According to the most fervent preachers of the famous metaverse, it is only a matter of time: virtual reality will emancipate itself from its current uses, largely centered on “traditional” video games, and will fit into everyone’s life thanks to extraordinarily varied usage scenarios. The helmets could then instantly project us into a classroom, a meeting room, a show, a stadium … But waiting for these promises to materialize, which still seem very hypothetical today, there is a type of place where virtual reality (VR) has already interfered with some success: sports halls.
This is also one of the answers we hear most often when we ask a new VR headset buyer the reasons for their investment: motivate themselves to move a little, practice a rigorous minimum of daily or weekly physical activity. After all, it wasn’t yesterday that we discovered that fitness is a perfectly organic extension of the “video game on the go” – or game on the go, as we have become accustomed to calling it in English in the text. We obviously remember the resounding success, between 2006 and 2010, of Nintendo’s Wii: its Wii Sports and other Wii Fit were the main architects of this trend. Exactly ten years later, the situation repeats itself with the advent of immersive headphones and their motion-sensing controllers, and physical games such as Beat Saber And Whip gunrequiring extremely fast and lively movements, it quickly ranked among the essential elements of the vehicle.
Oculus Quest 2
Introductory price 349 €
Used Amazon Marketplace
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But as we said, extending the use of VR to physical activity already goes way beyond traditional video games, and the developers themselves aren’t wrong. You can see it by consulting the ranking of the most used applications on Quest 2, Meta’s standalone virtual reality viewer (ex-Facebook / Oculus). Two examples stand out: Mount XR And supernatural – the developer of the latter, Within, was also recently acquired by Meta – leaping to the top of the “outside” category game“, with downloads worthy of the most popular games on the platform. In both cases they are light physical training programs operating on the principle of paid subscription, with virtual coach, personalized goals, etc.
More focus, less pain
One question always remains unanswered: why bother wearing a helmet to follow the aforementioned sessions? So what makes virtual reality such an attractive gym? At first glance, the answer paradoxically begins with one of the traits that usually deserve more criticism when it comes to social acceptance: sensory confinement. Because it deprives us (in part) of the perception of the outside world, VR promotes concentration and eliminates the distractions that could be tempting to interrupt the session before the end.
Distractions that can be replaced by a carefully designed visual and sound environment to stimulate motivation, sometimes even approaching a certain form of relaxation and meditation. It is also one of the trademarks of the service supernatural, which offers its members the opportunity to carry out their exercises in immersion in carefully chosen, grandiose and reassuring natural environments. Among them, the Galapagos, the ruins of Machu Picchu, or even … the surface of Mars. In a similar genre, we can also mention the initiative of the French company Fit Immersion, which proposes to transform its indoor cycling or elliptical sessions into a virtual excursion on various tourist routes.
And the effects of such virtual immersion could be much deeper than one might think, sometimes even activating psychosomatic springs. This is demonstrated, for example, by a study conducted in 2019 by researchers from the kinesiology department of the University of Georgia (United States). The study focuses on subjects practicing a session consisting of several successive sprints on a stationary bike, the type of interval exercises that make up a “classic” cardio workout. He concludes that the addition of an immersion component in virtual reality reduces the pain felt in the quadriceps by subjects performing the exercise in a measurable, stable and significant way.
From play to fitness, then back to play
Finally, it goes without saying that even when the coating of the experience is not that of a video game, the playful dimension is never far away. How could it be otherwise in the era of total connection, where the notion of “gamification” (better known by its English name of gamification) is on everyone’s lips? It is not necessary to demonstrate to what extent well-positioned visual and / or sound stimuli, rewarding the achievement of any goal, can be a powerful generator of dopamine, and therefore of motivation to continue your effort. The precision of the motion tracking of virtual reality systems, both at the level of the hands (controller) and of the head (the helmet itself), also plays in favor of this means: it allows relatively precise continuous activity tracking, definitely more than any other other non-specialized consumer devices currently offered. An invitation to provide the user with statistics of all kinds, and to feed the rankings, allowing said user to engage in healthy competition with his contacts.
This is something that Meta has figured out, as evidenced by the launch at the end of 2020 of the Oculus Move application, now included directly in the OS of all Quest and Quest 2 headsets. The latter even makes the journey to the opposite of the fitness apps above. quoted: it is proposed to bring together in a single follow-up the physical exercise performed by the user not only within the applications dedicated to fitness, but also in his “traditional” games. We can thus see the number of calories we have burned by managing to reach the end of a particularly hard piece Beat Saber : difficult to do more rewarding. Beyond this aspect, the Quest 2 affirms more than ever its intention to become part of the daily digital life of its users; Either way, this is what seems to indicate the integration, no later than early June, of Oculus Move monitoring into Apple’s healthcare ecosystem on the iPhone and Apple Watch. Either we are in tune with the times or we are not.
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