Let the Games Begin

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Let the Games Begin

The electronic game industry is now bigger than the movie business. In 2007, electronic gaming reached record sales of just under $18 billion, an increase of 43 percent over 2006, according to NPD Group, an industry research firm. Meanwhile, according to the BBC News,1 people in the U.S. and Canada combined spent only about half as much at movie theaters, where receipts totaled $9.7 billion, an increase of just 4 percent over 2006.

The Wii, a Nintendo system that uses a motion-sensor in the remote control to mimic players' arm movements, racked up sales of 6.3 million consoles in 2007 — more than 1 million people bought Wii systems in December 2007 alone — followed by the Xbox from Microsoft with 4.6 million units, and Sony's PS3, with 2.6 million.

Halo 3, a violent game for Xbox, has sold 4.8 million copies. More than 10 million people subscribe to the fantasy game World of Warcraft. Nine million people have created avatars, three-dimensional stand-ins for real people in Second Life.

What is significant about the newest generation of games and consoles is that they encourage people to participate physically as well as mentally. This is ironic, considering that one of the biggest criticisms of traditional video and computer games is that people who play them fail to get enough exercise.

The Wii gaming system is being used to help people rehabilitate from injuries, strokes, and surgery. To play games, users must go beyond pushing a few buttons as they do on other systems. Instead, to play a game of golf, for example, they must swing the wireless Wii remote like a golf club. For a patient rehabbing a broken elbow, the repetitive exercises needed to strengthen the muscles around the injury can be boring, and many patients do as little as possible.

But when patients play Wii games, they become so involved in the game that they don't even realize that they are getting the exercise they need. At Walter Reed Army Medical Center, soldiers who have suffered severe combat injuries in Iraq are using Wii games to regain control of their hands and arms. The chief of occupational therapy at Walter Reed explains, "They think it's for entertainment, but we know it's for therapy."

The Associated Press2 reports that several medical centers are now using Wii systems for rehab, or "Wiihab," including Abbott Northwestern Hospital in

Minneapolis; WakeMed Health in Raleigh, North Carolina; and Herrin Hospital and the Hines VA Hospital, both in Illinois...

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