Virtual reality, the new gym


In anticipation of the metaverse’s hypothetical emergence, VR has already been able to evolve beyond the “simple” video game to reach another area: fitness. Many users have made their immersive headset the companion of their daily physical activity.

According to the most ardent preachers of the famous metaverse, it’s only a matter of time: virtual reality will emancipate from its current use, largely focused on “traditional” video games, and take its place in everyone’s lives thanks to extraordinarily varied usage scenarios. So helmets could immediately project us into a classroom, conference room, show, stadium… stood in the way of some success: gymnasiums.

This is also one of the answers we most often hear when we ask a new VR headset buyer about the reasons for their investment: to motivate themselves to exercise a little, to do 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 gaming on the move” – ​​or motion gaming, as we have become accustomed to calling it in English in the text. We remember, of course, the staggering success, between 2006 and 2010, of Nintendo’s Wii: the Wii Sports and other Wii Fits were the main architects of this trend. Exactly ten years later, the situation is repeating itself with the advent of immersive headsets and their motion-sensing controllers, and games as physical as Beat Saber and pistol whipthat require extremely fast and lively movements, very quickly classified under the essence of the medium.

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Oculus Quest 2

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How the pricing table works

But as we said, the expansion of the use of VR to physical activity already extends far beyond traditional video games, and the developers themselves are not mistaken. This can be seen from the ranking of the most used applications on Quest 2, the standalone virtual reality headset from Meta (ex-Facebook/Oculus). Two examples stand out: Pass XR and supernatural – the developer of the latter, Within, was also very recently acquired by Meta – prancing at the top of the “outdoor” category gaming“, with download figures worthy of the most popular games on the platform. In both cases, these are light physical training programs that work on the principle of paid subscription, with virtual coach, personalized objectives, etc. .

Screenshot of the FitXR app on Meta (Oculus) Quest 2

Pass XR on quest 2

© FitXR

More focus, less pain

However, one question remains unanswered: why bother putting on a helmet to attend the said sessions? So what makes virtual reality such an appealing gym? On the face of it, the answer paradoxically begins with one of the traits it usually attracts the most criticism when it comes to social acceptance: sensory confinement. Because it (partially) deprives us of our perception of the outside world, VR promotes concentration and eliminates distractions that can create so many temptations to stop the session before the end.

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Distraction that can be replaced by a visual and sound environment carefully designed to stimulate motivation, sometimes even close to some form of relaxation and meditation. It is also one of the trademarks of the service supernatural, which offers its subscribers the opportunity to perform their exercises in immersion in carefully chosen natural environments, which are both grand and comforting. These include 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 turn its indoor cycling or elliptical sessions into a virtual walk on various tourist routes.

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Supernatural Application Interface on Meta (Oculus) Quest 2

Training in heavenly environments: the whole principle of supernatural

© Inside Unlimited

And the effects of such virtual immersion can be much deeper than you might think, sometimes even activating psychosomatic sources. This is shown, for example, in a study conducted in 2019 by researchers from the Department of Kinesiology at the University of Georgia (United States). The study focuses on subjects who practice a session consisting of several consecutive sprints on a stationary bike – the kind of interval exercises that make up a ‘classic’ cardio workout. She concludes that adding a virtual reality immersion component measurably, stably and significantly reduces quadriceps pain experienced by the subjects performing the exercise.

From gaming to fitness and then back to gaming

Finally, it goes without saying that even when the coating of the experience isn’t that of a video game, the playful dimension is never far away. How could it be otherwise in the age of all connectedness, where the concept of “gamification” (better known by its English name gamification) is on everyone’s lips? It is not necessary to prove to what extent a well-placed visual and/or sound stimulus, which rewards the achievement of a goal, can be a potent generator of dopamine, and thus of motivation to continue. The precision of the motion tracking of virtual reality systems, both at the level of the hands (controllers) and the head (helmet itself), also plays in favor of this medium: it allows relatively accurate continuous activity tracking. , significantly more than any other medium. other non-specialized consumer devices currently offered. An invitation to provide the user with all kinds of statistics and to feed rankings so that this user can enjoy healthy competition with his contacts.

Oculus Move interface on Meta Quest 2

Oculus Move on Quest 2

© Meta

This is something that Meta has understood, as evidenced by the late 2020 launch of the Oculus Move application, now incorporated directly into the operating system of all Quest and Quest 2 headsets. In fact, the latter makes the journey the opposite of the fitness applications mentioned above: it proposes to bring together the physical exercise performed by the user in a single follow-up, not only within the applications dedicated to fitness, but also in his “traditional” games. So we can see the number of calories we have burned by reaching the end of a particularly heavy piece of meat Beat Saber : hard to do more rewarding. Apart from this aspect, the Quest 2 confirms more than ever its intention to be part of the daily digital life of its users; In any case, this seems to point to the integration, by early June, of Oculus Move monitoring into Apple’s health ecosystem on iPhone and Apple Watch. Either we are in tune with the times or we are not.

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