Play By Not Playing: Relaxation and Meditation in Games

I wasn't sure what to expect when I checked out the Relaxation and Meditation in Games session I was assigned to. Would it even be interesting? Well, some of it was and some of it wasn't, as you'll see.

First up was Wendy Goldner who spoke about her game, Wild Divine's Healing Rhythms which was created to help with stress management. Through the use of some little leads, the player's heart rate and breathing are monitored and become used in the "gameplay." Its execution was a little hippy-dippy for my taste, something along the lines of scented candles in the bathroom and sage smudges. Various self help gurus such as Deepak Chopra appear and talk the player through various relaxation exercises like breathing in time to the pulsating graphic of a tree. Once the proper breath rate was achieved, things would happen with the graphics like magical bridges, rainbows and butterflies appearing. I'm sure it's a very helpful program for some and certainly a great concept, but not quite my cup of tea.

Persuasive Games' Ian Bogost was also on hand showing off a great little old-school style game to relax with, Guru Meditation. Using an old Amiga JoyPad hooked up to an Atari 2600, the player basically sits on the JoyBoard and doesn't move, causing an on-screen 8-bit counterpart to float above his little pixelated yoga mat. You essentially play by not playing. If this sounds familiar to you it's because it's the same basic concept as the Wii Fit Balance Board and its meditation program.

"I'd say Nintendo stole it from me if I hadn't already stolen it from Amiga," Bogost joked.

Finally, USC's Tracy Fullerton took the mic and spoke a bit about one of the games developed at USC's Experimental Game Lab, The Night Journey. I had heard Fullerton talk about this game before at last year's Serious Games Summit in Atlanta. Based on and using the works of Video Artist Bill Viola, The Night Journey isn't a game about reaching a certain destination, but more about the journey. A virtual "journey of enlightenment" that takes players through dreamy landscapes and promotes pausing and reflecting on one's surroundings. Stopping and reflecting at any given area will cause landscape to morph and change.

It was interesting to see the three very different takes on the "relaxation in games" theme. Especially given that with the exception of the burgeoning casual games market, many games these days aren't designed with relaxation in mind. So just remember to always take some time to stop and smell the 8-bit roses.


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