In recent years, virtual reality has considerably revolutionized the world of video games and remote social exchanges. The launch of the new all-in-one immersive virtual reality headset Meta Quest 2 in October 2020 marked the beginning of a new era for virtual reality, an industry since dominated by Meta (Facebook). With gyms closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, fitness has taken on a new look for many: that of training through virtual reality. So I tested several applications dedicated to physical activity and games to allow you to get the most out of your active gaming sessions!
It should be noted that the wearing of the reality helmet is designed for children 13 years and older. Comfortable and stable helmet use is required to play training applications, so the helmet must fit properly and the person wearing it must be tall enough to wear it safely.***
Right off the bat, Meta VR headsets (just like its predecessors, the Oculus headsets) come with a free app called Move, a tool to measure the number of calories burned while using the headset and set daily goals, as well as a lot of other relevant information like heart rate and total time spent active during a given period. This makes it possible to evaluate the quality of physical activity related to certain games, but also to accumulate interesting data when using virtual training applications.
The Move app, when activated, appears as an overlay on any game or app used with the VR headset. When adjusting the settings, it is possible to choose the location of the display that suits you best. My personal preference is to put the display up: just look up to the sky to see the information relayed by the Move app, which usually doesn’t conflict with the display of games or other apps.
Thanks to the Move app, it’s easy to make the most of the rhythm games available in industrial quantities on Steam or Meta’s digital store. A simple game session can be turned into a training session: just set goals and compile them to evaluate your progress. You probably already know these games: Beat Saber, Pistol Whip, Ragnarock, Synth Riders, Dance Central and Audio Trip are among the best known. At first glance, we already see that these games are moving. For those looking to play short games and train in a fun way, having some of these games in your library is a must.
Most rhythm games are suitable for a general audience. Games like Pistol Whip contain violent themes (shooting, guns), but to an unrealistic degree. Remember, however, that wearing a virtual reality headset is not recommended, in any case, for children under 13 years old.***
Action, shooting and sports games
Other games, such as Blade and Sorcery, Boneworks, Phantom: Covert Ops, Space Pirate Trainer and SUPERHOT bring a new dimension to training with repetitive and aerobic movements in a fighting, action or shooting game context. Phantom: Covert Ops, for example, propels the player on an undercover mission… by kayak. Be prepared for shoulder aches! That’s not to mention the adrenaline and excitement that often accompany this kind of games: great for cardio!
Note that action, fighting, and shooting games are generally recommended for teens due to the presence of mature or suggestive themes (violence, foul language, drug references, blood). ***
Of course, just like the Wii in the past, many sports games (boxing, snowboarding, climbing, tennis, and so on) are also available on all platforms and will offer you a session of physical activity worthy of the name.
The most well-known virtual reality training app to date remains Supernatural, a solo training platform released in April 2020 that offers more than 500 different workouts, coaching with a virtual trainer and a continuously updated music library. The workouts, in the form of games, vary from boxing to aerobics, relaxation and meditation. The immersive environment is definitely an appeal of the app, which offers a visualization of the workout that is extremely playful and refreshing, but also relaxing and minimalist (think pretty landscapes, zenitude, etc.).
It is possible to try the app for free for two weeks, after which the subscription costs $229.86 per year, or $25.47 per month. It’s definitely among the most expensive apps, although the price is reminiscent of most regular gym memberships and can offer a similar and diverse workout at home.
HOLOFIT is the solution for those who quickly get tired of their workout routine. The app allows you, first, to pair the VR headset with a stationary bike, eliptical exerciser, or rowing machine that allows Bluetooth connection, which adds significantly to the immersion aspect. If you don’t have any additional training equipment, don’t worry: the app simulates all types of workouts through calisthenics exercises that use your own body weight as a resistance tool. The real attraction of HOLOFIT is the variety of universes available to the player: from many famous cities to Antarctica, through underground, underwater environments and even… space. It’s hard to get bored!
HOLOFIT offers a 7-day free trial, a monthly subscription at a cost of C$13.99/month and an annual subscription at a cost of C$140.02/year.
VZFIT is a frankly enjoyable and perfect tool for running enthusiasts who are currently facing winter. The app uses Google Street View to let you run (or cycle by pairing your sports equipment, just like HOLOFIT) anywhere in the world. Full and on-site training sessions by coaches are also available.
VZFIT offers a two-week free trial with the purchase of an annual subscription (C$89.99/year) and a 7-day free trial with the purchase of a monthly subscription (C$13.99/month).
The FitXR app, meanwhile, is available at a more affordable cost, either $11.99/month or $108.99/year, and allows you to play in multiplayer mode to participate in friendly competitions or take on team challenges. His specialty: boxing, HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) and dance. The platform is more modest, but offers 7 new workouts every week and a one-week free trial period. For those who want to test their dedication to virtual reality training without sacrificing content quality, FitXR is a great option!
Games specifically created for training are, like gym memberships, suggested to an audience over 16 years old. The cost of the subscription and the theme of body image make them games suitable for a mature audience.***
Personal recommendations and verdict
After testing many apps and games, the verdict is simple: there are options for every taste, budget, and level. Being myself a sedentary person looking for stimulating and fun physical activity, rhythm, shooting and fighting games fully satisfy my need to move. The data obtained through the Oculus Move app assures me that 20 minutes of playing Beat Saber at an intermediate level allows me to burn the same number of calories as about 10 minutes on an elliptical trainer (this data can of course vary depending on your own level of physical activity). Still, I find it much easier to spend hours playing in virtual reality than to spend hours at the gym. You will tell me that it probably makes sense. Sweat, however, is very real!
For seasoned athletes, a subscription to Supernatural or FitXR would be a good replacement for any cardio or aerobic exercise practiced in the gym. I strongly suggest you take advantage of the weeks of free trial in order to find the application that suits you best, according to your favorite activities.
Unfortunately, fans of crossfit, yoga, weightlifting or modern dance may find that the virtual reality system does not meet their needs at the moment. Virtual reality is, for now, quite limited to cardio and light calisthenics exercises practiced standing or sitting on a chair. Let’s hope that the variety will be at the rendezvous with the next console, planned by Meta in 2023.
Image credit featured @ Bradley Hook