The Xbox 360 Kinect launched to a lot of hype last year, but even though the games offered more sophisticated versions of Wii-style party games, there have been few titles released that make owning a Kinect worthwhile.
Deepak Chopra’s Leela, which launched early December for the Xbox 360 Kinect, is not going to change that, because it doesn’t even attempt to be a game. Instead, the title, released by publisher THQ, aims to offer a meditative experience that encourages people to relax and refresh themselves. By making them move their heads slowly while breathing deeply and looking at psychedelic images on the screen.
Chopra is famous as a proponent of alternative medicine, and has attracted a lot of criticism for his work, with many dismissing him outright. He has a large following and has been a successful author, so it’s easy to see why THQ would green-light the project, hoping for quick and easy sales.
Strange: Trippy visuals and vague gameplay define Leela.
Playing Leela requires you to stand in front of the Kinect—the game measures the movement of your chest to track your breathing, and there are different game modes, each connected to a different kind of “chakra”. While some game modes help you tune the said chakra, others help you meditate and relax.
This is done in a number of ways, all very trippy. Looking at the visuals, it’s hard to take the game seriously—one mode, for example, has you fly through a tunnel by leaning from side to side to match the twists and turns on screen. You do this quite slowly—there’s no challenge to it. The idea is that the user will find it restful, though the combination of this, and the bright neon flowers blossoming on the screen with every little move, would likely stress out people who don’t already buy into Chopra’s philosophy.
There are levels that play out like a slow version of the BrickBreaker game—where you blow up comets with cosmic energy, by waving your hands gently. Or you could try the guided meditation, where the game projects your silhouette on screen, complete with lit-up chakra centres. In a wonderful display of the Kinect camera’s sensitivity, it measures the movement of the different parts of your chest cavity to track your breathing techniques. It is actually mostly accurate, and does feel a little restful, but then, for most of us, so does sitting in a chair with a good game running.
Deepak Chopra’s Leela: Available on the Xbox 360 Kinect, Rs1,999.
In essence, Leela is a powerful biofeedback tool built around the notion of surrender—of relaxing and going with the flow. Jumping around to zap an asteroid won’t work, but a gentle sweep will. Coupled with an electronic soundtrack, Leela feels strange.
There is a sense of a strong parody of actual gaming happening here—a slowed down caricature of the kind of controls we see in motion-controlled gaming today. If it were deliberate, then it would be brilliant. By slowing things down and forcing the user to consider the movements as they make them, the game highlights the absurdist controls that dominate the Kinect experience, and the trippy visuals show how divorced all this is from what you are really doing. Unfortunately, Leela doesn’t seem to be in on the joke.
At the end of the day, this is no game. This is an interactive Deepak Chopra experience. Most games have an intrinsic reward built into their actions, to motivate you to keep playing. Here, that reward is to be a better, more relaxed and less stressed out person—but only in the vaguest and most undefined manner possible.