weight evenly on both sides of the body – the kind of balance you strive to achieve in an Alexander Technique class. A board that gives you accurate feedback about whether you are using both sides evenly is a significant development. The Wii Fit seems able to do this with an onscreen display to give you your level of wobble. Using this should in theory train you into recognising what your body feels like when you’re standing evenly. But does it know whether you have both feet flat on the board while you do this? Only one way to find out . . .
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