Water Cooler Games served as the web's primary forum for "videogames with an agenda" — coverage of the uses of video games in advertising, politics, education, and other everyday activities, outside the sphere of entertainment.
The site was maintained at watercoolergames.org
from 2003-2009, where it was edited by myself and Gonzalo Frasca
. It is now archived here in full.
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Among the many stories from last week's E3, one of the most widely covered was Wii Fit, an exercise game controlled via a pressure sensitive balance board. You play by shifting weight on the board. While the final activities to be included in the game are still uncertain, reports suggest that they will include yoga, step aerobics, calisthenics, and soccer.
The concept and implementation looks fantastic. But what nobody seems to have noticed is that the idea is 25 years old.
As I discuss in the chapter on Exercise in my new book Persuasive Games, in 1982 Amiga released a balance board peripheral for the Atari VCS called the Joyboard. The technology was much less sophisticated than Fit, of course. In the place of analog pressure controls for each foot surface, the joyboard simply installed the four directional latches of a joystick on the bottom of the board. Lean to engage the latches and control the game -- hypothetically, to control any game.
Kotaku offers some video of their crew playing a ski-jumping mini game on Wii Fit at E3. Coincidentally, the first (and only) game released for the joyboard was Mogul Maniac, also a skiing game.
Mogul Maniac is a slalom course game, not a ski jump game, but the similarity is startling. Perhaps a skiing game is just the most obvious implementation of bipedal balancing activities.
As for exercise on the Joyboard, it didn't have the success or longevity to support such ideas. However, as a part of my combined interest in physical/exercise games and the Atari, I have created a zen meditation game that you play on the Atari VCS with a Joyboard, called Guru Meditation. The game is designed to be played by sitting cross-legged on the joyboard. The player must situate themselves perfectly still on the device, legs crossed, on the floor. A yogi will slowly rise if the player is properly situated. Time passes, zen ensues. You can read more about it over at my personal website.
My point is not that Nintendo has "stolen" the idea of a balance board from Amiga, nor that their revisions are unimportant. Rather, I want to suggest that product like Wii Fit don't come out of a vacuum. Fit evolved from decades of experimentation in physical interfaces and creative game design. Game players and critics alike would do well to learn some history about their medium to help make sense of new entries like this one.