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2008-05-15

Cyndi Lee Dislikes Wii

I've resisted discussing Nintendo's Wii mostly because others better equipped than I have already praised the game system's groundbreaking design and engineering. But the Wii Fit marks an even more impressive debut than the base system, because through Fit Nintendo promotes a social good even as they stand to make a mint off it.

The New York Times interviewed four people, two fitness experts among them, to evaluate Wii Fit. The response was generally positive, if lukewarm. The response that gave me pause, however, was from Cyndi Lee, founder of Om Yoga:

This is a little dumbed down and they are teaching more from a fitness or gym perspective. They’re saying things like, "Tighten your glutes," which we would never say in yoga.
Could she possibly have missed the point any worse? First, the manufacturers of this hugely popular system are trying to encourage gamers to exercise more than their thumbs. Second, they've included yoga—a practice that not too long ago was looked upon with suspicion by a good portion of the American public—as a quarter of Fit's featured exercises.

Perhaps the Wii Fit doesn't, um, fit into Lee's conception of yoga. Perhaps she sees it as a threat to her business or as a dilution of her practice, neither of which can be very strong if Fit truly is a threat. But isn't it possible that a few people otherwise averse to yoga will try it and get hooked? It's even possible that Lee could gain a few new students as a direct result of Wii Fit.

5 comments:

patti said...

I agree that Lee appears to miss the point: that even if it's not "real" yoga or is too much like "gym yoga," the Wii could create new yoga students.

Yoga teachers famously disdain gym yoga for exactly the reasons Ms. Lee lists--gyms tend to strip away the philosophy of yoga and stress only the physical component. But my teacher would agree with you, I think. She always says, "whatever gets them to yoga," but she, too, would never go to a gym yoga class herself.

How likely, however, is the typical Wii Fit player to seek out a gym membership or a live yoga teacher after playing the game? The other testers, from the fitness expert to the couch potato, all said that the program did exactly what it was meant to: allow people to work out in their living rooms. Are the "lazy people" who usually let exercise equipment become "expensive clothes racks" really going to have so much fun playing Wii Fit that they seek out different forms of the same exercise? Or will they just keep playing the same fun game?

At best, they will buy some yoga DVDs or books (Cyndi Lee could hook them up) and try them out once. And they'll go back to Wii Fit because the DVD is less interactive and yoga is not a game.

The thing that alarmed me most about Lee's comments in the Time article was at the end (after the portion you've quoted in your post):

Ms. Lee also spied what she called incorrect elements within some poses. “Like with the warrior pose they show the knee going past the foot, which is a big no-no,” she said.

That is a big, dangerous, no-no, and is much more serious than Wii Fit's not "presenting yoga as a comprehensive approach to physical, mental and emotional wellness." One other fitness expert commented on bad alignment in her portion, too.

Why didn't the Wii developers and programmers get this sort of feedback and input before they release it? Why would they risk letting players get hurt because of less-than-perfect instruction or alignment?

One torn meniscus and no one will want to, let alone be able to, seek out Cyndi Lee or any other "real" yoga teacher.

librarian@play said...

But without torn meniscuses (menisci?), how else would you know you lost the game?

librarian@play said...

Now that I got my wise-ass comment out of my system, you bring up a really good point. Proper alignment in demonstration is the key usability issue for this type of game. Makes one wonder what else they missed.

Also, I wonder what Nintendo's liability will be if/when someone injures himself playing it? It's one thing for Nintendo to add some disclaimer to the game packaging. It's another to have to defend the company in the face of an injured gamer who's able to convincingly argue that he was injured because he was following the game's instructions.

Chai said...

I have to admit this post has tickled the delicious bone in my body, being both an avid gamer and yoga enthusiast. I do agree that Cyndi Lee has missed the point of the Wii Fit. But let's turn the question around for a second, did Wii Fit miss the point of yoga? And I would have to say that answer is "yes". That said, I am thrilled that yoga is on the Wii, though like other first generation games, it has a ways to go. The Wii has managed to do the impossible, outsell xbox and PS3, not just rehabilitating Nintendo but making it a Lazarus. And while most of these Fit Yoga gamers will never make it to the yoga studio, maybe a couple will wonder how they stack in "the real world", especially after they hear my cultivated yoga snobbery after witnessing their "abilities", and if they make it to a studio, who knows, they may become an honest to goodness yogi. And I can't help but applaud that.

Bodhi Val said...

Sheesh! You're pretty tough there on Cyndi - my teacher, my mentor, my very real yoga teacher. I didn't read the Times article, but the two quotes you took were both related to the importance of accurate and precise instruction. An instruction to contract your glutes is never appropriate - whether in a gym or a studio. This is from my perspective as a physical therapist and a yoga teacher.