As part of my ongoing project to reduce the amount of Shamus-based mass in the universe, I picked up a Wii Fit this year. Like I said, it's the best piece of exercise equipment I've ever owned, but it falls far short of what it could be. Most of the games are simply too short. Just about the time I get into the rhythm of the downhill skiing, the run ends and I have to muck around restarting the thing. Generally, the more fun or interesting a game is, the shorter it is. Some are less than a minute. It's frustrating, like trying to watch a TV show that's been hacked up into thirty-second YouTube clips. Trying to fill a twenty-minute workout in little thirty-second increments is bothersome and keeps you from building up any kind of flow.
The common approach to exercise is to have a short, intense workout. Short, because you have better things to do with your time. Intense, because you want to burn as many calories as possible in that short but miserable time. Exercise sucks. But it would be much healthier to have prolonged, steady exercise than a short, lung-busting burst of activity. Rather than taking dull labor and sugar-coating it with a shallow but cute game, it would be better to take an already fun game and add a dimension of exercise onto it. I'd be happy to replace the fifteen minutes of mildly amusing Wii Fit minigames with a good two hours of incentivised walking while playing a game I'd actually enjoy on its own merits. I want some exercise-driven games, as opposed to some game-driven exercise.
The other night I spent two hours playing Mad World on the Wii, which is longer than I ever spent "playing" Wii Fit. I was sitting, but I couldn't help but wish the game could be connected to the Wii Fit board. If you took the healing items out of the game and allowed the player to gradually rebuild their health by stepping on and off the board, you'd have something that could provide hours of entertainment and exercise at the same time. Sure, I could just walk back and forth in place while playing, but linking the stepping to the player's health gives you a compelling motivation to keep going even when you're tired. And like I said, motivation is everything.
In a perfect world, normal mainstream titles would offer a "workout" mode that operates this way, letting you power your gameplay with gradual, steady movement. You could play the game normally, sitting on the couch with your Wiimote and your nachos, or you could play in workout mode and step on and off the Wii Fit board while you play. In Mad World, you'd gradually gain health. In Super Mario Galaxy, you'd earn a star bit for each step. (Or whatever works as a balanced reward.) Each game might handle it differently, but the important thing would be to turn every game into a possible exercise machine. I'm not talking about frantic aerobic activity that will wipe you out after ten minutes, I'm talking about a simple set of movements designed to get you off the couch and keep your blood flowing. Two hours of simple walking is going to incinerate a lot more calories than anything the average person can fit into twenty minutes. Moreover, the slow and steady workout is better for your heart, better for your knees, and it hurts less. The only reason people don't do the slow workout is because it's so time consuming, but that's not a problem when your gaming time and your workout are one in the same.
I'd love if Nintendo tried something like this. It would be huge. And I would be less so.