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Virtual gaming makes easier workouts a reality

3 May 2017
New study reveals physical benefits of VR

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.

Study co-author Soojeong Yoo, a PhD candidate in the School of Information Technologies, plays a VR game.

Soojeong Yoo, PhD candidate in the School of Information Technologies, plays a VR game.

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:

  • Fruit Ninja’s maximum heart-rate score was equal to light exercise (comparable to walking).
  • Hot Squats’ heart-rate score was considered heavy (comparable to running).
  • Holopoint’s heart-rate score was equal to moderate intensity (comparable to dancing).
  • As expected, Portal Stories had the lowest exertion measures and the heart-rate score was equal to very light activity.

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
Professor of Computer Science Judy Kay

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.

Professor of Computer Science Judy Kay playing a VR game.

Professor of Computer Science Judy Kay playing a VR game.

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.

How the VR games are played:

  • Fruit Ninja VR: players hold a virtual “sword” in each hand to slice fruit that appears in the air. The player attempts to slice as much fruit as possible in one minute.
  • Hot Squat: Barriers move towards the player, who must squat to duck under upcoming barriers and stand between them. Progressively, the distance between barriers decreases and their speed increases.
  • Holopoint: The player fires arrows, using similar movements to real archery. Enemies approach the player from all directions and the player must shoot them. Upon being hit, enemies shoot a projectile at the player who must dodge this.
  • Portal Stories: VR: The player progresses through different rooms, each with their own puzzle to be solved by moving objects around. The player moves using a teleport gun.

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