Virtual reality, the new gym

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, mainly focused on “traditional” video games, and will take its place in everyone’s life thanks to extraordinary changes . usage scenarios. Thus, helmets can instantly project us into a classroom, boardroom, performance, stadium… But while we wait for the realization of these promises that still seem very hypothetical today, there is one kind of place in which virtual reality (VR) has already intervened 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 how fitness is a perfectly organic extension of “video games on the go”—or games on the move, as we are used to calling English in the text. We certainly 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 repeats itself with the advent of immersive headsets and their motion-sensing controllers, and physical games as Defeat Saber AND Pistol whiprequiring extremely fast and vivid movements, it quickly ranks among the essentials of the medium.

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But as we have said, the extent of the use of VR in physical activity already goes beyond traditional video games, and the developers themselves are not mistaken. This can be seen by consulting the ranking of the most used apps on Quest 2, the standalone virtual reality headset from Meta (formerly Facebook/Oculus). Two examples stand out: Fit XR AND supernatural — the latter’s developer, Brenda, was also recently acquired by Meta — moving to the top of the “outside” category. games“, 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 a virtual trainer, personalized goals, etc.

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

Fit XR in research 2

© FitXR

More focus, less pain

One question remains the same unanswered: why bother wearing a helmet to attend said sessions? So what makes virtual reality such an attractive gym? At first glance, the answer paradoxically begins with one of the traits that usually draws the most criticism when it comes to social acceptance: sensory isolation. Since it (partially) deprives us of the perception of the outside world, VR promotes concentration and eliminates the distractions that can constitute so many temptations to stop the session before its end.

Distractions that can be replaced by a visual and audio environment carefully designed 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 perform their diving exercises in carefully selected natural environments that are both majestic and calming. Among them, the Galapagos, the ruins of Machu Picchu, or even… the surface of Mars. In a similar genre, we can also cite the initiative of the French company Fit Immersion, which proposes to transform its indoor cycling or elliptical sessions into a virtual walk on various tourist routes.

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Supernatural app interface in Meta (Oculus) Quest 2

Training in celestial environments: the whole principle of supernatural.

© Inside Infinite

And the effects of such virtual immersion can be much deeper than one might think, sometimes even activating psychosomatic resources. This is shown for example a 2019 study by researchers from the University of Georgia’s Department of Kinesiology (United States). The study focuses on subjects practicing a session consisting of several consecutive sprints on an exercise bike – the type of interval exercise that makes up a “classic” cardio workout. It concludes that adding an immersive component to virtual reality measurably, consistently, and significantly reduces quadriceps pain experienced by subjects performing the exercise.

From games to gym, then back to games

Finally, it goes without saying that even when the experience isn’t that of a video game, the living dimension is never far away. How could it be otherwise in the age of all connectivity, where the notion of “gamification” (better known by its English name of gamification) is on everyone’s lips? It hardly needs to be proven to what extent well-placed visual and/or audio stimuli, rewarding the achievement of any goal, can be a powerful generator of dopamine, and thus motivation to continue one’s efforts. . The accuracy of tracking the movement of virtual reality systems, both at the level of the hands (the controller) and the head (the helmet itself), also plays in favor of this medium: it allows relatively accurate tracking of continuous activity. , significantly more than any other. other non-specialized consumer equipment it currently offers. An invitation to provide the user with statistics of all kinds and feed the rankings allowing said user to indulge in healthy competition with their contacts.

The Oculus Move interface in Meta Quest 2

Oculus Move on Quest 2

© Meta

This is something Meta has understood well, as evidenced by the late 2020 launch of the Oculus Move app, now built directly into the operating system of all Quest and Quest 2 headsets. The latter even makes traveling the opposite of fitness. applications mentioned above: proposes to merge into a single continuation the physical exercises performed by the user not only within dedicated fitness applications, but also in his “traditional” games. Thus, we can see the number of calories we have burned by managing to reach the end of a particularly difficult part. Defeat Saber : difficult to make more useful. Beyond this aspect, 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 seems to indicate the integration, no later than the beginning of June, of Oculus Move monitoring in Apple’s health ecosystem on the iPhone and Apple Watch. Either we are in tune with the times or we are not.

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