Here's the thing: I'm supposed to be training for a triathlon — a race that just so happens to be a mere three months away. But have I done a lick of exercise in preparation? As a matter of fact, no.
A friend of mine is fighting breast cancer and I'd like to get in shape for the Danskin Women's Triathalon, which raises money for the Breast Cancer Research Foundation. But here's the hitch: I'm lazy. Also, I did a lot of exercising when I was a whippersnapper (I was a distance runner in a past life) and now I'm bored of it. All that huffing and puffing and sweating — why bother when I could be sitting on my ever-expanding buttocks playing video games?
Enter "Wii Fit," Nintendo's newest product for those of us who spend too much time perched on our dimpled derrieres doing things like playing games or watching TV or, you know, pretty much anything other than what we know we should be doing with our spare time, which is exercising.
Balance Board: Gateway to better fitness?
Acting like a cross between a personal trainer and a video game, "Wii Fit" offers up more than 40 different exercises and activities that are supposed to help those who play it not only get into shape but actually have fun while getting into shape. Fat chance, you say? Well, to spice things up a bit, Nintendo has packaged "Wii Fit" with the Wii Balance Board, which is essentially what you'd get if a bathroom scale and a video game controller shacked up and had a baby together.
The Balance Board is a slick-looking and sturdy thing that connects to the Wii wirelessly and senses weight and movement, thereby opening up some interesting possibilities. Once it's connected, "Wii Fit" then basically gives you two ways to pry your backside from the couch and get moving.
On the one hand, you can have a somewhat realistic-looking personal trainer walk you through a multitude of yoga poses and strength exercises within the serene confines of the world's most desolate gym. As your trainer guides you through downward-facing dog and sun salutation, you perform the yoga poses from atop the Balance Board as it keeps track of where your center of balance is, showing you if you're shifting too far in one direction or the other. In the strength-building department, you can do torso twists, push-ups and rowing squats, earning points based on how well you execute the moves.
On the other hand, there are a multitude of video-gamey activities that allegedly help you work on your aerobic stamina and your balance. In these mini-games, you import your Mii avatar into various colorfully animated settings not unlike what you might have seen in "Wii Sports."
You want cardio? How 'bout hula-hooping?
To get your cardio pumping, there's a hula hooping mini-game that requires you to swivel your hips atop the Balance Board at high speeds (I suggest you draw your curtains before you perform this activity because you will look like a convulsive nut job no matter how hard you try not to.) There's also a step class that has you stepping on and off the board to the beat of a song (imagine "Dance Dance Revolution" with way less cool music).
To work on your balance, you can take your Mii avatar skiing down a mountain or send him walking a tight rope between buildings. There's also a soccer game in which you have to lean to and fro on the Balance Board, trying to head butt soccer balls while avoiding shoes and other objects being kicked square at your noggin.
Beyond that, "Wii Fit" is kind of like "Brain Age" for your thighs. That is, the game regularly runs you through a battery of tests that are supposed to assess your fitness age — the idea being, the worse you do on these balance-oriented tests, the "older" and more out of shape you must be. The game then tracks how you progress over time in the hopes that regular "Wii Fit" usage will give you a "younger" state of fitness.
What's my 'Wii Fit' age?
When it comes to the aforementioned triathlon, I've been operating under the rather dubious if not downright delusional theory that the many years I spent exercising during my youth will somehow give me the juice I need to limp my way through the race. And so I was keen to find out what my "Wii Fit" age was.
But after running through the tests a couple days in a row, I wasn't sure if I should dance a happy little jig or break down into a wet weeping puddle. That's because, according to the wildly bi-polar "Wii Fit" assessment process, I'm either in possession of a dilapidated body 10 years older than my actual age, or I'm a surprisingly sprightly lass with the balance and the bod of a woman 14 years her junior. That is, on the first day, the game told me my fitness age was 47, and on the second day, it told me I was 23. I am, as it happens, 37 years old.
My gut tells me that the first assessment is the more accurate one and that, barring a serious lifestyle change, I'm going to finish that triathlon in roughly the amount of time it takes a Twinkie to go stale. But geez, so much for an accurate measuring tool.
Which brings me to this: After spending several days with the game, I have mixed feelings about "Wii Fit's" long-term use as a fitness tool. On the positive side, when you're doing yoga poses or strength exercises, the game gives you immediate feedback — you can see your center of balance shifting right there on the screen in real time and that's an incredibly helpful tool for improving your technique.
Meanwhile, I can say that as I sit here typing away, I do so with sore thighs and calf muscles, which I attribute to several vigorous rounds of hula hooping (curtains firmly drawn) as well as the burn I got from doing the tree pose and some rowing squats with my personal trainer.
Still, I'm not convinced that much of the experience was compelling enough to make me more inclined to work out than I was before. After all, if I thought real-world gyms were skull-crushingly boring environments, they seem downright titillating when compared to the sterile digital gym you'll find yourself working out in during a round of "Wii Fit" yoga. Meanwhile, the jogging mini-game — which had me jogging in place in my living room as I watched my Mii run through tranquil animated scenery – was so tedious I nearly jammed my fist in the garbage disposal just to liven things up a bit.
Don't get me wrong, the way I figure it, anything that gets people (and by "people," I mean "me") up off their couches and moving is probably a good thing. And "Wii Fit" does a really nice job making both a bit of exercise and a bit of gaming accessible to even those folks who've never executed a half-moon pose or laid hands on a gaming controller in their life.
'Wii Fit' more promising as a game
But it's the gaming part of "Wii Fit" and not the fitness part of "Wii Fit" that I think shows the most promise. That's because outside of the jogging mini-game, most of the video-gamey "exercises" were actually pretty darn fun (the skiing game in particular), and I wanted to keep playing to see how many more I could unlock.
So I think there's a real decent chance the Balance Board is going to be a fine tool for opening up some clever and accessible new ways to play video games. Namco has already released "We Ski," a more expansive skiing game than "Wii Fit's," and Electronic Arts has announced that its next "Skate" game will use the board as well. Imagine: A skateboarding game that actually feels like skateboarding rather than thumb twiddling!
Still though, as the triathlon looms in the near distance, I can't help but hope that someone out there is working on a game that somehow allows me to get in shape while, at the same time, keeping my arse planted in the cushy confines of my couch. Nintendo? You're working on it … right?
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