A University of Sydney study has revealed virtual reality (VR) games can provide enough exertion to be considered exercise, allowing people to work up a sweat in the comfort of their own homes.
Previous studies have demonstrated that ‘exergames’ – the combination of physical exercise and video games, most common on the Nintendo Wii and Microsoft Kinect platforms – have the potential to improve people’s physical and cognitive health.
This new study reveals that VR games can provide considerable exertion, even though they may not have been explicitly designed as ‘exergames’.
Conducted by researchers from the University’s School of Information Technologies, the study examined the physical exertion of a wide range of participants – including those who exercised regularly and others who did not exercise at all – while playing four VR games already on the market: Fruit Ninja VR, Hot Squat, Holopoint and Portal Stories: VR.
Each game was chosen to provide a different form of physical interaction for participants: Fruit Ninja mainly works the arms; Hot Squats works the large leg and gluteal muscles needed to squat; and Holopoint works a mix of muscles. The fourth game, Portal Stories: VR, is a puzzle game requiring relatively little physical movement.
Participants’ heart rates were monitored while playing each game for sessions of between 5 and 10 minutes.
Results from the study revealed that for all participants:
In addition, every participant reported they could really feel that they had worked their gluteal muscles and legs the next day, regardless of whether they regularly exercised.
Virtual reality games have the potential to make exercise feel fun, engaging and relatively easy
Interestingly, the study also revealed that the more engaging a VR games is, the less a person feels like they are exercising – even when they are working up a sweat.
“The participants’ main response was enjoyment of playing the games, rather than feeling it was exercise – this shows that virtual reality games have the potential to make exercise feel fun, engaging and relatively easy,” said study co-author Professor of Computer Science Judy Kay.
“National guidelines recommend exercise at least 2.5 to 5 hours a week. However, many people find it hard to achieve these recommended levels. Virtual reality games offer a way to overcome this, because they can be motivating and convenient,” added study co-author Soojeong Yoo, a PhD candidate in the School of Information Technologies.
Researchers also highlighted the value in establishing an exercise rating system for VR games and incorporating heart-rate measures into future gaming titles, to enable people to see their actual exertion levels. VR games could also be made more challenging if people wore weights.
Ms Yoo will be presenting the research at the CHI 2017 Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems in the US later this week.