Virtual Reality Is Already Turning Workouts Into Video Games

Why go for a run around your frozen block when you could be exploring Westeros?

Here’s a bold claim: This is the last year that winter workouts will be a total bummer. By next year, the choice between lung-splintering cold and the yoga pant-punctuated dreariness of the treadmill or stationary bike will seem as antiquated as those triangular weights in the corner of your garage. Virtual reality has come to rescue cold-weather hamsters from their wheels, allowing them the chance to explore new world beyond their half-finished basements and pay-by-the-month cages.

Widerun, a company that constructs immersive environments, is leading the charge – or jog, or whatever – toward the gym rat VR revolution. Using Widerun’s Oculus Rift software, bikers can explore magical realms: fantastical caves, Westeros, San Francisco. The worlds are big and dynamic and textured enough to take the tedium out of the peloton. The whole thing will look quite familiar to anyone who has ever played Temple Run, but this version of the first-person runner doesn’t just work out your thumbs.

Not only does Widerun address the most critical problem with working out – it can be really boring – it is moving the world of sports in the direction of the world of gaming, which has long been inching toward the gym. If gym tech and gaming tech merge, the consumer product is likely to be better for the average un-enthusiast than if either industry forces itself on the other. With Oculus gaming set to become a major field, Oculus workouts provide a different type of engineer (those that would privilege physicality over gameplay) to make their mark.

The environments haven’t been gamified as yet, but you can bet it will be. That old Stephen Colbert joke about only running when being chased by a bear may not sound like a joke by next year.