It's Time to Dust Off Wii Sports, Where Everything Is Beautiful and Nothing Hurts

It's not exactly exercise, but it will deliver something else that's equally important

wii workout from home
Photo by Britta Pedersen/picture alliance via Getty Images
By Tanner Garrity / April 15, 2020 8:56 am

Welcome to The Workout From Home Diaries. Throughout our national self-isolation period, we’ll be sharing single-exercise deep dives, offbeat belly-busters and general get-off-the-couch inspiration that doesn’t require a visit to your (now-shuttered) local gym.

When I was in eighth grade, the teaching staff decidedly gave up with about a month left in the year and threw us a Wii Bowling Tournament in the school auditorium. The competition pitted each grade against each other, with two entrants apiece, and the afternoon had a Newbery Medal-worthy ending. A quiet kid rarely given the time of day at recess ended up winning the whole thing after an unfathomable run of strikes. We chanted his name for the rest of the week.

The Wii originally launched back in November 2006, and promptly throttled its holiday competitors, the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. Pricing played a clear role — the Wii cost just $249, to $399 for the Xbox 360 and $599 for the PS3 — but the larger reason was intrigue. Motion-control gaming was a revelation at the time; a whole generation of gamers had grown up on bean bags, staring up at a screen as parents tsk-tsked from the doorway. Nintendo’s latest console promised a wildly different experience: cutting-edge technology that few living rooms had seen before, alongside a return to the coin-slot arcade method of gaming while standing on two feet.

Last time we all played the Wii Sports with regularity, Prince William had a full head of hair (John Stillwell/PA Images Getty Images)

Nintendo paired the Wii launch with a two-minute commercial that showed two Japanese men driving around America in a tiny Smart Car (another mid-2000s darling). They stopped at family homes, dairy farms and Manhattan high-rises, always with the same one-liner at the door: “Wii would like to play.” It’s a bit dated (not so sure the American agency that designed the spot needed to include all those bows), but far from an act of propagandist machinery, the advert is remarkably prescient. It imagined a democratized, full-family console and that’s exactly what happened.

Look no further than the world’s most famous family: in 2006, The Sunday People reported that Prince William, then 24, was “having difficulty prying [the Wii] away from the Queen’s clutches.” Queen Elizabeth II was 81 at the time, and apparently a “natural” at the Wii Sports 10-pin bowling game. Her love of the console might’ve played a role in the 2011 Royal Wedding making it to the finish line a few years later — the Wii was apparently a gift from girlfriend Kate Middleton in 2008. Of course, the Wii was a pretty popular gift in the late aughts; even in 2009, three years after its release, the Wii broke a single-month American sales record, selling 3.81 million units.

That longevity can be chalked up to the mountain of Wii-compatible games that were released in the years after the console debuted — everything from Rampage: Total Destruction to Happy Feet — as gaming developers looked to cash in on the popularity. But the base ubiquity hinges on Wii Sports, the companion game to the multi-dimensional device, which is easily the bestselling single-platform game of all time. Over the years, Sony and Microsoft made logical entries into the motion-capture gaming space. Sony introduced the Playstation Move, which is still available (for $99) but struggled to ever fully integrate into the market, and Microsoft paired the Xbox One with Kinect technology, which is now firmly out of commission.

Developing three-dimensional controls was almost compulsory at the time — it would be like owning a brunch spot in 2020 and not offering avocado toast — but Sony and Microsoft missed the point. Hardcore gamers didn’t necessarily want more motion-capture consoles; the folks who enjoyed the Wii so much were casuals at best. Like Queen Elizabeth II. Or me. I have no joystick skills. I used to sit to the side during playdates, feeling uncontrollable boredom, as friends knocked out three straight hours of Super Smash Bros. Whenever someone began a campaign in Call of Duty, I was the worst comrade in the room, more content to shoot patterns into the windows of dilapidated French barns than clear a trench or “deliver a message” to the CPU General.

Wii Sports, though, was different. The controller was a golf club! A baseball bat! A tennis racquet! A boxing glove! The most basic understanding of how those pieces of equipment are used was enough. There were no cheat codes, no elaborate tricks to be learned — all you had to do was assume a semi-athletic stance and hold on tight to the remote. Instead of encouraging escapism on-screen, the characters were meant to be grounded in reality, with avatars called “Mii” that you could customize to look as similar to your person as possible. Within this model, widely agreed gameplay preferences emerged. Tennis and bowling were the best. Baseball was skippable. Boxing was high-maintenance, requiring the use of the companion Nunchuk. Golf was fun, but putting was irksome.

A few weeks ago, I wrote a piece for this column about finding mindfulness in “play.” The idea’s pretty simple: as we age, we spend less time running around and thinking about nothing but the contest at hand, however inconsequential it may be. Wii Sports scratches the play itch in the best of times, and during a time like the present, when we all require distraction and movement — ideally in a manner that doesn’t necessitate leaving the house — it’s a godsend. I’ve taken to playing it on Sunday evenings with my siblings, and even a couple times during the week. I’ve had some tough showings (I went +6 on a par 4 the other day; I’d rather not talk about it), but I’ve enjoyed every second of the re-immersion. The actual health benefits aren’t significant — if you’re looking to burn a quick 1,000 calories, try an at-home CrossFit workout — but activities like these are reset buttons. They remind us that moving the body shouldn’t be treated like a chore, and that competition is healthy and fun and ultimately pointless.

So if you have a Wii on hand (you probably do — again, literally everyone bought one a decade ago), dust it off and fire it up. If you don’t, get one here. It holds up. Not because of the sleek white console, the goofy cartoon graphics or the hypnotic music you’ll find yourself humming in the shower, but because movement is the mind’s best friend, pantomime boxing your little sister never goes out of style, and sinking a putt on your fourth try is better than not making it to the green at all.

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