Monday, February 1, 2010

Media Monday: To Wii, or Not to Wii?

That is the question.

Unveiled by Nintendo in 2005, Wii is the console that has seemingly opened the video game market to housewives and school boys alike. As most readers probably know, it uses sophisticated sensors to detect the movements of the player(s), making the player part of a dynamic controller. It is safe to say that the Wii has changed the face of the video game industry and fundamentally altered the gaming experience.

While I am quick to say that video games should never replace outdoor activities or more intellectual/imaginative pursuits (such as reading, make-believe, building blocks, etc.), the Wii presents many opportunities to make video gaming a more healthy experience than it once was.
A healthy, inquisitive, energetic child should have difficulty sitting in one place for long periods of time, as is encouraged by traditional video games, and Wii accommodates this reality rather than stifling it.

This is an especially good thing for our Aspies, as many will willingly play these games for hours on end, a habit which poses health risks, as sitting for long periods interferes with proper blood circulation. Some medical professionals have also theorized that traditional game controllers, when used extensively by children, encourage the brain to wire itself to the hands and fingers in ways conducive to game play rather than to writing or other fine motor skills. As the movements used to control Wii games are more varied and generalized, any potential harm of this sort should be mitigated.

The real benefit to Aspies, though, lies in the physical nature of Wii games. While many such children have sensory integration problems that make outdoor play difficult and overwhelming (and sedentary indoor play very alluring), Wii provides a comfortable means for sensitive children to engage in physical activity. Properly used, the Wii could potentially be part of a regimen designed to wean AS children off of electronic play and onto the playground.

Many Wii games are also interactive, and so could be used to promote interactive play. Children with AS are often delayed in their development out of parallel play (doing the same thing alongside playmates) and into interactive play (playing dynamically with a playmate in a common activity). In general, video games can be used to aid this development, but the physical nature of the Wii is especially conducive to this.

However, there are drawbacks to the Wii, just as there are advantages. I especially disapprove of the Wii controllers designed for use in shooting games (view them here, here,and here, among others). The controller itself resembles a gun. Whereas traditional video game controllers, while usable for shooting games, do not place the “gun” in the hands of the player. One pushes a button in order to make the character on the game shoot. Even when the player uses first-person mode, the controller provides a degree of separation between the player and the violence. There is no such separation with this Wii controller.

The other major drawback to the Wii is that it is easy to allow it to stand in place of outdoor play. How convenient is it for one’s child to participate in controlled, safe, physical activity without needing the extra supervision or the interruption to the parent’s day necessitated by travel to a park or even play in the back yard? It is so easy to allow the convenient to become habitual in place of the ideal. I think it is important for parents, especially of Aspies, to view the Wii as a tool to facilitate healthy play and social development, rather than as a toy, and regulate it’s use as such.

Join us next week for more Media Monday.
(Better late than never, I’m experiencing technical difficulties.)

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