VR’s best quality is that it immerses you directly into a virtual environment, allowing your own body to become the controller that makes gameplay happen. This is the basic motivational thrust of VR fitness, which is all about turning fun VR games into an effective fitness regimen.
That said, should it be any surprise that the best and most fun games you can play in VR are also the most physically involved?
It’s no surprise to us: we’ve been reporting on VR fitness gaming for the past 4 years. However, many still struggle with just the idea of “VR” gaming alone; “VR fitness” gaming is still several pegs too far for those uninitiated. How can a video game be fitness? I mean of course unless it’s from Nintendo, the reigning champion of fitness gaming.
But actually there’s been a pretty sizeable number of studies on the efficacy of VR gaming as a way to burn calories and build some muscle too. Look at the Virtual Reality Institute of Health and Exercise at San Francisco State University, for instance, which has collected and organized tons of scientific data on the physical output of about ~100 VR games that might or might not be dedicated “fitness” games.
We’ve also reviewed heaps of VR games at VR Fitness Insider based on our own personal and professional insights into how different muscle groups need to be targeted, backed up with data we’ve collected from our own fitness trackers.
What we’ve discovered here is that a lot of VR games qualify as fitness games in some respect. Not every single one can be a BoxVR or a Thrill of the Fight, but the amount of variety that exists in VR now means that you’ll likely find something fun to play that also happens to give you a workout.
What is VR Fitness?
Think back to all the times you’ve been playing a regular video game or watching an action movie and you thought to yourself, “What if that were me?”
VR is wish-fulfillment in the sense that you really do get to become the hero of the story, plopped directly into the center of the action instead of watching it or controlling some element of it remotely. As such, some of the most fun games which make the best use of immersive VR controls happen to, simultaneously, be some of the best active VR fitness games.
Take Half-Life: Alyx, for instance, which forces you to duck and dodge behind car doors and other types of cover, grab and throw objects, and reach behind your back to reload your weapon. We haven’t formally reviewed it, but I can already tell you that this is the prime example of a “regular” VR game that’s secretly a VR fitness game. (Here’s how to prep yourself to play for long stretches.)
Nathan Grayson of Kotaku unironically calls it “exhausting”, “stressful”, and “intense” in his official review. Even though he’s referring to some of the conventions of VR game design that separate Alyx from its predecessors, we can’t help but point out that those are the very things that make a VR fitness game!
When I think back to most of the VR games I’ve played, save a few that are strictly built around seated gameplay or use a DualShock controller instead of motion controls, I generally think about how much my own physical engagement contributed to playing the game “properly”.
Games like Asgard’s Wrath and The Walking Dead: Saints & Sinners practically force you to weave and pantomime your way through your own physical environment, called your play area, in order to play well at all. And those two aforementioned games are both lengthy (20-40 hour) RPGs, meaning that they’re not specifically made to give you catered workouts or track your calorie burn or track your time spent killing zombies or anything fancy like that.
The workout happens while you play, and it’s really as simple as that!
Can Working Out in VR Ruin my Headset?
It’d be dishonest of us to tell you that you are 100% protected from experiencing hardware failure in any situation. Hardware can come out of the factory with defects, or it can get damaged during shipping, or any other number of unfortunate instances can occur. However, the likelihood that you’ll bust your headset by working out inside of VR is extraordinarily low.
So far, we’ve only heard of freak cases where either the headset was poorly insulated against sweat or the unit itself was defective in an unrelated way, and the owner’s sweat (which normally should have been mitigated by the headset’s design) just happened to trigger the defect.
Under normal conditions—given that you’re making an effort to absorb or redirect sweat away from the precious internals of your device—you should run into no problems whatsoever with sweat ruining or destroying your headset.
You should be aware, however, that you can very quickly make a VR headset quite gross by neglecting post-workout VR headset hygiene. We vouch in favor of using something like a VR Cover that’s easily replaceable, and against sweating directly into the styrofoam facial pads that come factory-equipped on many popular VR headsets.
Remember that the best, most fun VR games are VR fitness games! If VR headsets were built to fall apart and break under the stress of sweat and rough-play during normal use, there would be no Beat Saber, no Pistol Whip, and certainly no VZFit Explorer Summer Adventure Challenge.
Now that you’re better educated on what VR fitness is and why we love it here at VR Fitness Insider, we recommend you go ahead and check out some first-hand accounts of people who’ve gotten fit simply from playing VR games.