Are virtual reality video games a good way to work out? San Francisco State University teamed up with a new VR health organization in a first-of-its-kind study, finding the games could be a source of “strenuous exercise.”
A website launched today by the new VR Institute of Health and Exercise ranks the fitness potential of VR video games by comparing them to exercises like running and biking. It comes as no surprise VR games can give you a workout when you consider the boxing game Knockout League or the competitive running game Sprint Vector.
The institute’s website assigns each game to one of eight categories based on how many calories you burn per minute: Resting, walking, elliptical, tennis, rowing, biking, swimming and sprinting. All games include corresponding data such as observed maximum heart rate.
SF State’s Kinesiology Department measured and converted the oxygen consumption of 40 HTC Vive gamers to metabolic equivalent scores (METs) to determine average intensity and calorie burn, researchers professor Marialice Kern and graduate student Dulce Gomez told VRScout.
METs can be thought of as a point system for how intense a physical activity is. You’re only using roughly 1 MET when you rest or sit quietly.
The researchers calculated the max observed METs for each game and compared them to known METS for exercises, such as jogging and walking. Three games served as the initial research subjects: Audioshield, Thrill of the Fight and Holopoint.
“We found the games, depending upon which game you were actually looking at, to be anywhere from mild exercise to strenuous exercise,” said Kern in an SF State YouTube video.
The VR Institute of Health and Fitness website uses a slightly different methodology for its rankings. Ratings don’t list the average amount of calories burned while playing, but instead the highest possible rate of calorie burn seen in participants.
Aaron Stanton, the founder of the institute and an avid gamer, says he’s pondered the gap between exercise and gaming for years.
“For 20 years, we have been teaching people that video games and exercise, or a healthy lifestyle, are opposites,” Stanton told VRScout.
But the new rating system reveals VR gaming and exercise are more compatible than many might think.
“What we are talking about is a real-world equivalency rating,” Stanton added. “The goal is to try to take the perspective of what people have of a game, ‘this is just a game,’ and correlate it over to a real world exercise they’re already familiar with.”
A lightbulb moment came when Stanton noticed he felt “winded” after playing Audioshield, a Guitar Hero-like game for the HTC Vive where you swing your hands to “block beats.” Audioshield players have burned more than 150 million calories in the game since 2016 alone, according to the institute’s research.
“Audioshield, when modified with the proper settings, has a higher calorie burn per minute than an elliptical treadmill or a rowing machine,” Stanton said. “And games like Knockout League for boxing actually have a metabolic score that’s very, very equivalent to real-world sparring.”
When asked if the institute would offer a fitness certification for games, Stanton said it was a possibility but they “haven’t formulated that yet.”
“I think we are in an interesting position since we’ve been running test subjects for several months now through metabolic testing and VR,” Stanton said. “We have a lot of information about what types of things in games lead to good exercise.”
“And so we were thinking about, ‘OK, if you’re a developer, and you’d like to work with us, we could maybe give a VR health certification where it just means you are trying to adhere to some best practices or you’ve worked with us to think through how this might be used in a way that’s positive for health if you want to,'” he added.
Stanton isn’t the first to explore VR and exercise. VR has already emerged as an exciting way to workout, with the VirZOOM bike being one prominent example.
“We have to educate gamers that there is actually this form of gaming that really and truly is actual exercise,” said Stanton in the SF State YouTube video.
You can watch the video from SF State on the research below.
Image Credit: SF State / VR Institute of Health and Fitness