Combining exercise and fitness has been a goal in the video game industry for over 25 years with few notable successes and many interesting failures. “Exergaming” has been the term of choice to describe these efforts. What you might find interesting is that Exergaming first started with a virtual reality head mounted display product over 25 years ago!

Autodesk created a multiplayer virtual reality PVP racquet ball game sometime in the early ’80s. We haven’t played it so don’t expect a VR Fitness game review coming anytime soon!

This bit of oldest school interactive technology brings an interesting perspective to the surface. The concept of using games to increase fitness performance has been around for a while. Dance Dance Revolution, Wii Fit, and Kinect are the most notable successes published by the game industry. However, it seems that an ever increasing amount of VR games are being released that deliver increasingly better fitness results.

Why is the current wave of VR products creating a platform that allows greater interactive fitness, or Exergaming, than ever before?

Virzoom and other stationary cardio-based systems are great but not a huge leap forward from having a display securely attached to the exercise equipment, such as a bike or rower. Here at VR Fitness Insider, we believe that the emergence of room-scale virtual reality systems that fully immerse the player and utilize reliably tracked hand controllers has revolutionized interactive fitness because it allows almost any genre of game the ability to generate fitness based motions across multiple body parts into its design. How is this better than what came before? DDR is great but involves only foot based actions. The Wii had trackable controllers, but you could physically cheat the motions. The Kinect tracked your entire body, but the quality of tracking in your play space could be widely variable was distracting to the experience.

Let’s look at a few examples why systems such as the HTC Vive or Oculus Touch are providing more reliable interactive fitness experiences.

  • VR boxing games require a wide range of movement involving the precise tracking of both hands and your head. That precise tracking means that players can’t cheat the performance requirements in the game. If you don’t duck or move, you’ll get “hit” and lose the fight.
  • VR Tennis games use the HMD to position the player on the court and allow freedom of tracking for the “racket.” This allows the game to move the player laterally in a more detailed and performance-based manner.
  • VR Exercise games like Hot Squat push your physical limits because your range of correct fitness movement is more finely graded.

There are many more examples but the commonality on all these experiences is the greater level of immersion created by the newer virtual reality systems. It’s a lot easier to feel the need to duck when your brain more easily believes that a punch is being thrown at you. It’s the combination of that immersion with the tracking elements mentioned above that has accelerated the quality and quantity of interactive fitness applications. You can still call it Exergaming if you want. We feel that this phase of interactive exercise is revolutionary and will be sticking with term VR Fitness! The last 25 years have been just a taste of the great places we are going.

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Jim Bradbury
Jim Bradbury is the General Manager at Black Box VR and specializes in the creation, publishing and support of interactive products and services for digital platforms. His 17 years of game and interactive development experience includes production management, product design, publishing operations, strategic business development and studio operations management. While this may sound important, he is generally just a big nerd for all things geeky and fun.