There is a new game on Facebook -- a real, actual game that you can play right now on your computer -- called "Yoga Retreat." In the game (which is real) you play a yoga instructor who owns a remote beachside yoga resort and teaches different poses to practitioners. You get coins for each exercise that you teach; when you accumulate enough coins, you can spend them on improving your outdoor studio: Yoga mats wear down over time and need replacement; auxiliary buildings, with steam rooms and gazebos, must be constructed; you're going to want an ice cooler for that fancy juice bar you just put in.
Mostly, though, you are "teaching" yoga, which involves clicking on different characters who wander into your studio and then choosing the pose you want them to assume. After you click, you then watch these animated characters assume the pose and stretch, in real time.
That's it. That's the game.
How did we get here? How did we get to the point where we are watching little cartoons do yoga on Facebook?
Yoga Retreat begins with a comic strip. You are represented as a young, business-minded redheaded woman (accurate), and you break down in front of your computer due to stress. Your character decides she needs a rest and travels to the beach to practice yoga in order to unwind:
That you are playing a game on your computer about a character who breaks down while sitting in front of a computer is very, very, very ironic -- as is any Facebook game in which your character enjoys the outdoors while you sit immobile gawking at a computer screen.
The creators of Yoga Retreat, Gatjari Studios, have admirably tried to correct this irony. Most players of "Farmville" could have, hypothetically, gone outside and worked the soil and reaped the rewards of actually planting seeds; in the time it took you to defeat "Guitar Hero" on Expert, you might have actually learned to strum a song or two on a real six-string. Here Gatjari Studios comes through: A character called Yoga Cat can be called up at any time during "Yoga Retreat" gameplay, and Yoga Cat will give you video instructions on how to accomplish any of the poses within the game at your own home, so that you can "play along" with your avatar. Good idea? Great idea. Will anyone use it?
I didn't, and I feel fat. Here's a photo of Yoga Cat:
If you are going to play "Yoga Retreat," you have to exercise along with it, and you have to start exercising as soon as you begin playing. The game's inducements to exercise are not regular or forceful enough; you will get sucked into this mesmerizing game if you are not strongly, insistently motivated to lose weight as you play. You have no idea the hypnotic effect that arises from watching little avatar men and women do Side Stretches and Sun Salutations. You cannot imagine what it is like to gaze mindlessly at your computer monitor as a little Flash cartoon person in Lululemon tights and sports tank stretches her arms to the sky and holds the position for two minutes.
You would not be able to fathom what it means to notice an animated leaf on the ground of your computer-drawn yoga studio and then think, "Oh, a leaf. I better go pick up that leaf so that my computer-drawn yoga studio remains in order."
And then you position your mouse over the leaf and click on it, and your avatar bobbles over and picks up the leaf, and you are rewarded with one gold coin for cleaning up your studio. Meanwhile, your body and your bedroom both lie in ruin, cobwebs in the corners, discarded Hot Pocket cartons and Mike's Hard Lemonade bottles blocking your path to the door.
This is what happens if you do not exercise along with "Yoga Retreat" as you play. My life -- my body, my room, my misery -- could be yours.
Here is a video, made by "Yoga Retreat" developers, that pretty well captures what playing "Yoga Retreat" is like. All that is missing is you (or me), sitting in the dark, not getting any exercise or interacting with any of your friends:
These hours I've spent watching little cartoon men and women do yoga are gone from my life forever. I am now a Level 6 Yogi, and I expect to open my own juice bar by the end of the evening. I had planned on eating a light dinner with friends, perhaps inviting them to stroll with me along the narrow sidewalks that border the small, quiet park near my East Village apartment. Now, however, I am so close to the number of coins necessary to purchase this juice bar add-on that I will cancel those plans in order to teach yoga to little avatar people until I can afford an imaginary juice bar.
Won't you come join me, on Facebook, at my virtual yoga retreat juice bar? We're making kiwi smoothies tonight, you know.
"Yoga Retreat" will officially be released on Facebook on August 6; you can play now in the beta version until that date. I recommend a yoga mat and better self-motivation than my own.