Public health recommendations call for people to do at least 30 minutes of moderate activity every day but, partly due to sedentary work environments, many fail to achieve this. Research undertaken by a team from the School of Computer Science and the Sydney School of Architecture Design and Planning explored one way to tackle this problem through Virtual Reality (VR) games.
Dr Soojeong Yoo created a VR game studio at the School of Computer Science building and over a ten-week period studied 11 participants whose days typically involve long periods of seated work. Multiple VR games were shown to provide valuable levels of exercise, with games included in the study providing at least a moderate level of physical activity for 60 to 90 percent of the play time.
The team (Dr Soojeong Yoo, Dr Phillip Gough and Professor Judy Kay) analysed the participant’s physical exertion experienced in the VR game studio, compared to their routine activity captured through step counts from a smart watch.
All participants achieved valuable levels of physical activity from VR games, at moderate or even vigorous levels. Six of the group only met the recommended activity levels through the additional exercise provided by the VR game studio, and exercise from VR gaming counted for more than 75 percent of the physical activity that some participants achieved on the days they played.
“Fully-immersive VR games can make people think they are not doing much exercise, but the latest VR headsets have room-scale technology which enables people to physically move around a virtual space. Therefore they can experience incidental exercise from interacting with the virtual environment.” Said Dr Yoo.
Without the use of the VR game studio these, and many other office workers, do not take the opportunity to do 30 minutes of moderate activity in the workday. With 50 percent of jobs in Australia performed while seated, this research could prove crucial to the health and wellbeing of the workforce.
The research focused on two areas: the health benefits gained from VR game studio sessions and the participants’ motivation to play the games. As expected, participants felt some physical fatigue at the end of the sessions and reported enjoyment around playing the games, but most participants did not primarily choose to come to the studio in order to get exercise, or even because they really wanted to play games.
The “work affective factors” were important motivators for all participants: after coming to the VR studio, participants said that they felt refreshed and motivated because the VR games gave them an opportunity to take their mind off work for a short while and then come back to focus on their work.
Adopting a VR game studio in the workplace can help participants achieve not only fitness benefits but it can also motivate them to use it during a short work break.
With VR systems continuing to increase in quality while their costs fall, and a broad range of tested games available to suit a variety of environments and capabilities, the implementation of VR game studios could become a reality across Australian offices.
Dr Yoo and Dr Gough will be presenting the research at the CHI 2020 Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems in the USA in April.