I love video games, but sitting down all day isn’t healthy. So I decided to try and combine the two to see if it had any impact on my health.
I’ve had my eyes on a VR headset for years. Mainly because some of my favorite games have VR ports, and the prospect of beating up cannibals with the added immersion of knocking my fan over in the process sounded fun. A few other games piqued my interest, especially as a recovering osu! player, but my initial plan never involved Beat Saber.
I love my headset. Even if getting it positioned just right is a shot in the dark most of the time. After I first booted it up, my face was sweaty, and I looked like an idiot, but I’d had a blast hunting ghosts and (trying) to be social.
Then, I purchased Beat Saber. TikTok reminded me that it existed, and, well. I love to overestimate my rhythm game prowess.
I purchased the Steam version of the game. It seemed easiest to mod, and every once in a while, I’ll review a random game from my library. I can only hope the review is funny when that time comes for Beat Saber. Some specific versions of the game are more moddable than others, so I spent a few hours working through different software until I figured out I wanted version 1.27.
Now, I struggle with insomnia. I take medication for it, but after years at an online school, I found that being forced to walk around my university campus was enough to knock me out with more success than a double dose of my sundown solution. With classes out for the summer, and months of staying in my room writing, reading, and gaming, my Apple watch buzzed every few days.
My resting heart rate went up.
My sleep quality went down.
In fact, I was sleeping less, and I was more anxious; no matter how long I spent curled up in bed, I couldn’t get rid of the tiredness.
My mental health suffered, too. And that’s a slippery slope.
Worse mental health = no desire to exercise = worse mental health, repeat ad infinitum.
Beat Saber goes against that somehow. Between the thumping of music and the flashing lights, it feels less like I’m about to wheeze to death and more like I’m about to show everybody just how terrible my rhythm game skills are.
Learning to play
At a glance, I thought Beat Saber would be easy. Up, down. Left, right. Flail randomly occasionally and do the cha-cha slide around bombs and walls. This is coming from somebody who sat there and decided to play ‘Can’t Defeat Airman’ on osu! would be a great way to have fun with friends.
The first map I play is far too fast. I hit two notes, and then the game tells me I’ve failed the level.
I try a new map. ‘More’ by K/DA. This one feels good, and I complete it on my first try.
My watch is on my left wrist, as usual. I flick it as is routine and check how my heart is doing. 170 bpm, which is pretty typical for me when I’m standing up and moving. The difference is that I want to keep playing after I see it. It feels good, even if the headset squeezes my face a little, and I have a headache on the front half of my head.
I played Beat Saber for an hour, flopped into bed, and fell asleep so quickly it was a little disconcerting.
The First Week
I made it my goal to play daily for an entire week. I had to hit my thirty active minutes, even if it took a few bursts throughout the day. Off the bat, I found myself feeling excited for the next session as my headset charged again. In fact, I lost myself in the game and found myself with an hour of activity on my watch – double the goal I set for myself.
The added bonus was that I could take stupid pictures of myself looking very strange with the mask’s outline bright red across my face. Even the cat got on board, curling up in just the right place so that I could give her a little kiss every time I had to crouch under a barrier.
In general, I felt a lot better. I woke up every morning, raring to go, excited to put my headset on. I’m not under any illusions, though. Exercising the ‘boring’ way will always impact my body and mind most, but in the short term, I think there’s something to be said about keeping it closer to home.
My gaming started to feel less like a ‘lazy’ hobby and more like something I could almost consider productive. It helped that I was sleeping like a baby.
VR and insomnia
Insomnia is awesome… is what I’d say if I wanted to lie to you. I was first introduced to the concept of sleeping in VR by a SomeOrdinaryGamers video, where he discussed his sleep paralysis. He built a house in Minecraft and slept inside of it, and I was hooked on the idea.
It wasn’t practical for me to sleep with a headset on for this article; it presented many risks between piercings, cables, and the cat. But I could use it to wind down before bed, plant a garden, or paint until my eyes grew heavy. Studies are starting to show that sleeping in VR can have almost therapeutic effects on insomnia, especially in teens. Even teens without sleep disorders can use it to their advantage, and the benefits don’t end there.
Between the control VR gives a person over their environment and the ability to be anywhere in the world by just pressing a few buttons, those that struggle with PTSD also note it can change their lives. Strapping a screen to your face may seem the opposite of a good idea, given the blue light. Still, there are settings to soften the harsher colors and create a safe and serene environment. Now that I’ve spent time in my headset and broken it in, for lack of a better phrase, I find the prospect is tempting. The benefits of exercising in my headset are enough for me, though.
The second week
I had a few ‘favorite’ maps in my second week. Ladies’ Code ‘The Rain’ was a big one; the mapping done by Obento was both challenging and logical.
What do I mean by logical?
Some maps feel like they’re throwing blocks at you for the sake of difficulty. Even familiar songs could catch me off guard, but as I increased the difficulty, I felt accomplished each time I cleared ‘The Rain.’ The walls flowed naturally with my movements, the chorus felt satisfying, and I was always sweating by the end. It scratched this itch I never knew I’d had, and it’s become a staple in my playlists ever since I found it.
‘Laser Beam’ by Perfume was much the same. Mapped by AaltopahWi, using only one saber and throwing new mechanics at you without hesitation, it’s a fun map. My left hand planted on my hip, my right flailing around desperately, perhaps I wasn’t as elegant as the likes of Dietah, but I had a blast.
Maybe that’s what Beat Saber is all about. With a headset on, even I – a person that had to be bribed as a child to dance – can throw my self-consciousness out of the window and have a silly dance.
After just over two weeks of daily Beat Saber sessions, I’ve barely scratched the surface of VR. Will I forego the gym to keep playing Beat Saber? Absolutely not, but between semesters or during the summer, I see it becoming my primary way of remaining active. I also have a newfound appreciation for my music and the modders that have helped the game reach its potential.
I want to see how VR can improve my life in other ways. That may involve sleeping with a headset on or working collaboratively in VR spaces. It will be interesting to see how continuing to play the game helps with my fitness. Whether it can bring my resting heart rate back down and if my sleep will remain as consistent.