Incentivize Actions with Virtual Reality

Last night I was running on the treadmill. All of my brain cells were bored to death while my body felt dreadful and tired.

I never managed to keep up the daily workout routine in my adult life. The longest record was two months, then I fell into the abyss of my couch and excessive belly fat again. It is just too boring. I tried different ways of running, indoor and outdoor, morning and evening, with or without tracking gadgets which were supposed to give a little motivation.

Does it have to be boring though? I suddenly thought of one thing I definitely didn’t find boring — MMORPG games. It is the opposite of boring, it’s addictive. The one game I used to play heavily was World of Warcraft (WoW). I liked it because it has a fascinating virtual world that’s so close to the real world but way more magical, and it was a ton of fun playing with other people. Azeroth became my second reality at the time. How would the folks at Blizzard make it even more addictive and immersive? I would definitely say virtual reality.

I think it’s a clear trend that the VR games will become the norm in gaming. A virtual world is the dream for many people, including myself. You can experience things you would never experience in the real world in your lifetime. When designed in a smart way, it could turn the addictiveness into motivation.

My thought comes back to my body which is still running on that treadmill. What can we do to make this fun? What if running can be gamified and become a source of some virtual income, so that it is incentivized in some VR social game? If anybody can achieve that, I would imagine the business will be extremely popular. People pay a lot for gyms, they also pay a lot for games. If the two can be unified into a great social game, it could make people like me run daily feeling the fun and not the misery. It could have the perks of online gaming — meet new and like-minded people virtually all over the world and have fun together.

Imagine you run on the treadmill but you see and hear a virtual world with snowy mountains, volcanos, or beautiful beaches. Imagine you are a hunter. Your pet, a large jaguar, is running beside you. You control the actions such as aim, attack, defend, retreat, etc. with some small controller in your hands. Only moving is controlled by your real legs and the treadmill readings. If you feel out of strength, just adjust the ratio between real and virtual speed so that you can achieve more virtual speed with less real speed. (Or you can just turn it off and play in the old way without moving your physical legs if you just want to enjoy other aspects of the game, if somehow the workout aspect becomes a churn factor for some people.) Imagine there’s a kind of virtual in-game currency which is earned by real distance covered. It could be a second currency like the honor system in WoW (if you are familiar with WoW). You don’t need it for normal gaming, but having this second currency has its unique perks. Suddenly running on the treadmill doesn’t seem so boring.

Of course, there are a lot of challenges behind this idea.

One big technical challenge that’s universal to the current VR technology is how to avoid motion sickness. This must be achieved by having better quality visuals that can deceive the brain.

Another challenge is the design of the game rules around the moving incentive. People have different fitness levels. Stronger people might have a natural advantage in this earning system. That could be fair, but also discouraging to less fit people who actually need more motivation. One solution is to have a reward system that directs earning to growth and persistence, not just absolute levels.

Certainly there are a lot of other potential problems like the inflation of the currency, game balance and more. I won’t digress too much to address all of them. The bottom line is that by leveraging the in-game economy, we can motivate ourselves to achieve things in real life — in this particular case, achieve a fit body.

At this point, we can say that the virtual world augments the reality. On the other hand, your actions in the physical world increase your wealth in the game, so reality also augments the virtual world. Both worlds are complementary to each other. Some people may prefer living entirely in the virtual world. It’s more magical, more accessible, has less redundancies and inefficiencies of the real society, and you don’t have to deal with the things you don’t like. One key factor this will work is that you can get real money in the in-game economy, just like in some MMORPG games today. After all, the economy depends on the number of players and their sense of satisfaction in that world. This virtual world has the potential to replace the real world completely. You can even get fit!

Forget about the obese people living on floating pads with VR headsets, the kind you see in WALL-E. VR social games are able to incentivize your workout, or any type of action if you think about it. Complementary worlds are coming. The day of law making in those worlds might happen in our lifetime. But first, we need to build it, and show that the business opportunities are endless with VR.

(With a little bit of Googling, turns out there are already efforts towards that direction. Check out the YouTube video here for Skyrim VR gameplay!)

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