Wii Came, Wii Saw, Wii Quit

7.17.2008

By Japhy Grant

The Wii Fit Balance Board looks like your typical gym balance board, but it's tricked out with sensors. We immediately hit a snag. The first thing you have to do is run through a body assessment tutorial that determines your 'Real Age.' This is a glorified BMI calculator coupled with a balance test, accompanied by instructions from a voice that sounds like -- well, a 12-year-old Japanese cheerleader. But as bubbly schoolgirls go, the Wii Fit personality is a bit of a bitch. She mocks our inability to balance, calling us 'clumsy.'

To make matters worse, Brad -- who's got the most readily apparent self-image issues -- goes first. When the test is complete, his real age is determined to be 65. And, as Jason explains so succinctly, 'If someone is overweight, his or her Mii character suddenly plumps up and looks sad.' The real life Brad deflates and turns back to his drink. We all make noises about how we're not going to do much better, but it's been obvious from the start that Brad's the most anxious about the night (brand new Prada shorts and all), and it sucks that the Wii just told him that he's ready for his AARP card.

Then we find out that we're all the Golden Girls, relatively speaking. Though we range in age from 23 to 29 years old, everyone's fit age is in their late 40s to mid-50s. Except for Peter -- Peter is 26 in both worlds. (Whether this is because the Japanese Wii-God spares Peter because he is also Asian is unclear.)

Then the real, uh, fun begins. The Wii Fit offers up a variety of fitness games and we all take a stab at them. I do push-ups. Peter does yoga and, of course, is brilliant at it. He's one of those guys who's deceptively agreeable and the fact that he kicks ass at the Wii is something he wears lightly, whereas I get all Hemingway on everyone when the device marvels at the strength of my push-ups. Juan does some leg thing and it becomes obvious we're not exercising so much as performing for each other's amusement.

I come back from the Jason's bathroom (with one sink labeled 'tops' and the other 'bottoms') and find out that Matt's discovered the hula-hoop game. We all love the hula-hoop game, with its cartoon colors and goofiness, and everyone takes a stab at it -- in between smoking and drinking, that is. You could argue that this is proof that gays are unathletic or fitness challenged -- but the reality is, as physical exercise goes, the Wii Fit blows. 'We would have been bored out of our minds but for the cocktails,' Jason says. He quickly adds, 'Not because we're gay, but because the Wii Fit is a poor source of entertainment.' (Gays aren't alone in that assessment. IT Media surveyed Japanese owners of the game and 64% admitted that after six months, they stopped playing the game altogether.)

We fall into a pattern where one or two of us stay by the couch playing at a time. Another two stand by the kitchen table, drinking, and then on the balcony, another couple smoke and talk. After a disastrous attempt at trying the Wii Fit's running program, nearly running into the TV, Brad decides he wants to leave. We only make it worse by trying to explain the correct way to run (that is, in place), and he takes off with Matt. 'Can we shut this thing off now?' Peter asks. Out come the board games, and the discussion turns guiltily to whether we could have done anything to make Brad feel more comfortable. Jason doesn't care, annoyed at Brad's loudness and drunkenness. Juan feels bad, but thinks Brad's awkwardness was his own. Peter sums it up this way: 'For me personally, gay awkwardness transcends athletic activity; it's, like, all the time. I feel like the social climate and activity would have been the same in a mixed or straight room, only there wouldn't have been as much shrieking over being called old and fat.'

Every time I start asking some sort of 'What's the greater meaning about how gay men interact via athletics or video games or whatever?' question to the guys, they start mocking me. 'I think your basic premise, typical gay awkwardness about team sports/athletics, is faulty,' Jason says. 'Maybe gays who spend all their time socializing in bars aren't athletic or sportive, but anyone who spends all his or her time in a bar won't be athletic or sportive, gay or straight.'

That said, actions speak louder than words. When I check back in with the guys two weeks later, Brad says he's lost 8 pounds and Peter's Facebook status update reads, 'Peter is no longer frightened by the weight machines. Now, it's just pure resentment.' Maybe it's not the machismo of athletics that seems to intimidate us, it's just plain old body image issues. And in that sense, gays are no different than any metrosexual American man. The truth is 'sports' is no longer the heterosexual mainstay it used to be, nor as limited to team events. Being 'athletic' used to mean playing football or basketball. For some it still is, but for most of us, athletics is something divorced of its machismo heritage; it's there for health, well-being, vanity and sexual attraction. The difference has more to do with what generation you belong to, not what gender you're attracted to.

If you really need to, the best comparison for Wii Fit Fun Night is probably the straight stereotype of the dudes who get together and watch football every week. The game is there as an excuse for a bunch of heterosexual men to socialize together. It's the thing they can bond over -- and for some guys, it's one of the few spaces they can express affection and camaraderie with other men. Gay men, for obvious reasons, don't have the same hang-ups, but neither do most straight guys under 30.

Which is why I think Wii Fit Fun Night was such a disaster from a sociological perspective. The Wii Fit reflects the modern attitude towards fitness -- it's all about personal self-improvement, which is fine, but essentially an individual pursuit. The guys took it and found ways to make it a social activity -- and for the most part, everyone was supportive of each other, finding delicate ways to explain to whoever was on the balance board at the moment that the best way to balance is maybe not to stick out your pelvis as far as you can and lean back at a 45 degree angle. Ultimately, the only real value the Wii could serve was as a very expensive social lubricant -- and, once it served its purpose, it was discarded for, well, stoned Boggle and a rousing talk about national healthcare.

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