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Can VR games really get you fit? A case study with the Repose platform

Even after considerable advancements in providing health metrics through wearables or fitness startups, the root problem of the fitness domain is left unsolved. The problem is not in achieving the required step count goals every day or hitting your heart points every week.

The actual problem is making a move from the cozy couch and be active. Get out of bed every morning, and push your body physically. The problem is in the mind.

How to solve this? As it is the norm of any startup trying to solve a problem, let us consider various factors to solve this, the why’s?

  1. Why don’t we play a game often?

  2. Why don’t we exercise?

  3. Why aren’t we consistent?

Though there are multiple answers to these questions, I would like to focus on a few.

Why don’t we play a game often? Playing a physical game often requires multiple players, search and commute to the ground/stadiums/parks, and a minimal infrastructure to start with. If your partner is a sluggard, you too tend to be sluggish unless you are strongly motivated to pull the other out of their comfort zone.

Why don’t we exercise? To begin with, lack of knowledge. Which exercise should I do to attain certain results? Am I doing it correctly? Am I overexerting? To improve the form of exercise, how should I start with?

Why aren’t we consistent? For some, interest in physical activities and being fit comes naturally. For others, they need to be pushed. Any game or exercise would be difficult to start. It demotivates every time we lose or perform badly in front of our peers unless there is someone who can guide us and motivate us. We naturally tend to lose interest in practice, unless there is a reward we are trying to achieve.

Summarizing gives us these factors to address to attack the root problem at least to a small extent:

  1. need for partners/teams

  2. need for facilities/infrastructure

  3. sport/exercise knowledge

  4. knowledge of training protocols

  5. breaking down the difficult exercises into practicable versions

  6. motivate you to repeat and stop you when overexerting

Can VR games solve these? Yes, to an extent.

As VR games evolve, the developers are coming forth to develop a variety of games on these platforms and operating systems. Unlike video games, these games intend to move your body. They try to measure your activity and give a calorie count too! (approximately) These games provide you virtual partners and a virtual environment to play. Thus solving the need for multiple accessories and facilities to play different games.

Few games developed on these platforms are being designed with fitness as the focus. These games give you the ultimate goal of learning a skill like boxing, fencing, dancing, shooting, and many more. by breaking down all the training protocols into different levels. The music and visual effects will make the experience very rich, thus making you enjoy it without even knowing that you are working out. Even these VR games employ the rewards system to keep you motivated and push your limits.

VR fitness games bust the notion of “gaming is for couch potatoes”. Though we miss out on the benefits of working out in a natural environment and bearing the side effects like motion sickness, VR games help you burn a lot of calories in a systematic approach. Given the sedentary lifestyle of most of the millennials, I would say something is better than nothing.

“We hypothesize that VR technology induces a higher perceptual load when compared to music and control conditions, which prevent exercise‐related interoceptive cues from entering focal awareness,” says a Brunel University studyin the British Journal of Health Psychology.

You’re having too much fun to notice you’re drenched in sweat!

Case Study: BOX VR with Repose

Box VR is a boxing-inspired VR fitness app, that uses jab, weave, and uppercut moves to make your way through multiple levels. Whatever your fitness level, you can put on a VR headset and immerse yourself in BoxVR’s high-intensity routines, choreographed by professional instructors. To understand the physiological effects of the BOX VR game, I coupled the Repose platform from our company, Netrin with Oculus Rift.

20 minutes went by quickly, and I was sweating profusely. And the HR plot had hit 176 bpm. Splitting the exertion into multiple HR (heart rate) zones (Zone 1 to zone 5 ranging between 50% to 100% of theoretical maximum HR), it was evident that I had spent quite a good percentage of my time in HR Zone 4 i.e. between 134 to 173 bpm. This indicates a quality workout session for the body where I have burnt close to 300cal in 20 min, equivalent to a quick burnout session in the gym.

The interesting part is that the score for every hit is not the same. The IMUs in the hand held controllers estimates the force with which you punch and gives a score based on the impact.

As with any other technology, it’s up to us, to make the best or worst out of it. Though VR excites us to play and have fun, it has to be cautiously driven, and should not become an addiction. For me, the best part of VR is that it’s fun, which is not the case usually with workouts. The physical isolation provides individual freedom, drives me into a flow-like state, and keeps me focused while improving my physical and cognitive skills simultaneously.

VR workout platforms are where creativity, fantasy combined with sports science, comes in and drives further innovation. So yeah, pick up the headset and have fun playing out your workouts!

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