Wednesday, 21 May 2008

BBC Breakfast Watch! Wii Insults Child Shocker!

I've got to stop watching this show. Isn't the whole idea that it's supposed to be a mental Valium for people getting up and going to work? Forget it. It's like a dose of adrenaline to the heart muscle for me. Or having an electrode jammed into my brain like in the amazing season finale of House.

I'm skewing my complaints about it toward the treatment of technology, which goes along the lines of, "Oh teh noes! We don't understand what this gadget does but it will probably be deadly!" (if this show had its way, we'd all be sitting in swamps eating mud and grunting with animal-like terror every time the moon appears in the sky). As that means I'm also watching them deal with children (because technology will turn our children into cyborgs or corpses of mass-murderers), I'm also judging them on what could be called a Daily Mail Quotient (DMQ), which measures the volume of their terrified screams of, "What about the children? Please, think of the children?!?!?!". That almost means Marvin Gaye should be judged for his DMQ, but I'll give him a pass, because, you know, it's Marvin Gaye, people.

The recent Grand Theft Auto IV panic would get a DMQ score of about 89%, as it posited the end of civilisation if kids kept playing it (which they shouldn't be anyway). Their total misunderstanding of what texting is, and their worry that it will make all children everywhere forget how to speak the English language got about an 84% DMQ, and probably would have been higher if they hadn't been shown up by the level-headed fifteen year old in their midst. Funnily enough, the news piece that annoyed me today was covered by the Daily Mail last week; a ten year old girl used a Wii Fit machine belonging to her friends and was referred to as technically obese according to the BMI.

Breakfast had a mother, the daughter in question, and another daughter for no apparent reason, and the Street Doctor, the improbably named Dr. Jonty Heaversedge. It was your standard nonsense, with Bill asking the girl what had happened and terrifying her into silence, Dr. Jonty saying kids shouldn't be measured according to the BMI, and the mother agreeing with that and being mortified because her daughter (who is obviously not obese or overweight) wanted to go on a diet.

There are a few things about the feature that annoyed me. Firstly, Bill terrorising the young girl by asking how muscular she is. Bad Pervert Bill! Secondly, the possibility that the machine was just broken or calibrated wrong. This seemed so self-evident to me that I was shocked no one brought it up until halfway through the interview, when Bill suggested it might have been knackered. Good Perceptive Bill! Boing Boing came to the same conclusion. Of course, the mother had never considered that and wasn't there when her daughter got on the machine, so it's possible her friends messed it and got the set-up wrong, or even worse, manipulated it to make it seem like she was overweight. It's possible, but no one wanted to consider that, because if that was the case, no one gets to get their Righteous Outrage on, send complaint emails to Nintendo, and get interviewed on TV and by the Daily Mail.

Even if the machine was working correctly, I'm still pissed, as the whole point of this "campaign" seems to be caused more by the fact that the parents had complained to Nintendo, demanding a warning be placed on the game, and Nintendo refused, issuing this statement instead.

Nintendo would like to apologise to any customers offended by the in-game terminology used to classify a player's current BMI status, as part of the BMI measurement system integrated into Wii Fit.

Wii Fit is still capable of measuring the BMI for people aged between two and 20 but the resulting figures may not be entirely accurate for younger age groups due to varying levels of development.

The fact that it measures kids from the age of two seemed to drive Susannah Reid (subbing for Sian) into paroxysms of outraged disbelief, which amused me. However, Dr. Jonty dissed the use of BMI for kids, as kids change size so often it's hard to quantify it, and the mother was probably pissed she didn't get a free Wii for her troubles upset that there wasn't a warning on the machine saying that the machine might inaccurately judge a child's weight to be problematic.

Dr. Jonty is right that if we use standard BMI calculations for children we would be silly billies, but BMI for children and teens is calculated differently, and even though it takes into account as many different variables as it can, it must still be used in conjunction with common sense, and the guidance of professional medical expert and parents who spend enough time with their children to know what their dietary habits and daily exercise regimes are like (and by "regimes" I mean as little as running around or using a bike, not pumping iron and running mini-marathons). Also, I don't own a Wii Fit, and haven't seen the instruction manuals, but these things are often really exhaustive, as Nintendo know all it takes is one mistake on these things and they will get hit with a million lawsuits. I wonder if the possible inaccuracies of the BMI is mentioned in it. I'll do some digging, if possible. (Don't count on it. A knackered ankle has laid me out for the day.)

I understand that telling a child they are obese when they are obviously not might damage the child's self-image so badly they might develop an eating disorder, but as it is not a function of a child's internal assessment of what the world considers acceptable (which, it has been argued, can be distorted by exposure to images of size zero models and skinny actresses on TV and in film), surely it's easily caught. If a responsible parent (who should surely be around when their kids are playing an exercise-intensive game like Wii Fit anyway) notices that their child has been told by a game that they are obese, then they can tell their child this is not the case. And that's exactly what happened. The young girl was informed by her parents that the machine made a mistake, and Susannah, having questioned her with more tact than Buffalo-Mouth Bill, managed to glean from the girl that she's fine now and doesn't consider herself obese or overweight. Have there been more cases of this happening? None that we've heard. Crisis probably averted.

There are multiple interesting and crucial debates to be had about children, weight, and self-image to be had, and I'd be crazy to suggest that any of that was trivial, but the paranoia about the Wii Fit is missing the point and confusing people about a machine that will be far more beneficial in the long run than any number of angry letters and outraged newspaper articles. This is the same whenever there is a launch of new hardware or software. People wonder how it will negatively impact on their lives and kick up a stink.

Remember when the Wii came out and everyone broke their living rooms because they weren't putting the wrist-strap on? Everyone was pissed at the Wii for a fortnight, complaining to Nintendo instead of just putting the strap on (that's what she said). It's the same here. New technology arrives that could change the way the world lives, and journalists have been waiting for a reason to demonise it. And here it is. And it's wrong. The Wii Fit is a good thing, and this one glitch, which might have been caused by any number of things and is easily resolved using common sense, should not overshadow the good that it can do. Try telling that to journalists and the panicky parents they leave in their wake, though.

Anyway, it wasn't all technophobia this morning. They had Genesis on the show, as BBC Four are wasting a night of programming on the one-time prog heroes turned unadventurous noodlers. That meant they had a particularly aloof Phil Collins in the studio. Quick! Someone tax him before he gets away!

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