Do you remember those FBI disclaimers that used to play on every video arcade game in the ‘90s, the ones that warned kids “winners don’t use drugs?” For a long time that was really one of the only messages technologically savvy folk got from their product encouraging them to live healthily. Whether in movies, television, the Internet or video games, there has always been an awkward reluctance in certain mediums to actively promote the type of living that would, in effect require, the consumer to cease engaging with the very thing encouraging a better lifestyle. I’m always confused when someone on TV is urging me to go outside. “But you’re on the television,” I try to reason, “how am I supposed to listen to your message if I’m outside?” It never works.
In recent years, however, this logical gap has steadily narrowed as more and more consumers are able to watch TV, play video games, surf the net, listen to music all while keeping in shape at the same time. With devices like the iPhone / iPod touch and the Nintendo Wii dominating the market, no longer must people feel guilty about spending their spare hours in a virtual world or in front of a screen. Fifteen years ago you used your phone as a means to talk to people, now you can use it to calculate the necessary diet plan needed for you to go from your current weight to your goal weight in four weeks. In fact, some of the most popular applications available online for Apple’s mobile devices are those focused primarily on exercising and weight loss.
For $1.99, iPhone users can purchase an application called iFitness which supplies instructions for over 200 different exercises, tracks user progress, creates custom routines and even counts resting times between activities. Those more interested in their diet can download “Lose It,” a free app that calculates a daily calorie budget based on the user’s current and desired weight. Lose It also comes with a fairly large food database that allows users to simply enter their meals and get an instant reading of how many calories, carbohydrates, sugars, etc. they’ve eaten over the day. In recent years, Apple has also teamed with Nike to produce an iPod add-on that will track your progress while running to provide information about your body, your calories burned and even alert you of upcoming milestones in your workout.
Of course, Apple isn’t solely to blame (did I say blame?) for the current obsession with technological fitness. We all know who started this craze: the same Japanese-based company that previously stole our collective hearts with nothing more than a ridiculous Italian stereotype and a few magic mushrooms. Since its release in late 2006 the Nintendo Wii has been one of the fastest-selling game consoles to ever hit market, consistently beating out both Microsoft and Sony (both with ease) for the number one spot month to month. What’s surprising though, is that the Wii was never sold as a Super Mario system; it was sold as an activity system. The Wii is the thing you stand up to play, the thing you shake and swing around, the thing that actually makes you feel like you’re doing something rather than sitting around while your body atrophies.
Games like Super Mario Galaxy and Guitar Hero sold well on the Wii but didn’t even come close to the numbers put up by the company’s juggernaut, Wii Fit. For those of you only now rejoining mainstream society, Wii Fit is Nintendo’s yoga-teaching, aerobics-facilitating, balance board peripheral for the Wii and it’s fast becoming the best selling game of the past 10 years. And like all other massive success stories, the Wii has many, many fitness-oriented copycats.
So now that the technologically inclined are able to enjoy their fancy gadgets and feel health-conscious at the same time, will this mean more fitness tech is on the way? For the time being it seems a likely conclusion. Following the success of the Wii both Sony and Microsoft have, this year, introduced new peripherals that will allow for a more immersive, more active role in game playing. While the face of the tech-world may not exactly be forever changed because of health-aware innovations of the iPhone and the Wii, it certainly marks a broadening of scope that allows for more people to enjoy these games and devices. It’s rewarding to imagine you can save the princess and burn calories at the same time. Let’s shed this old perception of technology being antithetical to active living and embrace the imperative: be active, live technologically!