April 18th, 2007, 01:54 Posted By: wraggster
It is fair to say that the Nintendo Wii (pronounced wee) has become the virtual bane of many parents’ lives: it is the computer game that promises to get their children off the couch, or the PlayStation — if only it can be tracked down.
Launched before Christmas, it soon became the most soughtafter gadget in Britain. Yet stores that sold out in December — and there were many — are still out of stock, while the waiting list of impatient and disgruntled junior consumers grows ever longer.
Such is demand for the Wii, which retails at £179, that it is reportedly selling for bids of up to £600 on eBay (admittedly with lots of extra games).
What sets the Wii apart from rival computer games is the way it allows players to mimic the physical aspects of a game such as golf, tennis, boxing or baseball, via a hand-held remote control unit that communicates with a sensor sitting on the television.
With their purchase, gamers get Wii Sports, a package of five games including golf, bowling, tennis, boxing and baseball. A secondary device — which is attached via a cable and mimics a variety of objects from fishing rods to samurai swords — can be bought separately. In all, more than two dozen games are available including Rayman Raving Rabbids, in which players shake the remote control aggressively, and Red Steel, which involves wielding it like a handgun.
Unlike other games that require little more activity than the pressing of thumbs and fingers on a console, Wii players must move, even jump — backwards, forwards, side-wards and up — to get the highest scores.
In many ways it seems a perfect compromise — yes, it’s a computer game but it is also, perhaps, a solution in part to the obesity epidemic. At least, that is what the manufacturers would have a generation of parents anxious about the inactive lifestyles of their children believe.
But many experts are concerned about the marketing of the product. Critics argue that this is calculated to ease the conscience of parents who have neither the time nor the inclination for active play with their children.
And if Nintendo is so concerned about the expansion of waistlines, then perhaps it should plough some of its profits into funding children’s activity schemes or grassroots sport, they suggest.
“They claim that the Wii closely simulates a game such as tennis, so why not give kids a real racket and get them to go outside and play?” says Jo Tuffrey, a personal trainer and former PE teacher based in Berkshire. “The bottom line is that this is still a computer game. It still has a television set as a focus and, in that respect it still promotes a slothful, inactive lifestyle.”
However, the results of a study at Liverpool John Moores University, released in February, provided promising statistics on the Wii’s ability to burn calories. Professor Tim Cable, director of the school of sport and exercise sciences, and his colleagues found that, in theory, regular Wii use could shift 27lb (12.25kg) a year.
It sounds impressive — but closer inspection of the research, which was part-funded by Nintendo’s marketing company, reveals that the figures are based on an average 12.2 hours of “gaming” a week by 13 to 15-year-olds.
The scientists conceded that while the Wii burnt 40 per cent more calories than using a traditional console (ie, while sitting on the sofa), it was “never going to be as effective as getting out and playing sport”.
Using the game can also, it appears, have some unhealthy side-effects. As those players who have managed to get hold of it spend more time using the Wii, some are noticing that hours waving the game’s controller around can add up to fairly intense exertion — which results in aches, pains and overuse injuries. They are reporting a host of musculo-skeletal complaints including aching backs, sore shoulders and a condition dubbed “Wii elbow” by The Wall Street Journal.
The British Chiropractic Association (BCA) has recently cautioned that Wii injuries are plentiful and says that precautions against them should be taken. “Any unaccustomed exercise or activity lays you bare to problems that could occur from prolonged periods of active movement.
So treat the Wii like a gym workout — warming up and cooling down thoroughly,” says Tim Hutchful, a BCA spokesman. “It is also important to take frequent breaks, which should be every 15 to 30 minutes for those who don’t exercise regularly.”
Some Wii games have pop-up reminders every 15 minutes advising gamers to take a break. Yet research has shown that children play on their Wiis for up to six hours at a time.
Sammy Margo, a spokeswoman for the Chartered Society of Physiotherapists, is not surprised at the injury rates linked to the game. “Children think of them as ordinary computer games but they are not,” she says.
“To play a Wii tennis game, for instance, they need to build up a fair amount of speed to hit the virtual ball. They wouldn’t play two hours of conventional tennis, yet they are doing that with this game — and that is bound to result in some injuries.”
Since the Wii’s popularity has risen, so too has the number of websites cataloguing the injuries linked to it. Sites such as wiihaveaprob-lem.com list dozens of difficulties incurred by users, many with accompanying photographs of the damaged body parts. One girl, for instance, suffered a dislocated knee after playing on the Wii in inappropriate footwear.
Collisions are another common hazard. Flailing arms can sometimes inadvertently smack into lamps, furniture and competing players.
On ign.com , a site that reviews video games, one player reports losing her grip and sending the controller flying into a glass lampshade that smashed and cut her hand. Another mistakenly whacked his girlfriend as he played Wii tennis, and also accidentally hit his dog while Wii bowling.
A spokeswoman for Nintendo says that it has received no complaints from gamers about muscle soreness. Indeed, the game was not meant to be an alternative to the gym, she says, and “if people are finding themselves sore, they may need to exercise more”.
Remarkably, Nintendo suggests that while it might be more fun to play the games aerobically by leaping around, it is possible to play without leaving the couch Dr Ian Campbell, medical director of the charity Weight Concern, says that parents should limit the time that children play on the Wii and encourage them to play outside. So save £179 and buy a pair of tennis rackets instead.
A Wii warm-up
Tim Hutchful, of the British Chiropractic Association, gives a guide to a preWii warm-up:
1 Shoulder shrug — slowly shrug your shoulders towards your ears. Hold for two to three seconds, then relax. Repeat three times. Because it is easier to relax a muscle after you have tightened it, you will relax the muscles in the shoulder and allow the blood to flow into the arms.
2 Wrist stretch — slowly stretch the wrist backwards, hold for two to three seconds, then slowly stretch it forwards and hold for two to three seconds. Repeat three times. This exercise prevents tightening of the wrists.
3 Make a fist — hold the arm at right angles from the elbow. Make a fist and tense it, and the whole of your arm. Hold for two to three seconds, then relax and let the arm flop to your side. Repeat three times. This will help the blood flow and tone the muscles.
4 Neck muscle stretch — try to make a double chin, to stretch the muscles at the base of the neck. Hold this position for two to three seconds and repeat three times. Always stretch very slowly.
5 Lower back loosen — standing with your feet a shoulder-width apart, slowly circle your hips five revolutions to the right and then five revolutions to your left.
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