Virtual Reality Games Like Space Pirate Trainer Are Great Exercise

When I purchased my HTC Vive, it was for the sole intention of increasing the immersion of games that I play. Little did I know that I find many other qualities that make virtual reality well worth the high asking price.

This last week I began playing Space Pirate Trainer, which is currently one of the most well-received virtual reality titles on Steam. At first, I was in awe of how good the game looked as I gazed off a skyscraper platform into a futuristic metropolis. Soon, an army of drones would converge to attack me.

After being shot in the face with a laser, which stunned me for a second, I pulled out my two space pistols and unloaded what must have been 30 rounds into the drones. They disintegrated and fell into the darkness below. I felt like a hero, even if only for a brief moment.

What's particularly neat about Space Pirate Trainer is that time slows down ever so slightly when an enemy fires a laser at you. You can see it inching its way toward your body, providing a brief moment to physically move your body out of harm's way. While in the early waves this simply means that you end up side-stepping a few times as if you're Neo casually dodging bullets, as more enemies emerge it becomes vital that you move around very actively and are conscientious of your entire surroundings. And while you may be able to dodge attacks while focused at one angle, when you're being hit from multiple directions you end up having to mix dodging with careful shield placement.


As larger waves of enemies would attack, I became more reliant on dodging and pulling out my shield for active defense.​ Physically, this meant crouch-walking, dropping into a prone position, and performing quick movements when aiming or pulling out my shield when needed (with an overhead grab). As far as my brain could tell, this wasn't a battle to earn a high score in a video game, this was a fight for survival. I genuinely didn't want to be hit by these lasers, so I naturally found myself making ridiculous maneuvers in my office.

It would only take a good 15 minutes before my stamina felt as though it was being put to the test. The thing is that dodging, side-stepping, and swinging around your arms into precisely locked positions use muscles that aren't often worked by traditional exercise. As a result, your living room or office transforms into a gym.

If the burn on my muscles wasn't an indication of the effective exercise, the sweat being absorbed by the HMD's face cushion certainly was. I was burning calories, and more importantly doing it with something that was so much fun that I didn't even think twice about it. I see this becoming a huge selling point of virtual reality headsets among people who have had trouble getting into an exercise routine. Let's face it, working out isn't enjoyable. The dread of spending free-time doing something painful and exhausting is enough to ward off most Americans. With virtual reality, the experiences are well beyond anything the industry has ever seen before thanks to low latency, three point (head and both hands) tracking, and the quality of exercise benefits tremendously.

It's worth noting that Space Pirate Trainer is currently in Early Access. It received an update last week which provided some new settings and leaderboards, and will receive similar updates in the future. The game also allows you to switch each of your two pistols between five different modes of fire. This allows the offensive gameplay, which it is well-known for, to provide a good level of customization and replayability.