Wednesday, May 21, 2008

The Wii Says You're Fat?

You may have seen a news item recently about the Nintendo Wii telling a 10-year-old British girl that she's "fat." Several quotes from the father and from Tam Fry have been circulating the web (and I assume TV, too, possibly) on the subject. Besides the description of the father being "gobsmacked" when he heard what the game had said, the most repeated quote from the girl's father is this:
"She is a perfectly healthy, 4-feet-9-inch-tall 10-year-old who swims, dances, and weighs only six stone. She is solidly built but not fat. She was devastated to be called fat and we had to work hard to convince her she isn't."
The other most quoted quote is attributed (I assume correctly) to Tam Fry, a spokesperson for the National Obesity Forum,
"I am absolutely aghast that children are being told they are fat. A child's BMI can change every month and it is perfectly possible for a child to be stocky, yet still very fit. I would be very concerned if children were using this game and I believe it should carry a warning for parents."
So far, nobody has been convinced that a "warning" or an older ESRB rating is in order here, and apparently Nintendo has made the following statement,
Nintendo would like to apologize to any customers offended by the in-game terminology used to classify a player's current BMI status, as part of the BMI measurement system integrated into Wii Fit.

Wii Fit is still capable of measuring the BMI for people aged between two and 20 but the resulting figures may not be entirely accurate for younger age groups due to varying levels of development.
So here's the deal, near as I can tell after a lot of internet research. Wii fit doesn't use the word "fat." It uses a simple calculation to find the users' Body Mass Index (BMI). Based on their BMI, they are put into categories, the most unfit of which are "overweight" and "obese." So what's the big issue, if you're overweight and the game says so, it's just truth, right? Well, despite Thoreau's famous injunction to "simplify," the BMI calculation isn't completely accurate. As it is a function of weight and height, it does not work well when considering growing children (who's weight and height can vary from day to day!) or, ironically enough, the very fittest among us (muscle mass weighs more than fat!) So, I think I'll leave you with a little promotional video of the Wii Fit so you can see what it is, really, and leave you with this thought. Wii Sports is one of the first video games that promotes getting up out of the chair and moving (The arcade game, Dance Dance Revolution is the first one I became aware of.) and the Wii itself is certainly the first video game platform to do so. I think that if you're aware of the drawbacks of the BMI, and talk with your kids about it before they play the Wii Fit games, that you'll find, in the end, that the Wii is still a positive thing.

Be good to each other
Rev. Josh

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