According to Aaron Stanton, director of the newly-founded Virtual Reality Institute of Health and Exercise, many of the popular VR games and applications are actually more effective at burning calories than a traditional treadmill exercise routine. The organisation recently announced a program to independently assess VR games in a controlled environment, with the aim of publishing the results through a rating system.
Back in 2006, Nintendo’s Wii console popularised motion controllers, enticing people off the couch for a spot of ‘arm flailing’ with its addictive title Wii Sports. Although there were successful fitness titles on the platform, most gamers quickly discovered that the basic accelerometer-based motion sensing of the Wii Remotes could be easily fooled with short flicks of the wrist rather than full swings, and in many cases the seated ‘waggle’ became the more effective way to play.
In VR however, fully-tracked motion controllers mean that it is impossible (assuming a properly designed game) to ‘cheat’ the system in this way, and players really do need to perform appropriate motions to succeed in virtual sports and action games. Racket: Nx and Rec Room’s Disc Golf are great examples, as similar racket and disc-throwing games on the Wii could be easily played while seated, with just a slight flick of the wrist. Try that in VR, and you’ll struggle to play, let alone win anything. The games expect and reward physicality, and in any case, the level of immersion in VR is so much higher that players are naturally more compelled to move. Thus, the potential health benefits of VR is likely much higher than traditional gaming.
“We created the program after realizing that I had worked out in VR for more than a hundred hours without realising it,” writes Aaron Stanton, director of the Institute, in a message to Road to VR. “We later confirmed through metabolic testing that many VR titles are better calorie burners than a traditional treadmill or elliptical, making my VR system the best exercise equipment I’ve ever purchased. I believe VR has the potential to have a life-saving impact on society. That’s why we created the VR Health Institute.”
The Virtual Reality Institute of Health and Exercise recently began publishing their initial ratings for a number of popular titles on their site, sorted by Metabolic Equivalent of Task (MET) range. The intention is for the VR Exercise Ratings labels to become similar in function to ESRB content ratings, giving a way to see the potential health benefits of a particular title at a glance. The Institute suggests that VR games can be especially effective because they are compelling to play, meaning that users end up doing significant exercise without thinking about it.
Some of the results are surprising; the relaxed paint app Tilt Brush is apparently a similar calorie burner to the intense shooter Raw Data, and both are in the ‘walking equivalent’ range, burning around 2–4 calories per minute. Then there is boxing game Knockout League rated in the 8–10 calories per minute range, yet Thrill of the Fight is the highest calorie burner by far, at ‘15+’ calories per minute, despite also being a boxing title, albeit a more realistic one. At this MET range, Thrill of the Fight is up in the ‘sprinting’ or ‘running up stairs’ zone; you might want to consider a sweat-resistant headset cover. You can see all of the game’s that the Institute has measured here.