When you think about a high-intensity game in VR, what comes to mind? Is it the thought of fighting endlessly against an opponent that takes hundreds of hits to go down? Throwing thousands of punches in rapid succession with nothing but squats to break the repetition? Or perhaps, throwing your arms all willy-nilly like a lightsaber wielding maniac?

The standard loops of games like The Thrill of the Fight, BOXVR, and Beat Saber force you to work your body in extremely fast-paced circumstances which induce aerobic exercise at a level similar to what you’d get from a HIIT fitness class at a gym.

But they’re also extremely simple, casual games. It stands to wonder if games on Skyrim VR‘s level of depth can ever grant fitness benefits that are perfectly on-par with games on the intensity-level of The Thrill of the Fight.

To approach this topic, it’s important to recognize that the amount of player punishment dished out by The Thrill of the Fight, BOXVR, and Beat Saber (on Expert mode) is what makes those games so actively engaged in the first place.

What Is Core Gaming?

Core gaming is what you’d traditionally call video games like Super Mario Bros, The Legend of Zelda, Final Fantasy, and even games like Skyrim, Diablo, or Dark Souls.

It’s seated on a level of time-involvement from the player that dithers between casual (played in short bouts) and hardcore (played in marathons), and generally has a greater stake for the player to engage in, such as a story or a multiplayer mode with some kind of metagame — where player progress carries over from session to session.

In VR, you’d attach the “core” title to games like Lone Echo, SUPERHOT VR, Firewall: Zero Hour, Skyrim VR, Rec Room, and Moss. Generally, there’s much more substance to a core game than racking up a top score or clearing a short list of unlockables.

Take Creed: Rise to Glory, for example. That’s a core game that does a great job of tying high-intensity exercise into its career campaign, its online PVP and its freeplay mode. It doesn’t feel like an arcade machine where you plug in and try to beat your own record; it’s an actual game.

The premise of “core” gaming then, is that there’s something much deeper to dig into and unearth. There’s more content to find as you keep playing, and there’s usually a sense of purpose bestowed upon you to find that content as you solve the game’s problems.

The broader issue with games like The Thrill of the Fight and BOXVR is that there isn’t a ton of meat to them. If you have the endurance, you can unlock everything pretty quickly and the games become more about personal bests than the enjoyment of playing through, well, a game.

Personal bests are just peachy for fitness training though, and frankly, I’d rather get aerobic exercise from punching a few thousand virtual pads in my underwear than spend a bunch of money and go get dressed for a HIIT class.

But that doesn’t mean VR developers should sit down and stop being creative.

It’s Time for VR To Get Its Very Own ‘Dark Souls’

No, I’m not saying it needs a literal port of Dark Souls.

What I mean is that core VR developers need to start figuring out how to make meaty experiences that punish the player in a physically demanding way. Dark Souls, its derivative ‘Souls-like’ genre, and the entire world of ‘Rogue-like’ games that came before (and after, thanks to the indie games market), can directly inspire the usefulness of punishment in creating meaningful player interactions.

By extension, I’m also saying that it’s time to crack open the book of “taboo core gaming development practices that fiscally entrenched publishers would never fly in today’s AAA flatscreen games” and start looking at which ones would actually make perfect sense in VR, especially where physical punishment is concerned.

In classic online roleplaying games such as Everquest or Diablo, you’d lose all of your items when your character died on the screen. And in those games, you’d go on “corpse runs” to pick up all of your dropped loot. Meanwhile, in other games, you might permanently lose the avatar you’d built up through all of your hard work.

Why not make VR games punishing like the old guard of gaming, but induce exercise as a tradeoff for punishment of the player’s character? Kudos to Creed: Rise to Glory for embracing this idea. That game forces you to run in place when you get knocked out of the ring. If you really want to get back into the ring, you’re going to run for it and you’re going to feel that run on top of the fight you’re about to have.

This is my point: Using exercise to physically punish the player is at least an interesting idea. VR developers should take this core idea kernel and extrapolate it to games of genres other than fitness arcade.

For example, are you making a VR roleplaying game but you want it to be fitness-y? Here’s an idea: Add challenges that compel the players in a visceral way. Take their comforts away. Take their stuff when they die.

If your players really want all of their equipment back, which (trust me) they do, then they’re going to win a fist fight with the grim reaper. And that fight will feasibly take five minutes and raise their heart rate to 80% of their maximum capacity.

Or, something like that. Not exactly that.

Granted, something similar to that premise would be killer. But it’s not the only idea that could bring core gaming and high-intensity VR fitness gaming together.

One more consideration where fitness gameplay could apply is in the game’s difficulty setting. Maybe an extra set of difficulty settings should dictate the amount of physical punishment a player needs to go through in order to complete simple gameplay loops. A harder “fitness” difficulty will obviously push and challenge players to their athletic bests, where a simpler “fitness” difficulty will be more accessible to players with less athletic capability or physical playing space.

How Core Gaming Fits Into Standalone

Standalone headsets (such as the Oculus Quest) will obviously create opportunities for new gaming trends to emerge.

The release of the Oculus Quest in Spring 2019 is going to constitute the beginning of a seismic shift in the way VR is perceived; as a way to go out and play active games with friends in shared spaces, and get involved with location-based VR experiences.

That said, it’s worth noting that out-of-home social VR might look something like the AR gaming trend that’s been emerging. Let’s rewind and look at AR’s first massively recognized social game: Pokémon Go.

I’d classify Pokémon Go as a core game, simply by the sheer amount of content that exists in it for players to find. It’s a good control game to base inferences off of since it came onto the scene quickly and offered people the ability to explore its game world physically. Where it failed at keeping most of its players was in taking too long to offer new and compelling features, among other things.

Core gaming ultimately comes down to content, replayability, story and/or deep multiplayer. If standalone headsets receive an influx of games that nail those pieces, active gaming might take off, and stay popular, in a way that it hasn’t previously. And VR will be the thing that makes it happen.


The more that VR developers deliberately build entire games around VR’s physical movement, the more that you’ll see games come out that lean on high-intensity gameplay and do a good job of challenging you physically while you play for the sake of playing.

Remember that VR is a platform for immersive content (and not fitness), and the fitness benefits themselves actually come from prolonged immersion.

A good fitness game is one that gives you a full-blown HIIT workout. A better fitness game is one that immerses you for longer and makes you want to spend more time playing. But the best fitness game will be able to achieve both at one time.

Do you believe core gaming has a place in high-intensity VR fitness?