Ever since Pong’s release in the 1970s, decades of gamers have been barraged with stereotyped messages like video games will make you fat, rot your brain, and will lead you to do nothing with your life. The great news about these stereotypes is that they are scientifically untrue. If Pong is a parent to traditional consoles and PC gaming, then VR is the grandchild. A world without them means that virtual worlds and their unique physical and mental health benefits would never exist.
VR for the Body
Stereotype #1: Video Games Will Make You Fat
In VR Fitness Insider’s article “VR is Officially Exercise: A Personal Trainer’s Take on the Tech and its Workout” Raphael Konforti explained how an Australian study linked playing VR games to physical exercise. Sure, sedentary VR games where you’ll be sitting in a chair and pointing your controller for movement and as a weapon during gameplay do exist. But much like a two-sided coin, there are also VR games that require you to stand up and get your whole body moving.
With standalone headsets in development, VR manufacturers are improving how their external and internal sensors process your head and body positioning. These advancements in tracking during gameplay and exercise really helps to motivate users to push themselves physically. Meaning, there’s no cheating in VR.
You may get your trainer to take it easy on you, but you can’t fake it with a computer and an algorithm, it’s cut and dry. You either complete those deep squats and lunges fully in order to pass onto the next corner, objective, and skill tier, or you stay where you are. Staying static isn’t fun and exciting, so naturally, people keep moving to play the game, get steps in, burn calories, and lose track of time.
VR Games to Challenge Your Body
- Knockout League
- Redfoot Bluefoot Dancing for Vive Trackers
- VR Fitness
- Vision Therapy VR
VR for the Mind
Stereotype #2: Video Games Will Rot Your Brain
It’s easy to see how parents would contribute their child’s shrinking social circle, growing waistline, or lack of energy to sitting in front of a television screen for hours after school. Yet, this assumption isn’t entirely accurate. A 2009 Nielsen report indicated that children spend up to 24 hours a week, and teens spend up to 22 hours a week watching TV, with an extra hour to two playing sedentary video games. It may seem like they’ve found a cause to children’s health concerns — TV and video games. Yet, mental and physical health professionals argue the opposite.
Peter Gray, a research professor at Boston College, wrote an article “Cognitive Benefits of Playing Video Games”, indicating the ways that playing video games actually improves brain function. Gray explained that research has proved that video games can improve “basic mental processes — such as perception, attention, memory, and decision-making.” This throws out the dusty idea that video games will somehow impair your thoughts or dumb you down.
The Boston College researcher expressed that playing action games, where you need to “move rapidly, keep track of many items at once, hold a good deal of information in their mind at once, and make split-second decisions” are actually a sign of “the basic building blocks of intelligence.” VR games are known to involve and activate a player’s entire body along as they use one or two controllers, to move around and interact with objects inside a virtual world. This body awareness and rapid mental processing of actions taken in VR games won’t likely get you into MENSA for being a genius, but you’ll feel like one after you play a round or two.
Like any hobby that’s turned into exercise (or vice versa), using VR isn’t isolated to shooting, sword fighting, dancing, or adventure games. There are also games that are good for your brain’s overall health as well. Help yourself, a friend, or a family member improve their memory, promote flexible thinking, and help reduce anxiety and stress with VR games. Heidi Godman, the executive editor for Harvard Health Blog, says that getting daily exercise keeps brain cells and blood vessels healthy and regenerative. She notes that both aerobic exercise and muscle training will reduce stress and anxiety due to the release of brain-friendly and memory-boosting chemicals.
VR advancements expand so quickly that there are even doctors who are helping paralyzed patients develop muscle control in their limbs with long-term use. There’s also a brain-controlled and hands-free VR game called Neurable that has patients, neurologists, doctors, and the public on the edge of their seats. Using the allure of virtual worlds as a viable mental and physical activity has done so much for so many, that the military uses VR and therapy together as a way for soldiers suffering from PTSD to get some mental peace.
PTSD and other mental health issues affect 30% of soldiers within the first 3 to 4 months after they’ve returned home. Those who serve in the military deserve the best treatment because they fought to protect our lives at the risk of their own. Doctors like James Lake, a physician and author of the article “Virtual Reality Exposure Therapy for PTSD in the Military” highlight the benefits of therapists using virtual reality with a combination of exposure therapy, yoga, being mindful, and EEG biofeedback as a way to relieve PTSD in soldiers. Lake explained that therapist-guided VR graded exposure therapy (VRGET) studies showed that “multisensory exposure and VRGET reported significant reductions in severity of PTSD symptoms in active duty combatants who had failed to respond to other forms of exposure therapy.”
Virtual Games to Challenge Your Brain
- Skill Master VR
- VR Meditation SkyRun
- Guided Meditation VR
- Puzzle Island VR
- Hurl VR
- The Puzzle Room VR (Escape The Room)
- Brain Training Game – Cerevrum
Mind and Body Possibilities
Stereotype #3: Playing Video Games Will Lead You To Do Nothing With Your Life
Clearly, none of the innovative designers, developers, doctors, scientists, and therapists using VR ever listened to those 3 unfair stereotypes. There is no doubt that VR platforms and games will help millions of people all over the world find a gamified physical activity they can turn to when they’ve had a rough day or simply want to have fun exercising. VR is an always evolving technology, finding applications in health care, mental health, and in our very own government. Now it’s time to apply it to our own lives and brains, one VR game at a time.