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.
One of the things Bobath suggested to us was encouraging the player to use their weaker hand. Wii Play allows you to set your preferred hand, and change it back easily when you’ve finished, so select the side you want to work on as your “dominant” hand. The score may feel dispiritingly low to begin with as it’s so different. The aim has to be to beat your own score in this, not to get a great score. Or to beat each other’s score and all play with the alternative hand.
The predecessor of the Wii Fit was the Eye Toy Kinetic, a ‘gym’ game for improving fitness. It was an important step but it didn’t get it quite right. Too complicated to log in was one issue, repellently fit avatar trainers was another, but more importantly, it was designed for people who were already fairly fit. This is a misunderstanding of its audience. Many creators continue to overlook the middle-aged audience they could harvest. The Eye Toy Kinetic’s routines require a level of agility seen in wiry teenagers, not fat middle-aged women who’ve forgotten, if they ever knew, how to exercise. But the Wii Fit has got it right. In the last four weeks I’ve watched some government morbidly obese statistics switch on to exercise because the Wii Fit helps you leap over the barriers to exercise without humiliation, finger-wagging or boredom. It manages to be motivational without ever being patronising. It gives frequent and timely feedback and it repays effort. I’ve seen a middle-aged man become competitive enough to beat a skinny teenager at hula hooping, and a woman who’s never run in her life jog for 60 minutes. This is when the technology becomes exciting, when it can incite this level of personal empowerment and change.