VR social apps don’t immediately come to mind as a way for people to lose weight and burn fat. But inside of the social app VRChat, a contingent of users are already using existing full-body tracking solutions to telegraph real-world physical activities and get physically active with one another. Adapting the game’s open integration into Unity, some users even design spaces like nightclubs and private gym studios.
I got to sit down with three different VRChat users who’ve gotten involved with everything from athletic dancing to live improv workshops, all inside of the VRChat application, using the power of full-body tracking in VR.
Full-Body Tracking: Meet Meeka
Meeka Elle is a VRChat user and Altspace regular who originally tipped me off on the intra-VR pole dancing phenomenon. Meeka is part of a regular (NSFW) improv show that takes place in VRChat, seen here:
VR Fitness Insider: How did you first come about VRChat?
Meeka: “I first heard about it from another user in AltspaceVR, when I was still really new to social VR. I had logged in a few times but I really started coming to VRChat around the time Altspace was shutting down before getting acquired by Microsoft. The whole staff and a lot of users in VRChat threw a party to welcome us and I really felt at home there right away.”
VR Fitness Insider: What’s your favorite part of VRChat in terms of social play?
“Mainly the people I’ve connected with. We drink together, dance together, sing, and even do improv together. Really anything you can think of in terms of social interaction is happening there as well. And it feels especially immersive being in full-body tracking doing all these things. The other thing I like, which is sort of a double-edged sword, is that it feels limitless in terms of what you can do with your custom avatars and worlds.”
VR Fitness Insider: Is improv something you’d have done in real life without VRChat?
“I’ve done it a few times in real life, some classes specifically in improv and some as part of an acting workshop. I had trouble getting to these classes though. When I found out about VRChat Improv, however, I was able to dive right back into these interests and it has been really fulfilling. I attend a 2-hour improv workshop in VRChat every Saturday and we put on a show every Sunday around 9 PM EST. It’s just called VRChat Improv and it’s run by my friend Goblox.”
VR Fitness Insider: Are these kinds of activities commonplace in VRChat?
“I have seen some big YouTubers hold their own improv shows, and I know several people who do RP (roleplaying) streams in VRChat on Twitch where they basically improv a whole story with just some key events they have to hit during a stream. I also think a lot of what some streamers and YouTubers do to keep their content interesting uses a lot of improv whether they’re aware they’re actively using those skills or not.
Sorry, I may have gone off topic a bit, but it is commonplace for activities and events that bring people together around a certain subject. They actually have events on their website and on VRChatEvents.com. Some of these events are even workout events! My favorite workout event is ‘Squats with Doublegoose’ and whoever may also be hosting with him that week.”
VR Fitness Insider: Thank you Meeka! Do you have any closing thoughts to share?
“I believe VRChat really shows what the future of social interaction in VR is going to look like. Having full-body tracking, dancing, singing, even drinking together, and obviously just talking and having fun is all there. It blows my mind how immersive it is and how much of the population isn’t even aware or experiencing what I feel like I’m really taking for granted now. The social interaction really makes you forget about the technology, the screen door effect, the field of view and just makes you feel like you’ve just stepped into this other place where you can do anything you’ve ever dreamed of.”
Full-Body Tracking: Meet Shaheena
Shaheena Evelga is a VR pole dancer from Berlin who dances at VRChat venues like Void Club. She also runs her own pole fitness workshop inside of VRChat. Here’s a link to one of her Twitch streams, where you can watch her do her thing.
VR Fitness Insider: How did you discover VRChat?
Shaheena: “I was always very interested in the social aspect of VR. I started in Altspace, but when I saw videos of streamers in VRChat, I knew instantly that that was it. I hopped into this cesspool of madness — memes and anime girls — with no idea where it would end. That was five months ago now.”
VR Fitness Insider: Did you already pole dance outside of VR?
“Ehm, no. I knew about it some years before, but I actually only recently started pole dancing two months ago, at the same time I started it in VR. Basically, a former friend, who pole dances as well, introduced me to the idea of VR pole dancing. I saw it and was like: ‘THAT’S IT!’ I always wanted to do something great in VRChat, since I’m not a talented creator or developer.”
VR Fitness Insider: Did you start with an athletic background, or did VRChat help you become more athletic?
“I actually have a lot of athletic background. Thing is, four years ago I was kinda overweight. Like 320lbs by only 5´10. I knew a change must come! So I started a rigorous training regimen with weight lifting, cardio, endurance, and strict diets. Now I’m 140lbs and I guess you could say that I’m very fit. But yeah, VRChat really DOES help me as well. Before I pole danced, I did normal dancing in full-body tracking every day and I toned my body very much through it.”
VR Fitness Insider: What recommendation would you make to somebody looking to get into full-body tracking?
“Well, there are two general options (more exist, but these are less then ideal): Kinect full-body tracking, which is cheaper, but very buggy at times. Needed are a Kinect, a Vive and some handiwork since you have to modify the Kinect. There are tons of tutorials, but it’s not really that worth doing that because you can’t turn around. It’s full-body tracking, but only when you face forward.
And then there’s HTC’s house brew: the Vive Trackers. VERY accurate, to the point that you can do yoga and stuff. Problem is, you need three of them; for your hips and both feet. And each tracker-set costs €120 and you need enough free USB ports available to receive them all. But in my opinion, it’s the only real full-body tracking.”
VR Fitness Insider: What other athletic activities have you seen people do with full-body tracking?
“Well, obviously dancing is a really big thing in VRChat. I’m in three major Discord groups only devoted to dancing in VRChat, one of them being exclusive to full-body tracking users. Then I also performed in several VRChat talent shows where I saw breakdancing and ballet. I know a guy who runs a yoga class, and another who has a squatting workshop.”
VR Fitness Insider: Have you attended either?
“Both are sadly out of my timeframe since these are both NA-time events. This was actually one of my reasons why I started my official ‘Shaheena’s PoleFitness-WorkShop’, to have an event that is open also for curious EU-members. But it does run also for NA-members, and I have it run two days a week. But I wanna check out the squatting workshop one night.”
VR Fitness Insider: How does somebody create their own workshop or event in VRChat?
“Well, first of all, by being creative. And engage with the community. I kinda worked my way up in one of the before-mentioned Discords to the point that I became an admin. Then I requested the permission to make my own little event since people really like the pole dancing and it would be a good premise for attendees. I also am in contact with one of the admins of ‘VRCHAT EVENTS DISCORD’, the official Discord for this stuff. I hope to get my workshop to become an official VRChat-associated event as well. But yeah, creativity and social networking are the key players here.”
VR Fitness Insider: Do people mostly find their way into these communities using Discord, or by entering VRChat and playing around?
“It’s actually a mixture, with a heavy leaning on VRChat of course. We have official parties from Friday to Saturday, with an extra day on Wednesday. People can mostly join freely and often stay for the fun. There are a lot of signs with the links to relevant Discords posted around inside the app. Then there is also a bit of Twitter networking and Reddit networking going on. Truth is, my first month in VRChat was kinda boring and bland. Not knowing anybody and being alone sucked. But by finding these communities, my experience has improved extremely!”
VR Fitness Insider: Where should a new player go first (on Discord) to join the athletic community in VRChat?
“That depends. If someone likes dancing, the Void Club is a good address. It’s one of my favorite of the three Discord groups and when they see someone dancing their heart out in VRChat, they are most likely to come to you and socialize. Also, the official VRChat Discord is a good place to ask around. But there is a lot of information about the different communities to be found INSIDE of VRChat.”
VR Fitness Insider: Are there any closing thoughts you’d like to add, Shaheena?
“Yeah, totally. VRChat became a social media phenomenon by its memes. But I really encourage people to take a dive into it; expecting not just memes, but actually very rich content. I totally believe that VRChat has the power to change lives.”
Full-Body Tracking: Meet SaberAlter
SaberAlter is yet another one of the majestic pole dancers currently entertaining the VRChat community. You can see him doing his thing on the pole below:
VR Fitness Insider: How did you get into VRChat?
SaberAlter: “Well, what got me into VRChat was many of the videos I saw online with the whole Knuckles craze honestly. It seemed interesting and different, so I decided to take a dive into it using my old Oculus DK2 and Xbox controller.”
VR Fitness Insider: At what point did you find out about pole dancing as a possibility in VR?
“Hmm, I’ve always thought about it. So, what ended up happening was pretty funny. It was maybe three months into me having full-body tracking, and a buddy of mine wanted to make a wager for the Germany vs. Mexico soccer game. So, the bet was if Germany won, he had to cosplay Miku next year at Anime Expo. If I lost, we were going half on a pole for the sole reason of ‘Saber you have full body tracking, all I see you do is walk around in circles and lay/sit down. It’s time we got you on a pole to demonstrate some real skill!‘
I was no stranger to pole dancing in VR, I had just never thought about putting on full-body tracking and doing it. And well, here we are about two months later and I enjoy pole dancing in VR!”
VR Fitness Insider: What enticed you to get full-body tracking, anyhow?
“I’ll give you two answers for the sake of fun. Mainly because full-body tracking meant I could do some pretty silly things with it. However, the real reason was that I was jealous of all the people who were dancing, honestly. Besides, there’s nothing like laying on your couch while floating — like a magician doing street magic.”
VR Fitness Insider: What kind of full-body tracking do you use?
“My full body tracking setup consists of three Oculus sensors, a pair of Oculus Touch controllers, an Oculus Rift headset, two HTC Vive base stations, and three Vive Trackers. Quite the mashup I know.
Oh, I forgot to add something. I must say another thing that got me into pole dancing was the fact it uses so much freaking core to do moves. Best full-body workout ever.”
VR Fitness Insider: Were you pole dancing before?
“NOPE! I went into this completely blind! I started with some simple movements and very janky spins. Thanks to glorious YouTube, I was able to watch a few videos and work myself (safely) into doing them. I’ve also started taking classes as well. Weird being the only guy present at these classes.”
VR Fitness Insider: Do you have classes that you go to, inside of VR?
“Nope! They are classes outside of VR. Can you imagine a school/studio that helped train pole dancers using VR? Oh man, that’d be quite the class. I just translate what I know from classes into a VR way that won’t mess up my tracking.”
VR Fitness Insider: Have you considered going to a workshop inside of VR to learn more pole?
“Yes, I would love to! There is someone, I think, that hosts them in VR. But they are in such an odd timezone that I always miss them sadly.”
VR Fitness Insider: Do you think there’s a real future for pole dancing and similar athletic abilities in VR in the future?
“Honestly? Depends on how much of a demand there is for such things. I really would love to see VR taken further and pushed to its true limits. There are (tracking) suits being made and so on. The more people that do it, the more people would ask for it — ergo creating a demand for it!”
VR Fitness Insider: How far away do you personally believe those tracking suits and similar full-body tracking solutions are to reaching mainstream audiences?
“I’d say within the next five to eight years probably? Though it seems VR is advancing faster than I can predict! With wireless now becoming a thing it won’t be long before the tech just takes a HUGE leap. Much like cellphone and computer technology on their respective curves.”
VR Fitness Insider: You said you don’t use wireless tracking on your headset, correct?
“That is correct! In the video, you can tell I’m untangling my cord. I’m thinking about jumping onto the wireless train. It would make things easier for me and I wouldn’t have to worry about cords or anything.”
VR Fitness Insider: Do you think that cordless VR headsets (like the Oculus Quest) would be the trick to pole dancing classes thriving inside of VR?
“YES! A thousand times yes. It would remove the need to worry about cords and open a huge door of opportunity for those who want to get into VR pole dancing.”
VR Fitness Insider: Do you have any closing thoughts you’d like to add?
“Oh man uh! Uh…OH! When it comes to VRChat pole dancing or pole dancing in general: It’s an art that should be observed and praised. It’s not to be confused with anything lewd or such. Sure it’s exotic, much like belly dancing (which I would totes learn by the way) but it’s there to provide entertainment and entice the onlookers!”
By and far, VR is rapidly becoming a way for people to get out of their comfort zones and try new athletic or social activities without needing to completely leave their “comfort zones” at all.
These people really, truly are building core body strength, developing athletic skills, and gaining confidence that they can then carry with them when they leave VR and go into the real world.
If this phenomenon is pointing to anything, it’s that placing the user or the player into the center of the action in VR really does have an impact on the way they experience themselves when they play and socialize online.
Pole dancing — or any kind of dancing — inside of a video game world, in VR, with other people in real time was unheard of before. Nowadays, it’s no surprise that groups of people are already using full-body tracking in the virtual world to socialize and connect in entirely new and entirely real ways.
Are you now more curious about using full-body tracking for social workouts in apps like VRChat? Let me know in the comments.