New Year, New You? How about joining the virtual reality gym…

19 January 2018.

Looking to beat the January gym rush? Well, look no further than American based firm Black Box VR who have combined gaming and gyming to create a virtual reality workout using just a resistance machine and headset. Sounds great, but what are the downsides?

With the obesity rate reportedly on the rise, calls for innovative solutions to this crisis are ringing loud and clear. The 'Sugar Tax' might help with diet, but that's only one half of the problem - what about exercise and activity?

And this is where Black Box VR comes in. Combining gaming with fitness, the Idaho based firm has created a virtual reality experience which could see individuals lose weight through participating in a 'gamified' workout – particularly useful in combatting the childhood/ adolescent obesity crisis.  

Entering  a 'black box' containing a bespoke resistance training machine, and wearing a "HTC Vive" headset (heralded as one of the most 'immersive' available), the individual then competes against an avatar (aptly named 'Razer') and, eventually, one another (no physical contact of course – this is virtual combat).

This new innovation was showcased at the CES Technology Show in Las Vegas, held just this month, and promises further developments. Black Box's plan is to open specialised gyms across America, which each hold a number of 'black boxes'. These black boxes are then reserved by individuals for their workout, which is tracked over time.  It is hoped that an 'at home' version of the system could be developed in the future.

But what really makes this form of exercise any different from an exercise class at your local gym? Addiction. Black Box is targeted at the gamers, who, addicted to playing their usual 'sedentary' game, can now burn calories whilst immersing themselves in virtual reality.  Job Stauffer (a former games developer) attributes his 37kg weight loss to playing these fitness games; 'playing games is a sedentary experience but VR changes all of that – room-scale experiences are engaging your body in full'.

Sounds good. But what about the downside? Of course, this remains very much at an early stage – there is no real data to evidence prolonged and sustained weight loss – it could be a gimmick. The risk here, of course, is that unhappy black-boxers complain, potentially exposing gyms to claims that they have made unsubstantiated fitness statements (similar to the Fitbit litigation).

And perhaps most importantly, safety. One industry source queried whether any consideration had been given to the impact on the body of using the headset during strenuous exercise.  As well as the potential for physical harm, what about potential psychological harm? There has been much debate over the impact of video games on (young) people – so who knows what a combination of strenuous activity (with all of the endorphins that releases) plus gaming might do to the participant. And who might be to blame should there be any negative outcome? Consideration also has to be given to third parties; after an adrenaline fuelled session swinging a virtual weapon at virtual targets, the gym-goer is then released from the black box into the streets… and should anything happen, would third parties argue that manufacturers owe a duty of care not just to the user, but to a wider section of society?

However you feel about this new technology, it is clear that this idea of gaming/ gyming is a growing market and one to keep an eye on – and, before you know it, it might be you in the black box fighting Razer.

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