Can playing virtual reality games be a way to work out? The VR Institute of Health and Exercise partnered with San Francisco State University in a groundbreaking study to prove it is, claiming VR can be a source of “strenuous exercise.”
A website launched today by the new VR Institute of Health and Exercise ranks VR games’ fitness potential by comparing them to exercises like running and biking. It comes as no surprise VR games can give you a workout—especially at room-scale—when you consider the boxing sim Knockout League or the running game Sprint Vector.
The institute’s website assigns a game to eight categories based on how many calories you burn per minute: “Resting, walking, elliptical, tennis, rowing, biking, swimming” and “resting.” All games include corresponding data such as observed maximum heart rate. You can also submit a game to be ranked.
The rankings are based on research by SF State’s Kinesiology Department, who 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 in an email.
They then calculated the max observed METs for each game and compared them to known METS for exercises, like jogging and walking, to show the games’ most similar physical activity. Initial research came from three games: 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 website uses a slightly different methodology for its rankings, however. Ratings don’t list the average amount of calories burned while playing, but instead the highest possible rate of calorie burn observed in participants.
Aaron Stanton, the founder of the institute and an avid gamer, told VRScout in a phone interview 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 said.
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 VR Institute of Health and Fitness.
“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 VR Health and Exercise Institute may 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.
“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