STEVE INSKEEP, host:
You might try a head fake in a new video game that's on store shelves today. It's called the "Wii Fit" and it's expected to be a blockbuster. You exercise. It follows on the success of previous Wii games which have created a whole new market for active gaming, as it's called. And now other companies are coming up with devices to cash in.
MORNING EDITION's technology commentator Mario Armstrong stopped by our studios to show us one of the new gadgets.
MARIO ARMSTRONG: So this is a controller that is in a prototype stage right now. It's not available. But it's made by a company called Interaction Laboratories.
INSKEEP: May I pick this up while you're (unintelligible)?
ARMSTRONG: Sure. Absolutely.
INSKEEP: It's got two handles on it. Has a couple of little switches and so forth on the side.
ARMSTRONG: And what makes that controller different that you're holding there, Steve, is I want you to take those rubber handles - those two handles - and squeeze together.
INSKEEP: Oh, is this going to take some effort?
ARMSTRONG: That's right.
INSKEEP: OK. Here we go. It does take a little bit of effort.
ARMSTRONG: Or pull apart.
INSKEEP: Or pull apart. OK.
ARMSTRONG: And so what it does is it actually brings what they call real world resistance to virtual objects in games.
INSKEEP: OK. All right.
ARMSTRONG: So a good example of this could be maybe a bow and arrow. So hold that like you're shooting.
INSKEEP: Oh, OK.
INSKEEP: Now, I've got the handle…
ARMSTRONG: Now, pull back like you're pulling your bow.
INSKEEP: …and I'm going to pull apart like I normally would for the bow and arrow.
ARMSTRONG: Exactly. So the further you would pull…
ARMSTRONG: …the stronger you are.
INSKEEP: I'm trying to let go like I would a bow and arrow.
ARMSTRONG: You look a little weak there.
INSKEEP: I look a little weak?
(Soundbite of laughter)
INSKEEP: Those looks are not deceiving.
ARMSTRONG: But you get the idea. Or you could have a swimmer on the screen, and maybe you have to use a rhythmic motion.
INSKEEP: Yeah, a little breast stroke or something.
INSKEEP: Is the Nintendo - the makers of the Wii - really happy that somebody has invented this other product that you can use with the Wii?
ARMSTRONG: The question will be how successful would this be. Will they decide to do it themselves, or will they work out an agreement that makes sense for a company like Interaction Labs to work with them to create that?
Another challenge is, Steve, a lot of these types of devices these days need to be packaged with a game. For instance, "Guitar Hero…"
ARMSTRONG: …you've heard a lot about that. Well, you play a guitar. Well, that would really not really be so good if you didn't have a game that that controller was developed for.
INSKEEP: Right. What about, you know, we've also got this plastic platform here.
INSKEEP: What am I supposed to do? Step on this thing?
ARMSTRONG: It's like the size of two digital scales maybe that you would put together and…
INSKEEP: So it's going to tell me that I'm overweight, too, is that what you're telling me?
ARMSTRONG: This is part of the "Wii Fit." This is the Wii balance board that comes with the game. So you have to take your shoes off first, Steve.
INSKEEP: OK. I'll do that. I am stepping up on this item here. There we go.
ARMSTRONG: So now what I want you to do is you're going to play one of 40 different active games. And the one that you're going to play is hula-hoop. So you can do everything from yoga…
INSKEEP: Oh, God. Oh.
ARMSTRONG: …to balance exercises to strength training to aerobics.
(Soundbite of music)
INSKEEP: Twirl your hips in a circular motion. (unintelligible)
ARMSTRONG: So what you're doing…
INSKEEP: Is there anything else we can do?
ARMSTRONG: Yeah, we can…
INSKEEP: Do you realize what part of the country I come from? People do not twirl their hips where I come from.
(Soundbite of laughter)
INSKEEP: It's not done.
ARMSTRONG: You can run. You can do steps.
INSKEEP: How would it know that I'm swimming my hips in a circular?
ARMSTRONG: Great question. Because it's sensing your balance.
INSKEEP: I'm watching a virtual version of myself twirling a hula-hoop. I'm about to drop this thing. Oh, it's all gone. Failed, it says. Failed. OK. This is great. I did something embarrassing and got called a failure. This is something I want to rush out and buy.
ARMSTRONG: It motivates you.
INSKEEP: Now thirty-four spins on a calorie burner, that's what makes this unique, supposedly. It's now got a thing that says calorie burner. I got one of four possible stars…
INSKEEP: …for burning calories. OK. All right. So what's something else I can do?
ARMSTRONG: Well, now we're in the yoga area.
ARMSTRONG: So you can do deep breathing or the half moon, warrior stance, the tree.
INSKEEP: Using this breathing method can help improve your metabolism. Start. I'm holding my breath. Good morning.
(Soundbite of video game, "Wii Fit")
Unidentified Woman: Let's do some deep breathing together.
INSKEEP: Oh, I'd love to do some deep breathing together.
Unidentified Woman: Yoga poses are more effective if you combine them with deep breathing.
Unidentified Woman: Step onto the Wii balance board.
INSKEEP: OK. And I'm looking at a figure doing the same thing.
Unidentified Woman: Place both hands on your stomach.
INSKEEP: Both hands on my stomach.
Unidentified Woman: And spread your feet shoulder-width apart.
INSKEEP: Spread my feet shoulder-width.
Unidentified Woman: Inhale deeply through your nose. Feel your stomach expand under your hands. Exhale by slowly deflating your stomach. Breathe through your mouth if you find it difficult to breathe through your nose.
INSKEEP: Could you stop this for a second?
INSKEEP: Why do I need an expensive computer game to breathe?
ARMSTRONG: The answer is you don't need it, but does this enable you to experience something that you could do on your own in a different way?
INSKEEP: OK. So how big is this market supposed to be?
ARMSTRONG: So, you know, the whole video game industry, we're talking about $18 billion. But they call this segment the active gaming segment, and they're looking at that about $2 billion.
INSKEEP: Let me ask about the major rivals of Nintendo, companies like Microsoft and Sony. Are they also getting into this market of doing things compatible with Nintendo, this company they're competing with?
ARMSTRONG: This was a major risk that Nintendo took to actually go after this segment. A lot of people - a lot of naysayers thought this was a bad move. It's turned out to be a great move.
So, yes, absolutely the industry is taking note. For example, Atari is coming out with this device called the family trainer, which is a floor mat that you kind of get on, similar to almost the Wii balance board, but a little bit differently.
So, yeah, we haven't seen any major announcements that look like they could shake up the industry just yet, but hang in there. Christmas is still coming.
INSKEEP: Well, Mario Armstrong, it's always good to talk with you.
ARMSTRONG: Likewise, Steve, thanks.
INSKEEP: Stay healthy.
ARMSTRONG: Will do.
INSKEEP: That's Mario Armstrong, MORNING EDITION's regular technology commentator. He also hosts a radio show, ARMSTRONG'S DIGITAL SPIN on the Baltimore Public Radio station WEAA. And you can read about the pros and cons of home workouts at npr.org/yourhealth.