Epistemic Status: Based almost entirely on my own experience. Also based on some friends here, here, and in real life.

TL;DR: I now need willpower in order to not-workout (!). I wish someone would have told me this a long time ago when I was looking for some workout that would resonate with me.

Is it actually a workout?

TL;DR: Yes.

  1. I get tired and I sweat, especially in a specific intensive game (Thrill of the Fight, aka TotF)
  2. I saw someone play that game for under 3 minutes and collapse on the sofa in exhaustion for about half a day
  3. Here's a graph from my activity tracker (Oura Ring gen 2, not optimal for tracking workouts!, but still adds some info and also everyone likes graphs, right?) :

    To give context to this graph (of me playing TotF several times during the day): When I do a rollerblade trip with a group that's better than me, the hardest part is usually under the "high" line. TotF is often above it.

Can you build muscle with VR?

TL;DR: Unclear. 

People who know stuff (I don't qualify) say one needs resistance to build muscles, so maybe using wrist-weights or elastic bands that connect one's limbs to one's torso. I didn't try any of those myself. Other people said "consult with a specialist, some movements that you'd do with resistance can cause harm".

It does seem to be amazing for aerobic exercises, and specifically for interval training.

Which games are good for workouts:

  1. Classic: Beat Saber, almost everyone likes it. 
    1. I rate it as a "medium" workout (and if it seems too easy, wait for the harder levels).
    2. I recommend starting from the Tutorial.
  2. I tried Pistol Whip which is somewhat similar but with guns.
    1. Also rated as a "medium" workout.
  3. Thrill of the Fight (TotF) is by far the most intensive workout I found on VR.
    1. This will not be a good fit for everyone, it's scary (at least for me).
    2. I have lots of beginner tips for it (including safety tips and things that I bet the game would explain if it had a tutorial).
  4. FitXR: I played the boxing game a few times and like it so far
    1. They have a subscription model ($10/month + short trial), this is really interesting to me, because they have a strong incentive to get me addicted to working out long-term, which is very aligned with my own desires!
  5. There are reviews of VR games for workouts, like this or this
  6. Adding: See lots of suggestions in the comments

Which VR do I have?

Oculus Quest 2 (Amazon link)

How much does it cost?

$300 on Amazon, plus ~$10-$40 per game. Expect to try out a few games, you won't like them all.

If you enter someone's referral code, you both get some money to use on games. I don't have a referral code, but if you do (check here), please post it in the comments.

How to decide whether to buy one?

I recommend trying it at a friend who has VR. You might not like it, you might get nausea, who knows.

Most games are not so "polished" (except for Beat Saber), so I wouldn't settle for only one "round" of the game before you decide if you like it. I'd start with the Tutorial (if it exists), and I'd try playing the game for ~30 minutes before deciding.

What about getting addicted to games?

If it's a workout game: I get tired, I can't play it "forever", especially Thrill of the Fight which gets me extremely tired after playing for 15 minutes (or less).

My recommendation is: only download workout games, so that if you get addicted to anything, it will be to working out. (I wish someone would have told me that in advance! Let's just say I downloaded some other game too)

How much do I know what I'm talking about?

I had my VR for about 6 weeks. I might decide that I'm fed up of it tomorrow, but it doesn't seem to be the direction things are going. I tried optimizing my workouts for a long time, experimenting and looking for solutions that won't require constant willpower from me. This is the first time in my life where my workout is trying to get me addicted to it. Some friends found this useful, I hope you will too!

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25 comments, sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 7:33 PM
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I totally second this.  A couple facts about my own routine:

  • I've been using a Quest 2 for regular (2x-3x weekly) brief exercise sessions for about a year.  In combination with occasional (0.5x-1x weekly) traditional strength training routine and some jogging around the park, this is the most fun I've ever had exercising and the most consistent that I've ever been about it, although I still wish I was doing more.
  • I use this basic pair of weighted gloves when I play VR, which makes games like Beat Saber much more of a workout!  I was initially put off by people talking about how it might be bad to use wrist weights because they could cause injury, but I think this is referring to much weights much heavier than 1lb per hand.  In my experience, I haven't come close to anything that feels dangerous -- if you wouldn't fear for your wrists while dancing and holding a pair of largeish apples, you shouldn't have anything to worry about from using relatively light weighted gloves.  I also got some of this foam-exercise-mat stuff to create a defined space in my garage for exercise and VR, which has been nice.
  • I use VR games not just as a workout in themselves, but also as a reward to get me to do more ordinary types of exercise.  ie, I'll promise myself "okay -- get through this 1-hour r/bodyweightfitness routine, and then you can chill with an interesting non-exercise VR game for a while to cool off, and then play some fun Beat Saber to cap it all off.
  • VR exercise really is extremely convenient.  I live directly across from a park with a nice set of tennis courts, but: Sometimes other people are using the tennis courts!  Sometimes it's dark outside!   Sometimes it's too hot or cold!  Sometimes I don't have anyone who wants to play tennis with me!  Sometimes I just don't feel like going out and doing a bunch of exercise in public!  In all those cases, it's awesome to be able to just do a jam session of Beat Saber in my garage.

And about what games I enjoy:

  • I totally second Beat Saber, it's by far my favorite.  I'd also recommend the hilarious and engaging Gorn and the boxing game Creed: Rise to Glory for variety.  Echo Arena, a multiplayer "Ender's Game" style zero-gravity ultimate-frisbee game, might also make a decent exercise game although I haven't put much time into it myself.  When you start getting bored of Beat Saber, just get into downloading custom songs and it'll be tons of fun all over again.
  • (When you're wearing weighted gloves, it also turns any game where you're often holding your hands out into a bit of a weird endurance exercise -- archery games like In Death, rock-climbing simulator The Climb, or the slow-motion action game Super Hot.  But although this can get tiring for your arm muscles, I'm don't think it's really good exercise since it doesn't get your heart pumping.)

As someone who plays lots of both ordinary videogames and VR games, I think a big misconception among players of non-VR games is that, since VR looks so immersive and all-encompassing (literally a box strapped to your face), it would therefore be extremely addictive.  In fact, VR games generally seem much less addictive than normal videogames.  VR games tend to be much shorter / smaller in scope than the most popular non-VR games.  And the fact that I'm moving around doing things (plus wearing a slightly-uncomfortable headset the whole time) just naturally causes me to want to switch things up and move between different activities more frequently, rather than sitting down in front of a screen where it takes a bit more mental effort to stop playing and get up to do something else.

In light of that fact, and in the name of encouraging you to buy a Quest 2 and use it mostly for exercise, here are a couple of non-exercise VR games that I figure LessWrongers might enjoy (skipping over some popular stuff that already appears on internet best-of-Quest lists).  None of these games are more than about 5 hours long, per my point about VR games being mostly short-and-sweet:

  • A Fisherman's Tale -- a delightful, thoughtful game about recursion and symmetries.
  • Shadow Point -- if you, like me, are in love with Braid and The Witness, Shadow Point feels a little like a VR fan-game inspired by those games' aesthetic.
  • Virtual Virtual Reality -- a funny, Portal-2-esque experience that explores different mechanics while touring you through a bunch of comedy skits intelligently parodying different ideas about cyberspace.
  • (There are also bunch of really fascinating VR games on PC, like "4D Toys" about the physics of 4-dimensional objects, "Hyperbolica" about hyperbolic geometry, and "Paper Beast" (a beautiful game about ecology and physics simulation), which unfortunately don't run natively on Quest.  Instead they require some complicated/finnicky setup to connect to a gaming PC to play.)
  • Rez Infinite / Tetris Effect -- entrancing, relaxing, colorful games with nice music.  Nice for taking a short break between workout sections.

Be careful with Hyperbolica—that game can suck you in! (The PC version at least) Accounting Plus is also really good as a short surrealist story-based game (I think it’s by the same folks who made Rick & Morty, which is a good proxy for if you’ll enjoy its style of humor or not)

Thank you!

I added those gloves to my cart :)

I want to echo the warning to slowly ramp up the effort level in Thrill of the Fight. It was natural for me to slip into a competitive gaming mindset, like any game. Turns out even 15 minutes of maximum effort physical activity can leave you hobbled and limping for days. 

You will probably end up buying a bunch of comfort upgrades for the Quest 2. My personal setup: AMVR Touch Controller Grips, an upgraded strap (highly dependent on your head shape - Kiwi or Bobo are popular options), 3D printed magnetic prescription lens inserts that use $8 Zenni lenses, disposable VR covers, a sweatband, and box fan or a ceiling fan in the room. The fan is for sweat but I have also heard it reduce motion sickness, for people susceptible. 

Beat Saber gameplay will train you to use more efficient minimalistic wrist movements to maximize your score, but I suggest at least occasionally reversing that entirely and doing full body/arm swings. More like a tennis or sword swing -- put your hips and whole body into it. Make tons of unnecessary movements that aren't required. Treat it like a dance performance.

I also found VR is less addictive than mindlessly refreshing social media feeds. I constantly feel like I need a break from VR, physically and mentally. I don't feel that way wasting entire days on my Desktop PC.

I sometimes read or watch lectures in VR because I find myself more focused and less distracted wearing the headset. I would love to use this feeling to get more work done, but unfortunately the physical reality of today is that the resolution, comfort level, and software solutions are not there yet. They aren't so far away I can't imagine them in just a few years though. Maybe even less than that -- the Quest 2 only cost $300, but I would happily replace my 3 desktop monitors with a single expensive $2000 headset if the clarity and comfort were there. 

I recommend the quest as the wired setup really does create a barrier to play even though it is less than 5 minutes to setup.

These games are really engaging for me and haven't been named:

Eleven Table Tennis. Ping-pong in VR (+ multiplayer and tournaments):

Racket NX. This one is much easier but you still move around a fair bit. The game is "Use the racket to hit the ball" as well.

Synth Riders. An easier and more chill Beat Saber-like game:

Holopoint. Archery + squats, gets very challenging on later levels:

 

Some gameplay videos for excellent games that have been named:

Beat Saber. "The VR game". You can load songs from the community library using mods.

Thrill of the Fight (boxing):

If you buy a VR (especially if it's an Oculus Quest 2), here's my getting started guide

I also recommend trying Supernatural on Quest 2. It’s a well-polished app deliberately designed to give you a good workout. I have done it once a week for 6 months and have had a good experience.

I wear a 30lb weight vest when doing these workouts to make them more effective.

Personally I listen to podcasts or audiobooks while I workout to make it interesting, in addition to hearing the music from the game and the occasional comments from the recorded instructor.

Man I really want to like Supernatural, but I have trouble putting up with the "coaches" that keep talking at me, and the songs generally feel less fun than Beatsaber. 

I do quite like it's polish, and the fact that it strings songs together in a way that puts you in the mindset of "complete a reasonable workout". I did end up sweating more often when playing Supernatural than Beatsaber.

Do you happen to know of a way to get a podcast (or YouTube or something) playing audio in the Quest while doing other activities? I’d love to listen to podcasts while playing VR mini-golf, but right now I’d have to play the podcast out loud on a secondary computer (and I live in a house with a lot of people, so that isn’t very practical)

There's actually trick/bug to get the Oculus browser to play in the background. 

Using the Quest Browser, open Open Spotify Web Player and start a song or podcast. Then connect to the Spotify web client from Spotify on another device, then launch the Quest game, then play the song on that other device.

This worked as of a few months ago -- I haven't tested it in .38 or whatever the latest version is.

Thanks so much; I would never have found that one out myself lol

I don't know about that. Personally I wear Aeropex-brand Bluetooth headphones, which is how I'm already listening to podcasts from my phone all day, and then I just put the Quest headset on over them and it feels fine.

The strap on mine broke (actually one of the plastic buckles). It looks like (better?) third-party alternatives cost about as much as a replacement, but I don't know which to choose. Any recommendations?

I heard "kiwi" is a company with a good reputation, but I didn't try their head strap myself. I have their controller-straps which I really like

I get tired and I sweat, especially in a specific intensive game (TotF)

When I read this part I wanted to know: What is TotF? Changing it to:

I get tired and I sweat, especially in a specific intensive game ([Thrill Of The Fight])

would fix this.

Thanks, fixed

  1. I get tired and I sweat, especially in a specific intensive game (Thrill of the Fight, aka TotF)

I love Thrill of the Fight. Gets me super exhausted with my muscles sore. 

I saw the title of this post and thought of ToF right away! I was an amateur boxer for a year and had a few fights and thought ToF was an excellent workout, and something I’d incorporate if I was still boxing (and if VR didn’t make me sick as a dog).

Did your previous experiences with VR involve something where your in-game movement wasn't one-to-one with your actual movement (e.g. where you could move your character by pushing forward on an analog stick, rather than by walking)? It's pretty rare for VR games with one-to-one movement (like Beat Saber and TotF) to cause motion sickness, so if your previous sickness was in a non-one-to-one game it may be worth giving VR another shot with a more comfortable game.

Yeah, that makes sense. ToF itself didn’t make me sick - it was other games, like the nightmare PUBG-like VR shooter where you start by parachuting to a place on the ground, and the Walking Dead VR shooter. I would probably be fine if I restricted the games I played, but I wanted to play alllll the games, and returned my headset when I couldn’t.

I guess it would be dangerous to do VR on a treadmill that wasn't purpose built for it but if a good way to do it was found you could make an actual run and gun game instead of standing still like in pistol whip.

I think there is great promise here. So many overweight people don't work out, because they just don't identify as a person that would go running or to the gym. Developing exciting (addicting?) VR games that ease overweight people into work-outs could be an interesting cause area!

Just remember that (I think, not an expert!) exercise is much less important than diet when it comes to losing weight.  An hour run that burns 300 calories is swamped by having a double cheeseburger instead of a salad.

Just saying I am not at all overweight myself, but I still want to work out.

Regarding "cause area":  There are pretty cheap actions to do here, like bring a VR headset to your local meetup and help people try it out. I brought it to an EA Israel retreat, one person bought his own headset a few days later, and a few others said they're considering it.