By Daniel Nash
Two teams of seniors met in the commons of the Bonney Lake Senior Center for an intense and competitive face-off. Their goal? To out-bowl the other team.
But the Bonney Lake Senior Center hasn’t constructed any new additions this year, least of all bowling lanes. Instead the action took place on a big screen TV, controlled through Wiimotes, the motion sensitive controllers to the Nintendo Wii.
Though the sport is simulated, it isn’t taken any less seriously by its participants. It’s intense, strategic and digitally fun.
Senior Wii Bowling League began its third season last week. The Bonney Lake Seniors on Strike, one of three Bonney Lake teams, squared off against the Maple Valley Pindroppers Oct. 13.
Margo Montana, a player for Bonney Lake, has been working on her form. She began competing during the last season, but became frustrated by her consistently low scores.
“I was almost ready to quit,” she said. “But one of the other players, a fellow who seems to get 300 every other time, showed me a trick, and I wound up getting 200 that match.
“I hope I can get that this time so I don’t embarrass my team.”
Bonney Lake acquired its Wii in 2007, after a member brought in an article from the Christian Science Monitor showing the popularity of the console at a retirment community in Illinois, Sue Hilberg, the senior services manager for Bonney Lake, said. Soon after, Hilberg was approached by members of the Tukwila and Burien senior centers to join a competitive league covering senior centers in Pierce and parts of King County.
“It was so popular its actually been split into a north and south league so that our seniors don’t have to travel so far,” Hilberg said.
Organized senior video sport is just one indication that video games aren’t solely the realm of kids’ play anymore. Nintendo targeted the senior demographic in earnest with the release of Brain Age, a “brain training” game for the company’s handheld DS system.
But the Nintendo Wii appealed universally by a different approach. Though video games have long allowed players to do things they would not necessarily be able to do in the real world, the Wii adds a crucial wrinkle to the tapestry by allowing players to go through the motions of the character on screen, without requiring any of the physical might.
The result is that sport’s requirements are stripped down to hand-eye coordination. Controls are varied enough that each player can approach the game with their own style, taking into account rotation, target and speed.
Since there are four players to a senior center team and the game only allows four players at a time, league games field two players from each team at a time across four rounds. The first two rounds play arbitrarily chosen team members, and the final two rounds play the higher and lower scorers of each team, respectively.
Montana was one of the first players up. On-screen was a digital character, called a Mii, with eyeglasses and a haircut resembling Montana’s.
Montana zoomed the camera in close to line up the exact path she wanted her ball to take. She aimed just two pins right of center, drew her arm back and released.
It’s slow. The trajectory of the ball hooked left and veered far enough that it hit six pins on the left side, leaving her with a chance to make the spare.
“I throw a hook when I bowl,” Maple Valley Pindropper Robert Garland said. “I always aim for the very last pin on the right so that it curves back to the center.”
“I just try to hit right at the head pin,” fellow Pindropper Jeanie Willingham said.
Montana missed the spare. Teammate Kathy Nelson pulled her aside to offer advice and encouragement.
“It’s only the first game of the season,” she said. “You can only go up from here. You don’t want to take first and worry about maintaining that the rest of the season.”
Nelson made a spare in her first turn and then a strike in her second. She described herself as one of the players who takes the competition seriously.
Montana slowly adjusted her form, moving her Mii’s aim further to the right to adjust for her hook. She made a strike in the eighth frame, earning cheers from her teammates.
After four rounds, the game ended in victory for the Maple Valley Pindroppers, 1,313-1,225.
Though the Seniors on Strike lost the match, the fun of playing was evident throughout. In the second round, Jean Payne and Josie Snyder, who won a special achievement award last season, faced off against the Pindroppers. In her first frame, Payne made a clean strike.
“That’s our Jeanie,” Montana whooped. “Our Jeanie is out of the bottle.”
Wii Bowling League is open to adults 50 and older. The Bonney Lake Senior Center is at 19304 Bonney Lake Blvd. For information, contact Janis Smith at 253-863-7658, or ask at your local senior center.