The Jones Report: Fitness Games Are Really Only Thinly Veiled Erotica
Question: How many of you have Wii Balance Boards in your homes right now that are dustier than artifacts from an old Mummy movie? Let's see the hands.
I knew it. Damn fools.
Pardon my cynicism, but of the 4.53 million copies of Wii Fit sold in 2008 -- it was the No. 3 bestselling game last year -- my guess is that more than half of those copies are now rat-holed away in closets or basements. And those copies, along with the Wii Balance Board, will resurface at next year's garage sale.
Coupling videogames with fitness is not a new concept. A subset of pioneering game developers had explored this uncharted territory for years, namely by doing things like hooking stationary bikes up to racing games, then forcing you to pedal your way to a high score or first place. These contraptions always resembled old-timey flying machines and were last seen as industry punch lines in Kentia Hall at bygone E3s. (How we scoffed!)
But Nintendo streamlined the concept, making it user-friendly enough for the mass market. As a result, we now live in an age when fitness games have gone from oddities to bona fide blockbusters. Everyone wants in on the action now. Ubisoft's Your Shape, Sega's Daisy Fuentes Pilates, EA's EA Sports Active and THQ's The Biggest Loser, along with the recently shipped Wii Fit Plus, are just a sampling of the deluge heading to, or already in, your local game store.
This is what you're buying when you buy a fitness-centric videogame (or any fitness-related DVD or book or piece of Chuck Norris-endorsed equipment): the promise that you're going to become the person you were always meant to be. But take a closer look at, say, EA Sports Active. No, I mean really look. Can you see it? Look again. Can you see that what you've purchased for $49.99 is an oversized rubber band and a DVD that basically marches you through some rudimentary exercises?
If you don't think that's what you bought, I have some nice real estate in Florida I can sell you.
Even more alarming is the way in which many of these games are being marketed. Box covers for these games are beginning to resemble Maxim covers. And the fitness experiences themselves, like those old exercise VHS tapes of Cindy Crawford and Kathy Ireland, are beginning to walk a fine line between self-help and erotica.
Let's take a look at the procession of recent box covers. Here's the cover of Wii Fit, the game that arguably launched the genre:
Here's the cover for My Fitness Coach:
Here's the box for Gold's Gym Cardio Workout:
You see where we're going here, yes? Here's the cover for Daisy Fuentes Pilates:
And, finally, here's the upcoming Jillian Michaels Fitness Ultimatum 2010:
We've gone from sexually ambiguous Miis and blue ladies, to human beings tastefully dressed in expensive workout gear, to Jillian Michaels, who looks like she's 1) pointing directly at me, 2) just finished telling me to remove my trousers, and 3) she's not in any mood to have to tell me a second time SO TAKE THEM OFF NOW. As a heterosexual, somewhat sexually frustrated male (me = most of the time), I can't help but want -- desire, even -- a copy of Jillian Michaels Fitness Ultimatum 2010 on some base level, based on that box cover alone.
This box-cover evolution is as dramatic as the drawings on the wall of the Museum of Natural History showing apes evolving to early man. But the big difference is that the fitness-game box-cover evolution didn't happen over thousands of years; it happened in less than 15 months. (Wii Fit shipped in May of 2008.) If I'm reading the signs correctly, this means that the industry is on the cusp of a workout-game flesh avalanche, aka fleshvalanche.
Of course, these games still feature heavily pixilated versions of their box-cover stars. The "Daisy Fuentes" who stars in Daisy Fuentes Pilates certainly sounds like Daisy Fuentes, but she looks more like Pat Sajak in drag. I recently played through a portion of the game, and found myself squinting at Virtual Daisy and wishing that it/she looked 100-percent more like Real Daisy. That said, Virtual Daisy does put herself through some positions that any armchair pervert worth his salt will mark down on his comment card as "suggestive" and "very suggestive."
While there's nothing overtly erotic about these games yet -- blame it on the Wii's underpowered CPU -- that will change. As quickly as the box covers evolved to flesh and blood, so will these in-game avatars soon be realized in 1080p high-definition. It's only a matter of time before the line between Virtual Daisy and Real Daisy will become negligible. And on that day, lo, the repressed and the lonely will dance, not in the streets, because they really hate going out, but alone in their apartments in front of the televisions as they play Daisy Fuentes Pilates 4.
As fitness games continue to get sexier, and as marketing departments get savvier, this wallet-draining beast will only continue to terrorize the world.
If you purchase one of these games, what you are buying is an object that is not even remotely biodegradable and that will surely line a landfill in a few short years. Buy one of these games, and you are really only helping some boob executive put a down payment on his dumb houseboat.
Think about that, next time you're on the verge of buying a promise of the you that you were always meant to be, as you gaze longingly at a tantalizing stretch of box-cover midriff. Think about the fact that the person on the box cover, whether it's a man or a woman, did not get that way by using the product you are thinking about purchasing.
Then do the right thing and walk away, at a brisk pace. That walk alone will benefit you far more than that tempting fitness game ever would.
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