Sonya Haskins is a wife and mother, a writer of four books, a blogger, homeschool teacher, and is one exceptional VR gamer! Sonya, or Hasko7, has experienced, firsthand, the life-changing physical and mental health benefits of using virtual reality. She shared with us how VR technology has helped her bravely fight chronic pain due to illness and how it has been a major catalyst for weight loss and health in her life.

VRFI: Who introduced you to the wonderful world of virtual reality?

Sonya: My husband and our oldest son.

VRFI: You’ve written blog posts on living with chronic pain and health issues. How has playing VR games helped you cope with these and how can it help others?

Sonya: When you live with chronic pain, especially when it’s debilitating and interferes with daily living, it can begin to consume you. Not only is it tiring physically, but it’s also mentally exhausting. It’s difficult to be the person you want to be when you’re in constant pain, which makes you irritable; and you just can’t function as well.

When I started playing virtual reality games last year, I realized pretty quickly that it reduced my pain levels – not just when I was in VR, but the effect lasts for a while afterward as well. Whether it’s the result of having fun or being distracted or some natural pain-relieving hormones being released into the body, virtual reality should most definitely be researched as a tool for pain relief so that we can begin to help people find an alternative to narcotics or other pharmaceuticals. It might not be a cure-all, but it certainly should be considered as an emerging treatment alternative for chronic pain.

VRFI: Playing VR games has led to a 40-pound weight loss in 7 months! That’s awesome, congratulations! Did VR help you with that?

Sonya: Absolutely. Last April, I did two things. I started drinking more water and I started playing VR games. I didn’t change my food intake and I do no exercise other than VR. I definitely attribute most of the weight loss to virtual reality.

VRFI: What does a VR workout look like for you? (Which games do you enjoy playing and how often?)

Credit: ESL

Sonya: In the beginning, I played a lot of Robo Recall and sometimes The Climb. Once Echo Arena came out, I started playing that and became totally addicted. In the beginning, I’m almost ashamed to admit that I would sometimes play 10 hours a day.

Most people obviously aren’t going to be able to do that, but I was so shocked that it was helping me lose weight and also helping with my pain levels that I really just wanted to keep doing it. It was nice to do something that was helping me physically and emotionally.

These days I play about 5-8 hours a day. Bear in mind that I don’t usually watch television. I rarely go out to eat. I hate shopping. In other words, I don’t have any other hobbies at the moment. Virtual reality is my hobby. People choose to do different things with their free time and I choose to play VR.

VRFI: Can people who are looking to lose weight or get in better shape still get a workout by sitting instead of standing?

Sonya: Absolutely. Most developers, other players, and people, in general, seem to presume that these games will be played standing. When I started playing Echo Arena, no one believed I played seated. In my defense, I had no idea it was supposed to be played standing! When we went to nationals, people seemed fascinated and many of the devs watched me play – in a chair.

Credit to: Survios

As for weight loss and fitness benefits, when you’re playing a game with a lot of movement, such as Echo Arena or Sprint Vector, you will still see an increase in your heart rate whether you’re seated or standing. The standing players obviously have a greater advantage, but for people who need to play seated, this is an excellent option for a greater amount of physical activity than they would get otherwise.

VRFI: Do you play VR games with your family? If so, what do you play?

Sonya: As a family, we’ve had some hilarious times playing Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes – with one person in VR and a couple of others trying to direct that person on how to defuse the bomb – but as far as being in VR at the same time, right now we all share the same headset so we can’t play together, which is sad.  However, my oldest son just returned from deployment in Afghanistan with the 82nd Airborne and he is currently building a new gaming PC with his own Rift. I’m really looking forward to playing games with him very soon!

VRFI: Do you have any advice for people who want to use VR but are on the fence about it due to health, age, or just not knowing what it’s all about?

Sonya: None of those are valid reasons to avoid virtual reality. My advice is simply to give it a chance. Initially, I would recommend that they try something like Google Earth, Job Simulator or simply the inspiring Introduction to Virtual Reality from Oculus. All of these will allow the new user to experience virtual reality in an easily navigated single-player environment.

Virtual reality can be a tremendous blessing because it doesn’t matter if you’re limited by physical constraints or old age in real life. In the virtual world, you can visit other countries, play sports, climb mountains, and many other things you might no longer be able to do in the non-virtual world!

VRFI: You have a YouTube channel! Your Echo Arena team is coordinated! Can you tell us more about what it’s like to play Echo Arena competitively?

Video Credit to: Hasko7 via YouTube

Sonya: I should admit here that I’m pretty technologically challenged. I still enjoy using a typewriter! When I started playing Echo Arena, new players would constantly ask about training videos and such so I decided to start making videos even though I had no idea how to do this. Since then, I’ve learned how to create and edit videos, I joined some gamers’ forums and a gamer chat and, as you mentioned, I signed up for the VR Challenger League. Over the past year and 8 months, I’ve discovered worlds that I never even knew existed. It’s amazing.

As for my team, I have two terrific teammates:  Dual_8 and gamedude2099. When you play competitively, you have to practice often, work well as a team and take constructive criticism. Echo Arena is a team sport so it’s important to develop strategies that use the strengths of each team member while figuring out how to exploit the weaknesses of the other team. Although I am quite competitive, one thing I really like about the Echo community is that we’ll have our weekly tournaments, get irritated with one another or whatever, then after the tournament is over, we get together again in the lobbies, hang out for a while and then go play together. It’s really more like a family.

VRFI: What are your thoughts about Sólfar Studio’s new game, In Death?

Video Credit to: Hasko7 via YouTube

Sonya: All my friends are upset with me for playing In Death because I kept talking about it until I finally convinced them to try it. Now they’re as addicted as I am! If developers keep making games like Echo Arena and In Death, it’s going to be difficult to ever take off the headset.

VRFI: Many people still think playing video games will lead to poor physical and mental health. What’s your take on that?

Sonya: A year ago, I would have agreed with this without hesitation, but I would have been making a judgment without knowledge or experience. Now that I actually know more about what’s involved, what I’ll say is that playing video games can help people develop skills such as teamwork, leadership, strategic planning and more.

Physically, playing video games in virtual reality is a little different from previous game systems, I think it’s because there is more physical involvement with the whole body that would be beneficial to one’s physical health. Even when players are seated, their upper bodies are frequently in motion so I think they would still reap benefits they wouldn’t see from more sedentary activities.

In regards to mental health, there are numerous advantages. People can relax, have fun, make friends, and even overcome anxieties or phobias. There are hundreds of video games already available in virtual reality and there’s literally something for everyone – whether they want a calm single player game where they can relax after a stressful day or a fast-paced multiplayer game where they can compete with friends. As the technology develops and we discover more beneficial ways to use it, I think virtual reality (including VR video games) could be an affordable, non-invasive, non-pharmaceutical treatment option for numerous physical and mental issues.

VRFI: Are you looking forward to a particular VR game release or new tech in 2018?

Sonya: Most definitely. Ready At Dawn Studios is currently working on a new game called Echo Combat. I really like combat and shooter type games, but I can’t play most of them because, as a seated player, it’s difficult to draw weapons when they’re holstered at the waist. Although the developers at RAD never anticipated Echo Arena being played seated, they inadvertently created a game that was accessible to everyone.

It’s my understanding that Echo Combat will have weapons and they’ve made sure that all players – whether standing or seated – will be able to access their weapons. Since Echo Arena feels so real, it will be interesting to see how we’ll handle the realism in Echo Combat. Whether they give us guns, hand grenades, rocket launchers or whatever, hopefully, we’ll all still want to hang out together in the lobby afterward!

VRFI: Thank you, Sonya!