Games: Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Winter Games

December 29, 2010

As I mentioned in my post a couple days ago, my first experience playing the Wii was the Mario & Sonic Olympic Games – the Summer Games, that is. When I was at the library today to pick up some books, I noticed the rack of video games available, and promptly added Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Winter Games to my pile of materials to check out.

I was curious how in the world a Wii controller could be used to simulate skiing or skating. Some Wii games certainly approximate the physical moves of the real world better than others do. I didn’t like the way archery worked (in the Summer Games) at all. Unlike real archery, where the action of each hand is naturally linked by the physical bow that both are holding (one by the handle, the other by the string), in the Wii game you held the Wii controller in one hand and the nunchuk in the other. Real archery requires a steady hand to keep arrow pointed the right way, but the rest of it is physical strength, not trying to coordinate unrelated motions between your two hands.

The javelin throw (also in the Summer Games) made a lot more sense. A pumping motion with your hands (one holding the controller and the other the nunchuk) may not be the best simulation of running, but it makes sense – and does tire one out if you keep it up long enough. Then you have to time things right to stop and throw, and while strength doesn’t play a role at least it does feel like a throwing motion.

Swimming felt a lot like running, other than having to periodically press the B button to simulate taking a breath. I suppose any sport that requires alternating left and right feet – or hands – can be simulated by that pumping motion of the controller and nunchuk. But how would you do that for downhill skiing, where your feet stay largely in place as you glide downhill? Or bobsled racing, where your feet don’t move at all once you board the sled?

The winter sports turn out to be mostly about how to make turns. So the forward motion is pretty much taken for granted (after all, once you get on a steep slope, it doesn’t take much to get going downhill, it’s a matter of which way you go). The skill is in taking the turns well so obtain maximum speed – and certainly not going off the path and hitting barriers, which definitely slows you down.

So these games are not at all physically demanding. You stand in place with the Wii controller in front of your chest, and just turn it to one side  or the other to steer your character down the hill. I’m not saying it’s easy – I’ve yet to successfully finish “training” on the bobsled (though I succeeded with downhill skiing). Just that it doesn’t get my heart rate up at all.

From reviews I’ve read at, the games are actually fairly easy to a lot of people. (With the balance board, which can be used with some of these games, it is more difficult. But I don’t have the balance board and don’t plan to get one – knowing my sense of balance I’d probably fall off it. I’ve already fallen off the Active Life mat just from trying to jump fast.) But I’ve said before that my balance and coordination are not very good.

So I think I’ll have fun with this – for the one week I get to keep it from the library. I wouldn’t go out and purchase it, but it’s a fun way to spend part of the Christmas break with my kids. (I’m still getting plenty of more physically demanding play with Active Life Explorer and Wii Sports. I even won two tennis matches this morning!)

And the Winter Games theme certainly fits well with all that snow outside.

North to Iqaluit

February 4, 2010

One day last year I started working on a blog post about Canada, having just learned the answers to a couple of questions about Canada’s history that had always puzzled me. But then something else came up that I wanted to blog about, and again the next day, and that blog post never got written. I told myself that I’d work on it when Canada came up in the news.

I’m sure Canada has been in the news a number of times since then, but it was an article I read in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal that got my attention. Why are the G-7 finance ministers meeting in a city so small (population of 7000) that it doesn’t have a single traffic light? (The traffic does pile up three times a day at the four-way stop sign, but with only 700 taxpayers, Iqaluit would have trouble paying for a traffic light.)

The article doesn’t mention why this remote capital of the Canadian territory of Nunavut was chosen for the event, but I quickly thought of a reason. For years I have read about the protests – ranging from merely disruptive to openly violent – that meetings of the G-7 (or is it G-8?) attract. (One novel I read last year had the U.S. host its foreign dignitaries on a cruise ship to avoid those problems.) Situating the event in the far north, where access is only by airplane (except in the summer and early fall when the ocean thaws and boats can approach), will keep most if not all protesters away.

A column in Tuesday’s WSJ confirms my guess – and also points out that “The benefits of keeping these officials far from their normal levers of power even for just a couple of days would be well worth the effort.” I hadn’t thought there was anyplace that global telecommunications could not keep one in touch these days, but apparently a phone-rental system has to be set up for the meeting because “the area lacks coverage for popular GSM cellphones.”

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All eyes on China

August 8, 2008

For at least two decades I’ve read conflicting arguments over the best approach to foreign relations with China. Will increased trade help bring about increased freedom for Chinese people, as they are exposed to Western ideas more and experience a taste of free choice at least in the area of buying and selling? Or is that just rewarding the authoritarian regime, allowing them improved status and power without their having to improve their record much if at all?

These questions have come up for a lot of discussion as the preparations for the Beijing Olympics have progressed. And they’re not any easier to answer. I know some people think it was a terrible mistake for the IOC to award the 2008 Summer games to Beijing. They think President Bush should boycott the games. Some of them will practice their own private boycott by not watching the games on TV.

I have little interest in watching the games themselves, but I’ve many times thought about whether or not it’s good to buy products made in China. Some products are made by slave labor, and others by people working in such awful conditions that it might as well be slave labor. Yet other companies in China provide decent working conditions, and offer new opportunities for prosperity, personal advancement, and contact with Western people and ideas, which bring many benefits to their workers and their families. Reducing trade with China would reduce both.

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Fuwa or wuwa?

July 24, 2008

It would probably be an understatement to say I’m not much of a sports fan. Even the quadrennial Olympic games (now biennial, if you count count both Winter and Summer Olympics) have rarely captured my interest. (I do sometimes watch the Super Bowl, partly to do something with my husband that he enjoys, and partly to watch the commercials.)

I do remember watching an Olympic gymnastics competition on TV once when I was a girl, and trying to spin gracefully around the living room. I remember being at a friend’s house during the 1988 Winter Olympics, and watching some skiing and skating because that’s what my friend decided to do for the evening. I think I caught a few minutes of some swimming events at the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul.

So perhaps it’s not surprising that until tonight I didn’t even know that the Olympics had mascots. I do remember being in Spain in 1981 and seeing tons of merchandise featuring Naranjito, the smiling orange mascot for the upcoming 1982 World Cup tournament, and thinking of buying one as a souvenir even though I had no interest in soccer. But the closest I’ve ever lived to an Olympics site was when I was a student at Word of Life Bible Institute during the 1980 Olympics at Lake Placid. I do not remember ever seeing any depictions of Roni the Raccoon or any Roni merchandise – though as TV’s were not allowed on campus and shopping in the nearby town was extremely limited, that’s hardly surprising. 

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Spotlight on Beijing

May 7, 2008

To say I’m not interested in sports news is an understatement – my worst category in Trivial Pursuit is Sports & Leisure (though followed closely by Arts & Entertainment). But even I know what country is hosting the Olympics this summer. Of course, most of the news on that topic, for now, is more political than sports-related, as people argue over whether it was right to allow China to host the Olympics, and whether we should boycott the Games.

William McGurn had an interesting column about that question in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal. “By agreeing to stage the Olympics, the [Chinese] government has also given a world stage to anyone with a grievance.” How much attention would people be giving the protesters if not for the backdrop of the Olympic Torch relay?  How many people who regularly buy items marked “made in China” without a second thought will reconsider, their awareness heightened by the frequent news stories – generally negative – about China?

Unfortunately the people of China, lacking the free flow of information we enjoy, may not know how much attention the fault of their leaders are getting.