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Exercising in virtual reality with VirZoom's bike controller sounds fun, but isn't

Hayden Dingman | Dec. 21, 2015
Just like Lance Armstrong, probably

VirZoom

With virtual reality’s big consumer launch mere months away, the field of “hot new peripherals” is expanding rapidly. Case in point: Last week I strapped on an Oculus Rift and rode a bicycle as a superpowered fan blowing in my face. It looked pretty damn silly.

The VirZoom’s a stationary bike with rudimentary gamepad controls built into the handles and sensors that track how fast you’re pedaling. That information’s then relayed (via Bluetooth) to an accompanying app. This isn’t really anything new—these exercise/gaming hybrids have been touted as “The Solution to America’s Obesity Problem™” for nigh-on a decade now. Hell, it even showed up (albeit in more sinister form) in an episode of Black Mirror.

The software

But VirZoom, as you might’ve guessed, is designed for virtual reality. You pedal, you move faster. You lean left, you move left. You lean right—well, I’m sure you get the idea. And because it’s virtual reality, you don’t just need to pedal boring ol’ bikes. One demo had me riding Pegasus around to collect apples. Another had me lassoing bandits in the Wild West.

I tried out three of VirZoom’s five games—the Pegasus and Wild West ones I just mentioned, plus another where I was a dog driving a go-kart. They’ve built a pretty intuitive system for getting into these games, with a combination of starting/stopping pedaling and clicking triggers on the handlebars to make selections. It works.

VirZoom

Games last five-to-seven minutes, and VirZoom tells me they’re built around interval training. I’m not much of an expert on the fitness side of things but it certainly gave me a workout over the course of my twenty or thirty minutes on the bike.

The problem is it’s just...not...very...interesting. Which, to be honest, has always been the point where the dream of gamifying exercise broke down. Zombies, Run is one of the few I know that’s successfully merged the two, and it’s 90 percent an audio experience.

Driving laps. Lassoing bandits. Collecting coins to keep Pegasus up in the air. These are Mario Party minigames, and not even particularly interesting ones. Certainly not enough to trick/motivate me into exercising.

It was a bit better when the VirZoom-er guiding my demo climbed on a second bike and we raced, as my innate draw towards competition pushed me to drive around the track faster than him. But still.

VirZoom

To be fair, there are two more games I didn’t see and VirZoom plans to let other developers create experiences for the platform. Maybe another developer will see the potential, with VirZoom ultimately relegated to a hardware supplier. But I’m not sure.

 

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