Wii Came, Wii Saw, Wii Quit

7.17.2008

By Japhy Grant

Matt (not his real name) swivels his hips from side to side furiously. At first, he kept missing the hula-hoops being thrown at him, but now that he has the hang of it, he's keeping 15 rings going at once. 'Pretty awesome,' one of us shouts -- and then time's up, Matt's showered with confetti and jumps up and down. Well, virtual Matt is. The real Matt hops of the plastic Wii Fit board, grabs a Red Bull and vodka and asks, 'Who's next?'

Welcome to Wii Fit Fun Night. For those of you still living in the 20th Century, the Wii is the Device That Changed Video Games Forever. Before the Wii, it was totally acceptable -- and justified -- to consider each successive generation of game consoles, jam-packed with faster processors and acronym-festooned technologies, as the exclusive domain of the Mountain Dew-fueled geek set. The games that ruled these consoles catered to digital wrench monkeys with ultra-violence in sci-fi or porno wrappers, or in fantastical worlds filled with maddening logical puzzles.

And then along came Wii, the most diminutive of third generation systems. It's the first video game for the rest of us. The graphics aren't the best, the processor not the fastest, but it wiped the floor with the PS3 and to a lesser extent, the Xbox 360, becoming the fastest-selling console on the market. Its secret weapon, the Wiimote, is a Bluetooth controller that looks more like a channel-changer than a joystick, and its most exciting use is with the packaged game called Wii Sports. You use the Wiimote as a golf club or a fishing pole, not by pressing buttons but by swinging and casting. At first, players got so into it that there were reports of Wiimotes smashing through TVs, not to mention puff pieces about senior centers holding virtual shuffleboard tourneys. Once the dust cleared, The Financial Times reported that Wii had, at last count, earned an impressive $190 million for Nintendo.

As follow-up, the company released the Wii Fit this spring, a kind of virtual exercise trainer. At its heart is the Balance Board, a plastic device that communicates your weight and balance wirelessly back to command central. The game sold out on Amazon.com before its release and like with the Wii, stores like Best Buy sold out of their shipments a day or two after they arrived, partly because Nintendo shipped most units to Europe to take advantage of the stronger currency.

Our premise at Wii Fit Fun Night is simple: Take five gay guys, put them in a room with a Nintendo Wii Fit and see what happens. This is one of those pseudo-behavioral science experiments that's supposed to tell you something about modern queer life: Do gay men interact the same way as straight men when it comes to sports? Does the Wii Fit serve as mediation between traditional 'macho behavior' and the sometimes-recalcitrant attitude gays have towards athletics? That is, does a video game provide a 'safe' way for gays to engage in team athletics? Will the result be Monday Night Football or Sex in the City?

Let me spoil the ending for you: The guys wind up getting stoned and playing Boggle.

Another disclaimer: Though it's my assignment to talk about men and team sports and athletics in a general way -- to extrapolate from one night of semi-drunken video game playing greater truths about gay men and competition -- there are several problems in doing so. The first is that shit like this makes me feel like a jackass poseur journalist. Christopher Hitchens might think he's justified speaking on behalf of Guantanamo detainees because Vanity Fair hired some redneck ex-soldiers to waterboard him, but I think it's dishonest to portray the guys of Wii Fit Fun Night as stand-ins for gay men everywhere. Secondly, gay guys are stereotyped to death (literally) already, and I'd be deluding myself pretending to be B.F. Skinner when I know full well that I'm just another lab rat myself.

But the unvarnished truth is that Wii Fit Fun Night turned out to be pretty fucking gay. So gay, in fact, that I'm going to offend just about everyone in its retelling.

To begin with, I solicited participants by Facebook and Craigslist M4M ads. The Craigslist replies were great, but mostly unprintable. Here's an example:

'Sound fucking hot bro. Love seeing a guy get sweaty. 5'10', 145 pounds, green eyes, defined abs, 8' cut thick piece. Vers/top. You gotta pic?'

Given that I'm writing for Out and not Honcho (or trying to skew the data that much), I stick with the Facebook replies, which mostly center around curiosity about the Wii Fit. I make a token stab at ensuring diversity, at least as much as you can find when seeking out young gay guys around West Hollywood, and assemble my crew: Jason is a lawyer who plays Dungeons and Dragons and tennis. Peter says his sport is 'Marco Polo.' Juan is a film director and gym buddy of mine. Brad's first email to me reads: 'Is it okay if overweight people join in?' For moral support he brings along his friend and recent Chicago transplant, Matt (the aforementioned hula-hoop star).

The day of Wii Fit Fun Night comes around and, thanks to miscommunication, the Wii Fit Board arrives without the actual Wii console, making it impossible to play. I call around and the Wii is sold out everywhere. Nintendo playing hard to get was cute when it was launched, but two years later it's just lame. Defeated, I send a mass email canceling the event.

Brad replies first: 'But I am wearing my Prada sport shorts! Oh well, back to the booze.'

Then Peter: 'Bummer...I'll just keep practicing my fake ski jump dismount. 'Til next time.'

Then Jason responds, 'I have a Wii.' Brad writes back, 'I'm drunk, as of [the] cancellation email. At this point, I am only interested in nude Wii. I just got groped by a drunk tranny train wreck, and that didn't quite do the trick.' Juan's suggestion: 'Strip Wii depending if you make it past each yoga level? Happy baby pose for the loser?' Jason replies, 'Um....happy baby pose for the WINNER!'

Which is how we wind up at Jason's house around 10 p.m. -- and if it sounds like I've lost all control of the experiment already, it's because I have. The assembled group hikes up the hill to Sunset Boulevard and purchases 'snacks,' which means vodka and Red Bull, plus a package of Soft Stuff Chocolate Chip cookies that Jason hoards for himself. Peter says that his expectations for the night were 'stiff drinks and partial nudity.' I later look up my original invitation just to be sure -- there's no mention of alcohol or nudity, but everyone jumped at using the stipend Out gave me for refreshments to buy booze. Strangely, it's also the very thing they complained the most about afterwards. 'I didn't learn anything new,' Jason groaned, 'but I was reminded that when you get a bunch of gay men together, you are sure to get the following: drinking, flirting, drama.'

And drama there was, even before firing up the Fit. Brad asks if he can invite a couple more people over and, desperate for extra data points, I agree. Twenty minutes later, 10 people show up. This isn't the first party they've been to. I explain to Brad that 'a couple' means two, and he collapses into a beanbag chair and studiously puts all his attention on his Blackberry. Jason, who graciously offered up his apartment at the last minute, is repeating, 'There's too many people.' As at least in theory I'm still in charge, it's left to me to explain to the barbarian horde of gay men that this isn't actually a party, rather a carefully controlled experiment about video games and athletics. Understandably, they're confused, seeing only a bunch of gays hanging out with drinks in their hands. I look to Brad for support, but he's too busy helping a Nigerian transfer funds by email to help. On my fifth attempt, the horde wanders out, off to conquer other house parties.

The upshot of the invasion is that it spurs the Wii Fit Team into action and soon, the console is set up.

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