Written by Sumeet Iyer
As part of a Poocho study aimed at understanding the Second Life gamers lead, I spoke to VR users based in New York. The interviews focused on understanding their own VR playing journey and habits, motivations to immerse themselves in VR, challenges they faced, and their expectations and experiences they sought from VR gaming. I spoke to Amal*, a young student based in Brooklyn, NY and his VR journey and experiences. VR for him was a way to blend his motivations of staying fit, getting together with friends and relaxing.
- 21 years old
- Living with parents / family
- Enjoys going to the gym, gardening and watching movies
A lover of the PlayStation 4
“I enjoy going to the gym and I garden…I watch movies sometimes.” said PlayStation 4 VR user and Brooklyn, NY resident Amal when I asked him to introduce himself.
I asked him what got him into VR. “I tried the demos in Best Buy a few years ago, that's what really got me interested. They had a skydiving (game). When I put on the headset, you could actually perceive some kind of depth. You have to have experienced it to understand what it's like. I looked into different kinds - the Xbox and Playstation ones. The hardware on the PlayStation one was a little better, so I got that.”
VR, it seemed, was like travelling to new worlds. Amal confirmed, “A lot of times, that's the whole reason why people play video games or watch movies, especially during times like this, you know, lockdown…people can't go to places they want to go to. If a lot of people have VR, I don't think they would feel as much tied down at home, even if there's a lockdown.”
He had a story to back that up. “I remember, when I had foot surgery, I was bedridden for months. I was getting very depressed because I couldn't go outside…I'm pretty sure if I had VR (then) I would’ve felt a little bit better.” I could already tell that he was getting on to something interesting. “I think when I'm more stressed, I like to play VR because it's better stress relief from actually moving around…I enjoy it more.” There it was!
“I also noticed that when I go to the gym and work out, on those days I'm more tired and I'll probably just play the regular (game). But if I'm more excited and I have more energy then I would go for VR.”
I like to move it, move it
I asked him about the kind of VR games he enjoyed the most. “A lot of times, those games where I have to stand up and move around, I enjoy those more because I actually feel like you're outside or something.”
I wanted to unravel this interesting thread that Amal had brought to light. How did he imagine staying fit using VR, I asked. “You actually have to move around and not just press buttons. The whole point of VR is that it's more immersive than regular gaming. The headset achieves the visual and the sound, but it's not achieving…(that) you actually want to run. So when you add that part in…it now feels almost like reality. A lot of people don't move enough. I think it could be a great tool for people just trying to get more active or trying to get into physical therapy.”
All well, then! If you look at popular VR games, you’d find that Amal is not alone. There is a whole universe where VR and fitness collides – from climbing, boxing, even light sabres, I kid you not! As VR technology improves, this list is only likely to grow. I asked Amal to imagine a world where his passions of working out and VR collided. “Oh, if you could turn that into a game…where you pick up a dumbbell or do some kind of stretches, I would be very interested in that. I remember they had some stuff like that in the (Nintendo) Wii and I enjoyed that a lot…even though they didn't have any VR.”
Space is indeed the final frontier
Did anything come in the way of him enjoying the full VR experience? “Space is the main issue because if I'm playing a game (where) I don't actually have to move myself, then I don't mind playing in my room. Certain games require you to stand up and move around…then the living room would work better. But usually I play in my room because it's just more comfortable…it's a little awkward to put the headset on in the living room…(when) there's other people in the living room.”
Whilst he didn't seem downbeat about his VR experience, it seemed that he felt limited by his gear. So what did he wish his VR gear could do? “If I had the ability to play with more friends at my house…with one PlayStation…that would be really cool. I would certainly invite friends just to play.”
Here’s hoping there’s health and fitness that cuts across our real and virtual worlds. Wait, what is the real world now?!
*Name changed to maintain privacy of the participant.