social video games, yoga & well-being: an interview with yoga retreat creator tiina zilliacus

The “Yoga Cat” in the Yoga Retreat game shares some yoga moves.

A few weeks ago, IAYB commented on Yoga Retreat, a social “well-being” video game for Facebook users. I didn’t get it and maybe perhaps my assessment of the game was a little bit mean. Shortly after I put up the post, the PR agency who alerted me about the game offered an interview with the game creator, Tiina Zilliacus, to provide a little more context about the game and why it exists.

You have a background in game design and recently completed a yoga teacher training. Can you tell us what inspired you to create Yoga Retreat?

I made the game for people who like playing casual games, and are relatively new to yoga practice. As an enthusiastic yoga practitioner myself, I often have people tell me that they don’t feel very confident going into yoga classes because they do not understand why asanas are practiced, or the logic of the flow, or do not recognize the pose names etc. I wanted to make a game that lowered these barriers with the mechanics and features causal gamers would understand and enjoy.

How can playing a social game encourage more “well-being” in people’s offline lives?

You can play along with friends that you may not see every day or even very often and make them feel happy by doing something nice for them in the game such as giving a gift or visiting their resort. Yoga Retreat also features a character called “Yoga Cat” who pops up to teach players simple yoga techniques that players can do at the computer to relax mind as well as the neck & shoulder area.

Yoga Retreat has been met with some skepticism from the blogosphere (Huffington Post asked, “How did we get to the point where we are watching little cartoons do yoga on Facebook?” and YogaDork called it a “potentially incredibly addictive ‘friendly’ time-waster”). How do you feel about this reception?

Millions of people are playing war games online globally, games that feature and represent a culture of violence (himsa). I am a bit surprised that the yoga blogosphere is skeptical about projects that try and convey a culture of well-being, kindness and nonviolence (ahimsa) bringing something different to the market. The game has been very well received by its test players, as well as the specialist games media, so I am very grateful at the moment.

Are you familiar with Jane McGonigal? She believes that gaming can change the world. Do you agree with this?

I am familiar with Jane, and admire her work. Personally, I think laughter can change the world and agree completely with the saying that “laughter is the best medicine.” I hope to create products that increase laughter in people’s lives in addition to including genuine well-being content.

In conclusion: Yoga Retreat isn’t a game for yogis who use Facebook – it’s for sedentary gamers and Facebook addicts who need an accessible entry point to yoga and understanding their own health. I hope that the PR agency will contacting yoga bloggers and start reaching out to video game bloggers. They’re the ones who need this game.

As for me, I’m going to do some yoga IRL, get a smoothie and then go for a bike ride. And since what I really want to do is change the world, not just my individual well-being, I’m going to play some World of Warcraft and get ready to do some epic shit.

  1. No, I’m not buying it. Yoga cat’s image makes me think this is for kids but I wouldn’t want my kids thinking that this was yoga.

  2. Andrew has read Jane’s book- as he of course is also an avid WoW (and LoL) player… he hasn’t convinced me yet, but I will admit that her theories and worldviews are fascinating! 🙂

  3. You just keep on playing your video games and fill yourself with all the illusions about it you want. The movers and shakers, like myself, don’t need that crap. I’d say more, but I need to go find somebody with HBO on demand so I can watch the second season of Game of Thrones…