Wii bowling league allows seniors to enjoy life in the virtual lane

February 20, 2009 

Clay Riegel and his wife, Louise, haven't been to a bowling alley in years, but they racked up their fair share of strikes and spares last Sunday.

The couple are part of a lively group of seniors who meet on a monthly basis for a virtual bowling league at the Bluffton library, where two Nintendo Wii game consoles and stereo speakers punctuate the normally silent space with the sounds of balls rolling down hardwood lanes and pins crashing.

"Two or three games hoisting a 16-pound ball might be kind of excruciating now, because we're not as young as we used to be, but this is great," Clay Riegel said of the free community gaming event that started in January. "You line it up, let it go and if you can find your spot, you're in good shape. It's just like real bowling."

Albeit, minus the rented shoes and cheap beer crowd.

Bluffton reference librarian and program coordinator Traci Cox organized the virtual bowling league after an interactive information session called "Wii Seniors" sparked an interest in the video game system among the library's Sun City Hilton Head patrons last November.

"A lot of them came because they were intimidated by it, and once they actually got hands-on experience, they were very pleased with how easily they picked it up," Cox said at the time.

Now, many of the new gamers have a hard time putting the "Wiimote" down.

Though the Riegels own a Wii and are able to work on improving their game at home on a daily basis, Cox said some people will come in asking to practice on the library's Wii, which she keeps reserved strictly for group programming.

The league, which consists of six two-player teams, meets once a month to play a total of three games on two Wii consoles -- one of which belongs to Cox. Depending on the system to which they're assigned, players view the action on a giant screen or flat panel television. Mini bowling lanes are demarcated with pieces of neon tape on the carpet. Celebratory dancing is optional.

"Once a cheerleader, always a cheerleader," said Helen Gilbert, who spent much of Sunday willing her bowling ball into the pins with hip shakes and fist pumps. Though the curve that haunted her game at the bowling alley has followed her play into the virtual gutter, Gilbert said her involvement with the league is not about winning.

"I just come to have fun," she said. "It's nice not having to deal with the crowds at a bowling alley, though I have to calm down sometimes with my hoop and hollering."

Cox, who casually observed the action and tracked the average scores of each team on a clipboard, said the noise is what it's all about.

"Everybody's having a great time, and that's the goal," she said. "It's nothing that requires work or taking notes. It's not about the economy. It's just a social event where people can get to know each other and not have to drop $50 for a night at the bowling alley."

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