Wii Fit: Don’t take it too seriously

An image of the Wii Fit Plus Box. It shows five slender people, ranging from a young girl to an older man, exercising in various Wii Fit poses.

Santa brought me the new Wii Fit Plus for Christmas and I’ve been playing for the last week and a half.  I mostly missed the Wii Fit hype and shortage last year, so I began knowing very little about this fitness game.  Using a balance board and the Wii remote, I’m able to do yoga poses and various aerobic, balancing, and strength-building exercises.

The box for Wii Fit Plus suggests children and old folks can enjoy Wii Fit.  I appreciate that it helps folks exercise and be active because I believe everyone should have access to exercise.  Of course, most of the world’s population can’t afford a Wii and Wii Fit is not accessible to many people with disabilities, but it introduces exercise to the temporarily able-bodied middle class folks privileged enough to game.

I’m a pretty active person and find the virtual jogging and cycling a wimpier substitution for the real thing.  But I’ve been doing the yoga and strength building routines on rainy days, and they do make me sweat and sore the next day.  Even if I don’t get a cardio workout with Wii Fit Plus, it’s already helped my flexibility, balance, and strength.

Flexibility, balance, and strength are fair things to work on.  I appreciate that the game can track my improvement.  What I’m less thrilled about is the game’s use of the body mass index (BMI) to calculate whether I’m underweight, “normal,” overweight, or obese.  I am surprised this contemporary game still uses the archaic BMI (invented over 150 years ago).  The BMI does not account for muscle weighing more than fat and often classifies athletes as overweight or obese.  It also standardizes white norms because it is based on white people.

Wii Fit has already drawn criticism for sparking potential eating disorders for diagnosing an active girl as overweight.  It also classifies my partner, who is slender with a fast metabolism but rarely exercises, as underweight.  The game says the average BMI for someone of his height is about 30 pounds heavier than what he is, which he could never gain, nor does he need to.

I don’t appreciate how the game assumes everyone wants to be thin and lean.  I buy into it.  As a feminist, I’m aware of how I’ve internalized mainstream beauty standards and know that is why I flirt with eating disorders myself.  Wii Fit enables me to obsess over my weight when I’d previously refused to own a scale so I wouldn’t let it measure my self-worth.  While my Wii praises me for fitting into the “normal” category, it asks me how I screwed up if I weigh in at a few pounds heavier than I had on the previous day.  Did I over eat?  Did I have a late night snack?

My advise to Wii Fit gamers is the same advice I’m telling myself: don’t take it too seriously.  Have fun doing sun salutations and virtual ski jumps, but don’t let the game make you feel bad about yourself.  Know it’s using old fashioned measurements of “health.”  Perhaps in future incarnations of Wii Fit we will be able to set more goals than just losing weight (or gaining, in the case of my “underweight” partner).  I hope a future incarnation of Wii Fit will use a more creature measure of “progress” than the body mass index.

About Lake Desire

Lake Desire, real name Ariel Wetzel, has been blogging about feminism and videogames since 2005 at her blog New Game Plus. Lake also writes at Feminist SF - The Blog! Lake Desire is an English graduate student at University of Washington, studying science fiction, feminism, and cyberculture. At work, Lake participates in rank and file labor organizing and the anti-budget cuts struggle. Lake believes in direct democracy, queer liberation, and opposes white supremacy, patriarchy, and imperialism. Lake is white, queer, feminist, anarchist, and of course a cyborg. Lake may not sound like your typical gamer, but has been gaming since a toddler and never managed to quit.
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18 Responses to Wii Fit: Don’t take it too seriously

  1. Twyst says:

    I have this game too, and it classifies me as a bit heavy, which, i admit, made me cry, because i too, dont own a scale because i figured, why bother. It also said the same about my boyfriend — that he was underweight, which isnt true.
    I got a bit frustrated with WiiFit not being high enough impact, and we bought EA Active. It has been really good so far, and doesnt ask you about weight / BMI.

  2. Lake Desire says:

    Thanks for the tip! I didn’t even know there were other balance board games.

  3. Cuppycake says:

    I haven’t tried Wii Fit, but I love EA Active. Like Twyst says, it doesn’t mention anything about BMI and lets me just put in my weight and tracks progress over time.

  4. Erika says:

    Does it really nag you if you weigh in a bit heavier one day over the next? I had been thinking about getting one, but I seriously don’t think I could handle that.

    Your weight fluctuates from day to day, and from hour to hour, for reasons that have nothing to do with calories consumed or burned. Is there a button you can click to tell the Wii that “No, I didn’t overeat, I’m just bloated and/or haven’t pooped yet today”?

    • Nonny says:

      Yes, it does, and it’s what decided me against EVER buying one. I don’t know if there’s a way to disable that “feature”, but since it’s there by default… screw that.

    • Lake Desire says:

      “I have indigestion” is an option when it asks you why you’ve gained weight. It may not ask you that, however, if you don’t set a weight-loss goal. And the game does say weight fluctuation is normal so it recommends that you weigh in at the same time every day.

    • Twyst says:

      I dont think you have to weigh in every day, you can skip doing the “body test”, but as the others have said, it does. And it makes your avatar bigger/smaller. D:

  5. Quix says:

    I’ve stuck to my running and DDR – though I admit I have been curious about it. I can’t help thinking but they must have had a normal weighted person design that system, as anyone else would certainly see that just coming out and saying essentially “you’re too fat” or “you’re too skinny” is no bueno. I’m all for constructive feedback for those who want it, but maybe that should just be an option (and defaulted off).

    Yourself!Fitness at least had the tact to tell me that my weight was outside of health and fitness guidelines, but that not everyone was normal (or something like that).

  6. Nonny says:

    I know someone who has one of these and she mentioned that after the holidays, she went back to it, and because she had gained like 5lbs or so… she turned it on, and upon analyzing her weight: “OUCH.”

    I’d considered getting it because I could use some incentive to exercise more, but you know, I have enough issues with other people trying to butt their heads in about my weight (I’m about a size 14-16). I don’t need a fucking machine to get on the bandwagon too.

  7. no one important says:

    I bought Wii Fit mainly to improve my terrible balance. Never got around to using it much. The minigames are hella fun though.

  8. koipond says:

    It’s hard to ignore something that you want to use every day if it’s telling you that you’re fat. It doesn’t matter that it gives you “reasons” why you gained weight from the previous day, all that matters is that it apparently cares enough to throw you into the maelstrom of body image moulding that the rest of society does rather than just show you the game.

    However, getting the balance thing is awesome if only for playing the Rabbids game.

    • Twyst says:

      YES! I was about to reply to Lake Desire and say that Raving Rabbids TV Party is great fun with the balance board!

      • koipond says:

        Someone brought it to work one day and I was amazed at how fun it was with the balance board. The one thing about the Wii is that I think how different, and how many options, you get kind of puts off a lot of game manufacturers because they don’t really get it, or put it to it’s fullest potential.

        However, Raving Rabbids TV Party is not one of them.

  9. Dan says:

    I think that aspect of wii-fit is just Nintendo aiming for a realistic gaming experience — or at least realistic for Japan where it was developed.

    I taught English there for 2 years and just had to get used to having any fluctuations in weight commented on. Both teachers and students would regularly tell me that I looked fat or smart (a weird translation for thin) that day, and most of my foreign friends (even the girls) had similar experiences.

    So to a large degree, Wii Fit isn’t particularly offensive compared to Japanese manners in general. And even though BMI is a poor instrument for measuring fitness, at least it’s better than Japan’s official standard, waist size.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2008/06/13/world/asia/13fat.html?_r=1

  10. Sheez. The only way I’d be cool with this shaming technique is if it was purely optional. (And preferably with the default set to NOT verbally abuse you)

    It makes me cringe, but I have friends who prefer a “tough coach” approach and wouldn’t mind this shaming approach, but if you can’t turn it off, there’s no way I’d buy this.

  11. koipond says:

    Dan :
    I think that aspect of wii-fit is just Nintendo aiming for a realistic gaming experience — or at least realistic for Japan where it was developed.
    I taught English there for 2 years and just had to get used to having any fluctuations in weight commented on. Both teachers and students would regularly tell me that I looked fat or smart (a weird translation for thin) that day, and most of my foreign friends (even the girls) had similar experiences.
    So to a large degree, Wii Fit isn’t particularly offensive compared to Japanese manners in general. And even though BMI is a poor instrument for measuring fitness, at least it’s better than Japan’s official standard, waist size.
    http://www.nytimes.com/2008/06/13/world/asia/13fat.html?_r=1

    Hey Dan, just because it happens to be made in a country that has also institutionalized ideas about body types doesn’t make it okay that it’s reinforcing those stereotypes here too.

  12. nanasuyl says:

    I got the first Wii Fit for Xmas in 2008. Was shocked how much that balance board (the one that welcomes you to the game) talks and takes itself so seriously. It said I was underweight based on BMI. What a load of rubbish. With my dad, it said he was overweight and made his mii twice as big. He didn’t care much either, although he does need to lose weight, based on what his doctor said, no that silly balance board avatar.

    I got addicted for a while with that step game. Quite fun, silly irritating music, nice match. I don’t play it much more though, I use my balance board for Rayman Raving Rabbids TV Party. Controlling a game with your bum is just brilliant.

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