Monday, July 21, 2008

Wii wipes out recession blues

I’m opinionated – how else could I write these columns? But I’m also pretty open to changing my mind, admitting I’m wrong, or re-thinking the whole enchilada.

From some of my past posts you might think I’m not a big fan of the Wii, but I just came back from dinner with friends and their 13 year old (who's a serious athlete AND gamer), who gave me a detailed description of why I should re-consider the Wii Fit as a fun challenge.

I’m not an uninformed critic – I’ve put in some time with the Wii , Guitar Hero, and Garage Band. All of it for the sake of research, mind you. (And now I'm itching to try the Wii Fit, despite my preference for real yoga). But as a person and, more importantly, a parent, I’m still pushing for the real over the virtual. I expect my kids to play outside, play sports, and be active in the world as much as possible. At the same time though, we’re movie hounds. We’ll watch a downloaded episode of one of our favorite shows over breakfast if it’s a quiet morning. We all check our email a lot. I mean a lot. We all work on blogs (even my 9 year old has one about ecology and rescuing worms on rainy days). And there’s a big amusement and water park about a half hour’s ride from here. We’ve gone to events in Boston (two hour’s drive), plays in the Berkshires (another two hours), and concerts nearby. We’re planning one or two beach trips, but I have to start budgeting for those. After all, it’s expensive just to buy groceries right now, let alone drive to the shore, buy lunch and dinner, and stay overnight.

I’m not the only one who feels the pinch in my leisure and family life. Marketplace recently an a great segment about the way families are relying on at-home media for summer entertainment when they can’t afford vacations. Here’s what they found in talking to the Dorn-Wallerstein family:
They've been taking more walks, dealing more hands of Go Fish and playing a whole lot more Super Smash Brothers on the Wii console they bought six months ago….The Dorn-Wallensteins apparently aren't alone. Retail industry researcher NPD Group reports Nintendo sold twice as many Wiis last May than it did in May 2007. And this year, overall video game sales are expected to reach a record $21 billion.

Wedbush Morgan Securities analyst Michael Pachter tracks the video game industry. He predicts sales will remain strong as more people stay home to save money. “I think that consumers really are going to make a trade-off between very high-cost entertainment activities and they're going to shift in favor of lower-cost forms of entertainment. The Wii is going to draw families together and I think you're going to see a big shift.”
The argument is that the Wii is a better investment for fun and leisure than movie tickets or a summer’s pass to the water park. I like the idea that new technology can be a boon in difficult times, rather than an expensive or resource-draining way of distinguishing the Haves from the Have Nots. Usually most of the “how we’re changing our lives” recession news is all about retrenchment. I’m sure the articles about comfort food and cooking at home are being primed for fall publication. There’s definitely been an increase in home gardening and other do-it-yourself activities. But can it be more than pre-industrial amusement? This home entertainment approach at least considers how to incorporate the new and interesting products into a less expansive life. Moderation, adaptation, and fun are much more appealing than deprivation, aren’t they? Can there be a positive side to financial struggle? And does this mean the Wii Fit is better than my yoga class? That I’ll have to learn to like gaming?

Honestly, I’m still more of a fan of the great outdoors. But if it takes gasoline to get there, perhaps I should have bought that Wii when it was on sale. For now, we’ll just have to run across the street to the neighbors and hope they don’t get wise to our penny-pinching approach to fun! I hope they're going to get the Wii Fit attachment soon.

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