As a personal trainer whose two passions in life are fitness and games, you can be sure I’m super-into fitness games. Check out my other site, GamesFitness, for proof! But I’m also a video-gamer and what has me most excited lately is the possibility of a new paradigm in gaming and fitness: virtual reality (VR). You probably already have heard about the Oculus Rift system, which was recently bought by Facebook (they clearly recognize how impactful VR will be). While I’m sure the Oculus will be great for gaming, the system I am really excited about is the upcoming HTC Vive system being developed by gaming giant Steam. This system is intriguing for fitness gaming purposes because, rather than a sitting- or standing-only experience, the Vive let’s you actually walk and move around while wearing the device. Check it out:
The head-mounted device (HMD) provides the visuals and the wireless hand-held controllers provide the input. You will be able to move around in a “playarea” that is up to 15′ diagonally , but even this will increase as the technology develops. There will no doubt be many quality fitness experiences available for such a system (think everything from virtual fitness classes to multiplayer competitions) but even just the fact that people are standing rather than sitting will be a major boon for users’ health.
The average U.S. gamer 13 or older spent 6.3 hours a week playing video games in 2013, according to Nielsen, and the vast majority of the games played are played sitting. Outside of XBox Kinect games and a few others, it’s safe to say the vast bulk of these hours are spent sitting. But, the Vive is played standing, walking, crouching, waving, and more. Trying to find an analogous activity for which we have data, I used cooking. Watching someone play Vive and watching someone cook doesn’t look all that different when you focus on the movements. In fact, one of the hot release titles for the Vive is a job-simulator game where one of the simulations is, you guessed it: cooking.
So let’s do some math: according to HealthStatus.com, a person of average height and weight will burn about 75 more calories for every hour spent cooking (AKA playing Vive) vs sitting. Since the average US gamer spends 6.3 hours per week gaming sitting, then simply switching to the Vive will burn an extra 472 calories per week, or 24,570 extra calories per year. You have to burn about 3500 calories to lose 1 lb, so we’re looking at 7 pounds of weight loss per year by switching to the Vive. Not too shabby. It definitely will be fun to strap on a heart-rate / fitness monitor like a Fitbit as we play VR games so we can see our own personal results. In fact, built-in fitness tracking may even become a feature of VR systems.
Another thing to think about, is that wearing a HMD and holding onto controllers while interacting with a virtual world, makes it very hard to snack in the physical world. How many gamers snack and drink sodas or energy drinks while they are playing? Of course this habit wont completely stop, but it could definitely help end some of the mindless snacking that goes on while gaming, just due to the sheer inconvenience of having to remove the headset and exit the virtual world to grab a snack.
Of course this is all theory – right now we don’t have any hard data and we don’t know what kinds of experiences and games will be most widely adopted on this and future VR platforms. Indeed, we don’t even know how many other industries may be disrupted by this technology; another industry prime for VR disruption is visual art- check out Disney artist Glen Keane using the Vive to draw Ariel in 3D:
At the very least, though, the future of VR looks very promising for the overall health of our population. Anything that gets people up out of a chair and moving is a good thing. I can imagine a future where parents actually encourage their kids to get up and get gaming. I know I will be.