Wii Vitality Sensor: Nintendo didn’t know what to do with it, suggests neuro-technology professor

Thursday, 2nd May 2013 12:51 GMT By Dave Cook

Nintendo’s long-absent Vitality Sensor was unveiled at E3 2009 and has since fallen by the wayside. Speaking to the press at the NeuroGaming Conference in San Francisco, professor Roger Quy from neuro-technology firm Technology Partners has shed light on why it may have failed.

Responding to a question about Nintendo’s device from GameBeat’s Dean Takahashi, Quy suggested that mixing fun and therapy can work, but it needs to be both sophisticated and entertaining enough to ensure that it still provides help, rather than a cheap thrill. He added that professional brain training companies are currently boring their patients.

“I think, certainly in the therapeutic area to have something that’s entertaining and fun is a big deal,” he replied. “I think a problem with many of the brain training companies is that they’re just damn boring to use. If you listen to tones for about two hours at a time it’s hard to keep going.

“I think Brain Training [the game] is where we can add in fun and entertainment, whereas the goal at the end of the day is improvement, whether that’s a therapeutic definition – or if you fly under the radar screen of the [US Food and Drug Administration] by just talking about quality of life measures.”

Quy then theorised as to why Nintendo canned its Vitality Sensor, “With regard to the Nintendo sensor, at that time we were trying to start this company that would use pulse sensors, but not just to measure pulse rate – that doesn’t tell you too much.

“You have to be more sophisticated than that if you want to measure things thing arousal, valance or a range of emotions using heart-rate variability. I don’t think Nintendo really knew what to do with that.

“So you measure your heart-rate – so what? Once you’ve measured it a few times … I mean you could always just hold your finger on your pulse. That’s why, again, value out – why use a switch when 40 relays will do?

“That sort of concept has to be useful, so you’re not just designing this in just from the point of view of adding another widget, and not necessarily bringing anything new to the party.”

What do you think about the demise of Nintendo’s Vitality Sensor? Was it a poor idea to begin with, or could it have worked? Let us know below.

Thanks Olly Quinn.



  1. CPC_RedDawn

    Who would!?

    The thing was pointless. Sure I could look down and see my heart rate in horror games go up a little but really… what else could this be used for? I consider my self to be pretty inventive and I cant even think of what to do with this. Not even Nintendo could and they have pretty innovative when it comes to hardware.

    #1 2 years ago
  2. Digital Bamboo

    If it had been portable, I could see how it might be used in a Wii Fit type deal. Or perhaps in an innovative music-making game–”BPM-feel the beats”. But really this is like R.O.B; somewhat interesting in its concept, but extremely limited in the ways in which it might be practically used.

    #2 2 years ago
  3. Fin

    It was a ridiculous idea to start, I’m amazed they ever announced it publicly.

    #3 2 years ago
  4. klewd

    lots of things.

    Valve has experimented with biometrics for a long time now and has implemented it in various testing scenarios. Like in L4D2 they would show the stress (determined from heart rate/sweat etc. i suppose) of the opposing players, and the players’ play-styles was drastically changed:

    (from eurogamer)

    Valve experimented with biometrics directly by introducing them into a special build of Left 4 Dead 2, with the developers surprised by just how much the game was changed just by sharing the data with other players – it added to the social experience.

    “This was not something we were expecting and it’s the sort of reason you like to invest in these kinds of research efforts is it’s not only the things you expect it’s the things that catch you by surprise,” Newell says.

    Valve took the various biometric data feeds and filtered them into what it called (no sniggering), the “arousal state”. With the data beamed across to the other players, different behaviours began to emerge.

    “When you were playing competitively we found that people were incredibly aggressive towards highly aroused players on the opposing team and were very defensive about highly aroused players on their own team,” Newell explains.


    #4 2 years ago
  5. kevinw729

    I think you all may be unaware of some of the issues with the system.

    The Nintendo Vitality Sensor was based on the same system used in healthcare and the fitness sector – it was adopted as a needed component by Nintendo was due to the spate of legal issues they were coming up against. Though not heavily reported the issue of children suffering medical issues while using the Wii caused executives to consider a need for a safety system to monitor player vitals. This aspect was soon dropped when one executive pointed to the issue of deniablity to any problems, and in creating the Vitality Sensor – the company was making a admission of an issue!

    Having promoting the system Nintendo was left with a device that they did not want or need, and was left to founder and fall. To this date Nintendo works hard to down play any health issues associated with the Wii – the same way that the Wii-Mote strap has a wavier removing responsibility of damage caused from Nintendo.

    #5 2 years ago
  6. dreamcastnews

    @5, link?

    #6 2 years ago
  7. salarta

    Nintendo seems to make things first and consider possible applications for them later. Sometimes it works, usually it doesn’t.

    The main way of using the Vitality Sensor that I saw people suggest, aside from likes like Wii Fit, was a survival horror game to make the game’s content change based on what your body’s going through. Maybe have something attack when you’re calm, or make things get crazier with a high pulse.

    #7 2 years ago
  8. wearitude

    Great article. There are potentially lots of uses for inexpensive pulse meters in smartphones, smartwatchs and fitness video game apps, although many of them are on the more serious health side. They can let a smartwatch app or video game replace much more expensive devices. We talk about this some more inour blog article on biofeedback in wearables and video games.

    #8 1 year ago

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