Wii is good for all of us

Published: Thursday, January 11, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 11, 2007 at 12:08 a.m.
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CathAlene, Cathlena Martin's 90-year-old grandmother, holds the Wiimote while playing on the Nintendo Wii.

Special to The Sun
The new Nintendo Wii is shaking up gaming demographics by bringing video games to all ages and by targeting games to the entire family. To test the Wii's compatibility with various ages, I decided to put the Wii to a generational test. Over Christmas break, I recruited my family to investigate if the Wii can really be used and enjoyed by a wide age spectrum. Specifically, I looked at two age ranges: adults and senior adults.
Children and young adults easily adapt to the Wii, intuitively navigating the Wii remote (or Wiimote), and reading the instructions and instantly playing. They do this not because of their age, but because of their previous exposure to other video games. Additionally, most children and young adults have seen advertisements in stores and have certain expectations when asked to play a Wii game.
On the other hand, adults and senior adults don't usually have prior video game knowledge on which to draw. Because of this assumption, I was most interested in how adults and senior adults played with the Wii.
The adults, my parents, had a far greater learning curve then younger participants. The last video game they played was probably Oregon Trail in the eighties to help me in elementary school. Yet both are athletic and were interested in playing WiiSports, the set of games that comes packaged with the Wii console. They watched others play several games before being cajoled into joining.
Sometimes a movement or game task needed to be explained more fully to them then the on screen-instructions provided. For instance, with bowling, I not only needed to explain how to position the controller and which button to push, but I also had to physically demonstrate. However, after playing for several days, both adults were adept with the Wii and scored a Wii fitness age much lower than their actual age.
As I had hypothesized, both adults after practice were able to master the video game and become comfortable playing. Unsure of whether this would be true for the senior adults, I asked my grandmother CathAlene, 90, and her brother Bill, 89, to play, thus providing the sampling for senior adults.
Reluctantly my grandmother allowed us to tighten the wrist guard over her hand. Because she had regularly bowled in her younger days, we first introduced her to virtual 10 pins. She attempted a few throws but quickly gave up.
Unlike his sister, Bill willingly accepted the Wiimote and announced with the true spirit of competition that he would beat us all in baseball. He stood tall and pitched as if he were Cy Young. With a flick of the wrist, he struck the first batter out. Quickly he controlled the game, learning how to throw a variety of pitches from fastballs to curve balls.
After my grandmother watched her brother take command of the game, she more willingly accepted the Wiimote a second time to try her hand at batting.
Fueled by sibling rivalry, CathAlene was a more willing participant during the second attempt, listening to our instructions and actually trying to play. While not a Babe Ruth, she was able to both pitch and bat in baseball.
So, can the Wii be played by a person of any age? What I found over Christmas is that it was not the physical age of the person playing but the age at heart. An 89-year-old can destroy a 30-year-old in Wii baseball, if the 89-year-old wants to learn a new game and isn't intimidated by a new technology.
This Christmas, I wasn't the only one sharing Wii games with friends and family. I enjoyed hearing from Sun readers who also spent the holidays playing. Tony Dull, a reader who emailed me his Wii story, is a good example of the inter-generational joy that can come with the Wii. His high school students gave him a Wii as a Christmas present and Dull spent the holidays playing the Wii with his family: "On Christmas morning, I brought my Wii to my sister's house and had the entire family playing. It's refreshing being able to pick up a controller and interact with gamers and non-gamers alike."
Cathlena Martin can be reached at cathlena@gmail.com

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