A Wii Bounce in Seniors' Steps

By Megan Greenwell and Katherine Shaver
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, May 31, 2008

Murray Fox had just won second place in a Nintendo Wii video game bowling tournament in Wheaton when a friend issued his next challenge:

"You can beat the old guys, but can you beat your grandson?" the friend asked, laughing as Fox clutched his prize, a $20 gift card to Target.

Fox is 81, and his performance yesterday came against a group of fellow senior citizens, some of the most eager new video gamers. Most had heard their grandchildren rave about Wii Sports, which includes bowling, golf, tennis and boxing. Some were reliving their glory days as championship athletes.

A quarter of Americans older than 50 played video games last year, up from 9 percent in 1999, according to an industry trade group. The increase is attributable mostly to the Wii, a console that relies on players making motions rather than pushing buttons on a controller. The system has become wildly popular in retirement homes and senior centers, where it brings a form of gentle, low-impact exercise to people whose movement might be limited by injury or illness.

"These are people with enough motivation to still really participate in life," said Carol Fuentevilla, director of the Holiday Park Senior Center, where yesterday's tournament was held. "I'm convinced staying engaged keeps you out of the nursing home one day longer. It doesn't matter what it is."

The Holiday Park tournament was one of four Wii events being held across Montgomery County, with the top two winners in golf and bowling advancing to a countywide senior Wii championship June 26.

As the tournament began, some curious seniors peeked in before their fitness class, and others stopped by after tai chi. Program organizers implored everyone to try at least once. The room quickly grew rowdy, with about a dozen spectators cheering their friends and teasing bad shots.

"I'm losing!" Ethel Waltzer, 75, groaned as her competitor scored two quick points against her in tennis. "I'm terrible!"

After a stunning comeback, someone told Waltzer that she had won the game.

"I won?" she asked. "No kidding? I didn't think I was any good!"

Later, Evelyn Schwartz, 71, of Olney fought to keep her hook in check while bowling. Even in a bowling alley, she said, she has a tendency to hook the bowling ball to the left, sending it perilously close to the gutter. It was the same with Wii, she said.

Still, "it made me laugh and enjoy myself, so what's wrong with that?" Schwartz said.

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