I used to think VR fitness was a dud. We talk about so many potential applications this technology has, but I just never saw the appeal of putting on a Rift or Vive and going for a workout. Surely getting hot and sweaty inside a plastic shell is a recipe for a misty, nauseating mess?
Well, maybe not.
This week I played Paulo’s Wing (look for the review early next week), a sword-wielding wave-based survival game in which you have to hit enemies as hard as possible and duck and dive out of the way of incoming fire. It’s biggest talking point is that all of the art was created inside Google’s Tilt Brush — and it is indeed a sight to behold — but there’s another part to the game I hadn’t been anticipating: it’s exhausting.
Seriously, you have to swing your Vive controllers like a mad man here, and you can work up a sweat in just a few minutes. As enemies begin to swarm around you you’ll throw yourself to the ground, moving your shield as fast as possible to defend yourself, and hammering down on the devil-like foes with all your might. In between rounds I’d lean down to catch my breath, loudly exhaling and laughing at the thought of how ridiculous I must look.
After just over half an hour my arms were heavy and I could feel the sweat soaking into my Vive’s face cover (apologies to the next person to use it). I took the headset off and sat down. Minutes later, my arms felt heavy. As I write this about six or so hours on, they ache like I’ve just been to the gym for the first time in years. Granted this was the first bit of exercise of this type I’d have in a while, but I do consider myself to be in decent shape.
But I didn’t feel sick, overly hot, or dazed. No, I have to admit all I felt was highly entertained. I’d had a lot of fun.
And I’m not the only one. Earlier this week we wrote about Job Stauffer, the Telltale Games developer that had lost an astonishing 50lbs playing his HTC Vive. Before that we’d also told you about Tim Donahey and I recently spoke to a man that had cycled the entire length of the UK all from the comfort of an exercise bike in his living room.
Clearly, I’ve been missing something. VR finds the fun in fitness in a way that no other entertainment medium can offer. Remember when we all thought the Wii would have us shedding weight? Well this could actually do it. The trick is to disguise it; empower the player by making them feel like a hero and making them work for their victory. I still don’t think content purposed as a virtual gym is perhaps the right approach; you have to make me forget that I’m here to work and convince me that I’m just playing.
Is VR better than a gym? It depends on the person; as was the case with Stauffer, many people don’t have the time or motivation to get to one after a busy day at work, and the prospect of going home and playing a game is far more attractive to me than spending a few hours there. I know if I keep playing Paulo’s Wing for a little while I’ll definitely be in better shape (though I still need a day or so to recover), and I’m interested to see what other experiences out there could also help me keep fit.
I gave VR exercise a hard time and maybe you do too. But this week I learned not to knock it until you’ve tried it.