Virtual reality, the new gym

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Waiting for the hypothetical appearance of the metaverse, VR has already been able to evolve beyond the “simple” video game to reach another area: fitness. Many users have made their immersive headphones the companion of their daily physical exercise.

According to the most ardent preachers of the famous metaverse, it is only a matter of time: virtual reality will emancipate itself from its current uses, largely focused on “traditional” video games, and will take its place in everyone’s lives thanks to extraordinarily varied usage scenarios. The helmets could thus project us instantly in a classroom, meeting room, show, stadium… But pending the materialization of these promises that still seem very hypothetical today, there is a type of place in which virtual reality (VR ) has already interfered with some success – sports halls.

This is also one of the answers we hear most often when we ask a new buyer of a VR headset about the reasons for their investment: to motivate themselves to move a little, to practice a strict minimum of daily or weekly physical activity. After all, it wasn’t yesterday that we discovered that fitness is a perfectly organic extension of “video games on the go,” or motion games, as we have become accustomed to calling it in English in the text. Let us of course remember the dazzling success, between 2006 and 2010, of Nintendo’s Wii: its Wii Sports and other Wii Fit were the main architects of this trend. Exactly ten years later, the situation is repeated with the arrival of immersive headphones and their motion sensor controllers, and games as physical as beat saber Y pistol whiprequiring extremely quick and lively movements, it very quickly ranked among the medium essentials.

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But as we have said, the extension of the use of VR to physical activity already goes far beyond traditional video games, and the developers themselves are not wrong. This can be seen by looking at the ranking of the most used apps on Quest 2, Meta’s (ex-Facebook/Oculus) standalone VR headset. Two examples stand out: XR fit Y supernatural — the developer of the latter, Within, was recently acquired by Meta — cavorting at the top of the “outside” category gaming“, with download figures worthy of the most popular games on the platform. In both cases, they are light physical training programs that work according to the paid subscription principle, with a virtual trainer, personalized goals, etc. .

Screenshot of FitXR app on Meta (Oculus) Quest 2

XR fit on mission 2

© FitXR

More concentration, less pain

Still, one question remains unanswered: why bother wearing a helmet to follow such sessions? So what makes virtual reality fitness so appealing? At first glance, the answer paradoxically begins with one of the features that usually deserves the most criticism in terms of social acceptance: sensory confinement. Since it deprives us (in part) of the perception of the outside world, VR promotes concentration and eliminates the distractions that could be so many temptations to stop the session before it ends.

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Distractions that can be replaced by a carefully designed visual and sound environment to stimulate motivation, sometimes even approaching a certain form of relaxation and meditation. It is also one of the trademarks of the service. supernatural, which offers its subscribers the opportunity to carry out their immersion exercises in carefully chosen, grandiose and comforting natural settings. Among these, the Galapagos, the ruins of Machu Picchu, or even… the surface of Mars. In a similar genre, we can also mention the initiative of the French company Fit Immersion, which proposes to transform your indoor cycling or elliptical sessions into a virtual walk through various tourist routes.

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Supernatural app interface in Meta (Oculus) Quest 2

Training in celestial scenarios: the whole principle of supernatural.

© Within Unlimited

And the effects of such virtual immersion could be much deeper than one might think, sometimes even triggering psychosomatic springs. This is shown for example a 2019 study by researchers at the University of Georgia Department of Kinesiology (USA). The study focuses on subjects who practice a session consisting of several successive sprints on a stationary bicycle, the type of interval exercises that constitute “classic” cardiovascular training. It concludes that the addition of an immersion component in virtual reality reduces in a measurable, stable and significant way the pain felt in the quadriceps by the subjects who perform the exercise.

From games to physical activity, then back to games

Finally, it goes without saying that even when the skin of the experience is not that of a video game, the playful dimension is never far away. How could it be otherwise in the era of total connection, where the notion of “gamification” (better known by its English name of gamification) is on everyone’s lips? It is not necessary to prove to what extent a well-placed visual and/or sound stimulus, rewarding the achievement of any objective, can be a powerful generator of dopamine, and therefore motivation to continue with the effort. The precision of the movement tracking of virtual reality systems, both at the level of the hands (controllers) and the head (the helmet itself), also works in favor of this medium: it allows a continuous monitoring of the relatively precise activity, significantly more than any other. other non-specialized consumer device currently offering. An invitation to provide the user with statistics of all kinds, and feed rankings that allow said user to enter into healthy competition with his contacts.

Oculus Move interface in Meta Quest 2

Oculus Move on Quest 2

© Target

That’s something Meta has got right, as evidenced by the late 2020 release of the Oculus Move app, now included directly in the operating system of all Quest and Quest 2 headsets. The latter even makes travel the opposite to fitness. applications mentioned above: it proposes to gather in a single monitoring the physical exercise performed by the user not only within the applications dedicated to fitness, but also in their “traditional” games. This way we can see the number of calories that we have burned when reaching the end of a particularly hard section. beat saber : hard to make more rewarding. Beyond this aspect, the Quest 2 affirms more than ever its intention to be part of the daily digital life of its users; In any case, this is what the integration, no later than early June, of Oculus Move monitoring into Apple’s health ecosystem on iPhone and Apple Watch seems to indicate. Either we are in step with the times or we are not.

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