Aaron Stanton has worked with many test subjects, but one in particular sticks in his memory as the epitome of the power and complexity of virtual reality fitness.
A few days earlier, the test subjects had come in to determine their peak endurance level: they ran on a treadmill with a heart rate monitor, an oxygen mask and seat belts — in case they fainted from exhaustion — and ran until they reached their exercise limit. limit.
In the next class, the treadmill was replaced with an active game in virtual reality.
According to his biometrics, this particular subject reached his physical endurance limit while playing the game. Afterwards, Stanton asked him what he was going to do for the rest of the day.
“He said, ‘Well, I didn’t work out today, so I’m going to the gym,'” Stanton recalled.
He wasn’t a fitness freak – he just didn’t take into account VR workouts in his head. And he wasn’t alone: all of the subjects reached their peak levels, and none of them rated the workout as more than moderately strenuous.
“It’s both a blessing and a curse,” Stanton, director of the Virtual Reality Health and Exercise Institute, told me. Virtual reality can make workouts fun and easy. Then the task is to convince people that they really worked.
“Our motto is ‘We make workouts less suck,'” said Jeff Morin, CEO of Liteboxer, which launched its VR offering in March. I asked him if this wording was specifically meant to avoid conflict with the “no pain, no gain” mentality, which he confirmed, and then went even further.
“We avoid using the word ‘fun’.”
This speaks to a kind of social stigmatization of VR and fitness: some of these games are really fun.
Most fitness games or VR apps fall into two categories:
Games that require significant physical activity to score points and complete tasks.
Workouts are enhanced with an immersive environment and gamification that rewards metrics like speed and form.
The first category includes games like Beat Saber, in which you have to smash flying cubes with lightsabers. In October, Beat Saber became the first Oculus Quest game to exceed $100 million in revenue.
The latest set includes Supernatural, in which a peppy instructor takes you through play-based workouts that see you crouch, lunge, and swing your arms as various shapes and objects move towards you.
Some game developers are looking to push the envelope.
Arno Bärnhof, founder of the game studio Field of Vision, and a longtime student and teacher of several disciplines, created what would eventually become Crazy Kung Fu as a training tool.
The gameplay is designed to improve reflexes and basic martial arts skills such as punching, blocking and dodging – whether or not the player is actively seeking this training.
“There are gamers who want to play or compete, there are people who just do fitness, and then there are those who do martial arts,” Bärnhoft said. “I’m adapting the game to try and satisfy them all. The challenge is to constantly balance these three things so as not to go too far into one of these areas.”
In December, Supernatural’s production company was acquired by Meta for $400 million in a deal that caught the attention of the Federal Trade Commission on antitrust law. The move was a clear sign that parent company Facebook has made fitness a core component of its VR game.
“Supernatural” gave me my first Neo-from-the-Matrix “Wow”—and even before I started training, when my eyes told me that I was not in my living room, but on top of a mountain with magnificent views. On a basic, human level, seeing is believing, and virtual reality can only take you to another country through visual input.
Liteboxer, founded in 2017, started out as a Peloton-like fitness company that sold a boxing wall mount and associated workout subscription.
It’s still one of the company’s main offerings, but thanks to Meta’s massive investment in space, its focus is shifting more and more towards virtual reality.
It’s not hard to see why:
The number of paid VR subscribers of the company in one month exceeded the number of hardware subscriptions in two years.
And with Peloton shares down 93.5% from their peak in December 2020, now is not the right time to be the “boxing peloton.”