Virtual bowling strikes a chord with seniors

Wii games draw members, guests to Bain Center

July 20, 2008|By Karen Nitkin | Karen Nitkin,Special To The Sun

Bill Boucher used to bowl when he was younger, but he hadn't played in years, he said. But when he saw a Nintendo Wii game set up at the Bain Center in Columbia, he decided to try a virtual version of the game. The 80-year-old Clarksville resident quickly got the hang of it, bowling strikes and splits by holding a remote control and moving his body as though he were really bowling.

"It's a weird feeling, but fun," he said during a game last week against a few other players at the center.

While real bowling balls "get heavy after a while," the Wii game "was a lot of fun," he said. "It's really good." At the end of the game, he had gotten so much exercise that he had to sit and catch his breath.

Every Tuesday morning, the Wii is set up at the Bain Center and a cardboard sign is propped near it, urging people to join the Wii Club and play "the video game that's not just for children." There's no registration or cost - anyone can play.

Cathy Vigus, manager of senior programs for the county Department of Recreation and Parks, said she purchased the Wii this year after reading reports that the popular game is beneficial to seniors. "I had read a lot of articles, and there is a lot of research about the benefits of playing Wii," she said.

Those who might not be able to swing a golf club or lift a bowling ball can exercise and improve their balance by playing virtual versions of the game, she said. Vigus said purchasing the Wii after the holidays was difficult, as it was sold out at most stores. She finally found one online.

Her purchase included some games, and she also bought another package of games called Wii Play. Games include golf, tennis and baseball, but Vigus said bowling is by far the most popular at the senior center, in large part because four people can play at a time.

Barbara Ray, 74, of Owen Brown said she has been playing Wii games at the Bain Center for about a month. She had never been a serious bowler, but she's enjoying the Wii version of the sport.

"I'm getting pretty good at this," she said, waiting her turn to bowl in a match against Abdul Mohamed, 54, of Columbia. "It looked like fun so I thought I'd try it. And it is fun. And good exercise. I think it's great."

Ray said she had heard of Wii but never seen one before she happened upon it at the senior center, which she visits almost daily as a volunteer.

When it was her turn, she grabbed the remote, wrapped the strap around her wrist and stared at the television screen, much like a real bowler would stare down the pins at the end of the lane. She swung her arm back, lunged forward, and rolled her arm forward, just like a real bowler, but without the heavy ball. The screen showed a bowling ball rolling toward the pins, and then seven pins falling. In her second try, she knocked down the remaining pins, then returned to her seat with a look of triumph.

Mohamed, meanwhile, was getting better with each frame. He bowled some strikes and spares, but Ray won the game with a score of 138 to Mohamed's 131. Mohamed, who is deaf, communicated by sign language and by writing that he likes to bowl and enjoys the virtual game.

Vigus said the game attracts five or six regulars each week, with new people trying it each week. Many people come to the center almost daily to socialize in the lobby, and they are urged to give the game a try.

"The alternative is a lot of people would be doing a lot more sedentary activities during those hours," she said.

Vigus said she plans to bring the game to other senior centers in the county. And a bowling tournament is scheduled from 10 a.m. to noon July 29. There's no cost to enter, and prizes will be awarded. Will Ray participate?

"Definitely," she said.

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