Study Investigates the Consequences of Virtual 'Exergaming'

The launch of virtual reality (VR) fitness games on consoles like Nintendo and Playstation has paved the way for virtual 'exergaming' as a popular way to exercise, specifically among younger people.

Study Investigates the Consequences of Virtual

Image Credit: University of South Australia.

Although VR is unquestionably elevating fitness games to a completely new level, scientists at the University of South Australia (UniSA) have been warning players about the possible side effects of VR, specifically in the first hour after playing.

A new study published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research, by researchers from UniSA analyzes the repercussions of playing Beat Saber—one of the most familiar VR exergames.

The study found that one in seven players still reported VR sickness—which occurs upon exposure to VR and causes symptoms similar to motion sickness symptoms—40 minutes after they had finished playing.

Beat Saber is a VR rhythm game in which a player slices musical beat blocks using a pair of sabers with contrasting colors. The game has officially sold over four million units, which makes it the highest selling VR game so far.

Through the study, the researchers investigated the effect of VR exergaming on gamers’ vision, reaction times, and nausea after both short (10 minutes) and long (50 minutes) gameplay. They found that though Beat Saber was predominantly well-tolerated, certain people suffered from more prolonged side effects.

According to Dr Ancret Szpak, lead researcher of the study, although VR provides potential advantages to exergaming, VR technology is only in its early stages, and there is a lot more to learn.

There’s no doubt that VR provides unparalleled benefits to a range of applications, but it’s important to be wary of how new technologies can affect you, both during and after play. VR is particularly promising for exergaming as it keeps players absorbed in the virtual world while distracting them from feelings of physical effort of exercise. In this way, people who are not particularly excited about exercise, can still get their game on and get moving.

Dr Ancret Szpak, Study Lead Researcher, University of South Australia

For VR exergaming, the lessons are twofold: first it’s always a good idea to try a brief VR session to make sure you can tolerate it before you dive into longer play; if you feel a bit dizzy after a short time, you’re likely to feel worse after a longer exposure,” noted Dr Szpak.

Secondly, after playing any VR—exergaming or otherwise—it’s always wise to wait and see how you feel before you take on any higher-risk activity, such as driving a car,” she added.

VR is such an exciting field that can potentially provide all sorts of benefits to all sorts of people. But we must walk before we leap. And it’s always best to exercise caution with the unknown,” concluded Dr Szpak.

Journal Reference:

Szpak, A., et al. (2020) Exergaming With Beat Saber: An Investigation of Virtual Reality Aftereffects. Journal of Medical Internet Research.


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