I will be the first to admit that there are two categories of people I, in no world, fall into: gamers and athletes. Still, from the ages of nine to 11, there was one franchise that took over my mind, body and soul: Nintendo’s “Wii Sports.” There was something so immediately accessible about it, even to someone like me who had absolutely zero gaming experience—and a little less than zero sports experience, at that. Looking back on it, I truly think that the genius of “Wii Sports” and “Wii Sports Resort” was in how they framed these games—and the concept of gaming in general.
To be fair, the experience “Wii Sports” games afford isn’t exactly sports in the traditional sense, and Nintendo wasn’t trying to make it that way. The “Wii Sports” franchise emphasized a new concept of gaming with revolutionary motion-sensing technology, which was just beginning to reach commercial use at the time. Everything about the game promoted realism except the actual game: You could feel the haptics and sounds of hitting a ball with your Wii remote tennis racket, for instance. You could pump your arms up and down as though they were your legs pedaling a bike in the cycling course of “Wii Sports Resort.” You could even position your screen such that you got a perfect strike in bowling every time, which was great for me as the worst bowler in the world. That’s the thing about these games—there were so many of them! Being able to have a multi-varied experience and better acquaint myself with the rules of actual sports was a great tool for me as a child.
What remains with me largely of the “Wii Sports” franchise remains because of nostalgia. But there are aspects of the games which I truly think revolutionized gaming. The Wii console was one of the first ever marketed towards families instead of solely young people, and this emphasis on family playing made collaboration a key part of the Wii universe. I fondly remember battling my brother in games like sword fight and baseball. What was also new about this game was the clear emphasis on making it accessible for those, like me, with no prior gaming knowledge. Nine-year-old me (and my 40-year-old mother) didn’t know anything about Mario, but I understood tennis! And playing Wii made both of those skills better.
There were other benefits to the game that I didn’t much care about as a child, but many an article has been written about the golf portions of the “Wii Sports” franchise. As soon as the game came out, journalists began understanding the real-world implications of a sport like golf, which is ordinarily very time-consuming to play and takes up a ton of resources. Perhaps more than any other sport offered on the console, golf was much more like a simulator than a game. Those who played it were able to improve their skills at the real game without having to spend time on the green, according to Mental Floss.
Wii Golf also had other benefits, most notably its use in physical therapy, as reported by The New York Times. The console’s focus on balance and movement, as well as its motion-controlled sensors being attuned to fine and gross motor skills, proved greatly beneficial for those recovering from strokes or who were dealing with other mobility issues. It can also be mentally important for those in recovery to test if they are still able to play the games they love by assessing metrics like control and vision. While not necessarily a sport, it does require an individual to be active, with the weight-shifting of real golf a part of the in-game experience.
Some reviewers have stated outright that the Wii version of golf, one of multiple games available in each game, was better than other games dedicated to simulating the sport, according to Wired. The minute and individual details of playing golf on the Wii—including wind-speed calculations, the changing of stance and the angle of the club—are as close to a real-world experience as one could get without actually playing it.
As someone with perhaps a less-than-rosy memory of sports as a child, the concept of a game where I could learn about these essential facets of our culture from the safety of my own home and with the people I loved meant more to me than I think I realized. Sports on the Wii are certainly not a one-to-one recreation of sports in real life, but they succeeded immensely in all of the areas they were supposed to: They emphasized collaboration, were accessible to those who had little experience in playing video games and improved the skills of real-world players in their motion-controlled simulations. Though it may be a franchise now far-removed from the cultural consciousness, it is important to remind ourselves of the novelty and importance these games held in the trajectory of video game culture, as well as the information they provided for those looking to port over virtual skills to real life. “Wii Sports” and “Wii Sports Resort” were truly life-changing games for me, and I will never forget the important place they held in my childhood.