How Video Games Are Actually Improving My Health
The only things I’ve ever felt while running are sadness, pain, and the intense desire to be doing something else. Because of this, I’m a bit physically soft. My level of fitness is incredibly low. It’s getting better though, and I have video games to thank. Well, one, in particular.
They say the trick to exercise is to find something you genuinely enjoy. That’s where virtual reality and Beat Saber come in.
Beat Saber has you use your arms to slash at blocks in time to songs – think of it as Fruit Ninja meets Dance Dance Revolution. As the songs build in difficulty and intensity, your whole body moving with increasing speed as you try to slice and dodge your way to higher and higher scores. It’s relatively easy to work up quite a sweat, but the important part is — it’s fun.
I didn’t think too much of it at first, it just felt like I was playing another game for enjoyment. With practice, I started seeing improvement and moved into playing on the hardest difficulty. Expert level songs can provide some intense physical challenge and when I started I could only ever bust out a few songs in a row. After a few weeks, I realised how much this had increased. Not only was I much better at playing these songs through practice, but my stamina had improved dramatically.
It hit me. I’d been exercising, and I’d been enjoying it. When I had to sit down, it wasn’t due to my lack of fitness.
Playing Beat Saber regularly has me genuinely puffed, sweaty, and all kinds of gross — and I love it. Its trick is that it somehow makes me feel like such an incredible badass. There’s something to the rhythm and the slashing action that tricks my brain into thinking I’m way cooler than I look in my VR headset. It appeals to some lightsaber Matrix fantasy I never knew I had and perhaps even uses some of my latent skills.
During school, the two things I excelled at were music and martial arts (despite still being super lazy and unfit) and it turns out, this is the perfect combination. I find I do best when I sort of get lost in the beat while I savagely cut the incoming blocks to pieces. It’s almost meditative and I find myself actively wanting to do more. I’ve played other VR games, some even specifically designed for fitness, but none have had that same pull.
I don’t want to stop. I’ve started looking into wearable weights to help intensify my workouts. Where other people bought treadmills and exercise bikes, I bought a VR headset and it’s working better for me than anything else I’ve tried.
As if getting fitter while doing something I enjoy wasn’t enough, there’s something very personal that really sweetens the pot.
The sweetest revenge
My mother has always been an incredibly strong woman, physically and mentally and despises laziness in all forms. She would regale me with tales of how she spent her youth training to run in the Olympics while I was routinely the slowest in my class. She’s always held insecurities about both my weight and her own and sometimes even the difference between the two. It’s not always been a very healthy part of our relationship.
Mum’s feeling towards video games are a little more complicated, but essentially she sees them as a waste of time. That means that most of what I do in my life, my job, my leisure are all a waste of time.
When Santa brought me a Gameboy Colour for Christmas, all my of my friends believed again because it was the Occam’s razor of the two possibilities. We thought the existence of a magical jolly man that flew through the sky and slid down chimneys to give us presents was more likely than her giving me anything resembling a video game. I don’t think she’s ever understood how this pear could have fallen so far from the apple tree and that hasn’t always brought out the best in either of us.
That’s why there is a special form of joy from the fact it’s video games making me fitter. I can’t wait to show her what I’ve achieved playing a video game. We live in different states now, so I only see my parents once or twice a year and I have a tendency to fluctuate in weight which never goes unnoticed.
In my mind’s eye, the fantasy goes down as me presenting some incredible fete of athleticism and then casually dropping that it’s thanks to video games. It’s more likely I’ll be a little thinner or more toned than usual but really, either way, it works. Part of me hopes I might finally be able to win her over by showing her some good that games can do in a form she values and understands.
No matter what happens, Virtual Reality is making me healthier in this reality. And I think that’s kind of amazing.