Making fitness games work for you

Slashing to the rhythm in Beat Saber, one of the best fitness games

Working out can be fun, who knew?

Exercise and I haven’t always agreed. In high school, while my brother and twin sister were out winning state track titles, I was taking naps in my car during practice. I just find it difficult to enjoy something that makes me feel like my heart is going to explode, but I think the biggest problem with running is that there’s nothing distracting me from how much pain I’m in.

Growing up, I was constantly being told that exercise was something that I needed to do, and I hated it, and then I would feel guilty about hating it. It became a vicious shame cycle I couldn’t escape.

As I got older and gaming became a bigger part of my life, fitness games became a more attractive option. I tried many of the classics over the years — Just Dance, Dance Central, Zumba Fitness, Wii Fit, more recently Ring Fit Adventure — but the cycle was always the same. I would play for a few days, maybe even a few weeks if I was feeling extra motivated. But eventually it would fall to the wayside, and whichever relevant plastic fitness gaming accessory would be left collecting dust.

Striking a pose in Just Dance
[Image Source: Gamereactor]
But then I tried Beat Saber, and something clicked.

I was first introduced to the Star Wars-inspired rhythm game a few jobs ago, when my boss brought his headset into work for us to use. He explained that he played about two hours of Beat Saber every morning as exercise. We all reluctantly gave it a try, and after we got past the first few tries of awkwardly swinging our arms, we were all hooked. The whole writer’s room would go down during lunch and play together, and we’d return to our desks slightly out of breath, but happy.

After a few months, I finally caved and bought my own Oculus headset for the sole purpose of playing Beat Saber, a decision that I immediately knew was the right one. I would put that thing on and not take it off until I was drenched in sweat. It was one of my first times looking forward to exercising, and that was an awesome feeling.

A guy playing Beat Saber
[Image Source: VR Fitness Insider]
This is where the story takes a bit of a weird turn, so bear with me — anyone who plays Beat Saber knows the only good way to play is modding your game with custom songs. There are some insanely talented members of the community who make maps that rival or even improve upon those of the base game.

The thing is, most of the custom maps are expressions of niche communities and aesthetics, from anime to nightcore to my favorite, K-pop. Remember that boss I had who introduced me to Beat Saber? He’s also a massive K-pop fan, and expresses it in the most endearing, dad-energy way possible. When we played on his headset, pretty much all the songs he had were from Korean artists, so that sort of got the ball rolling for me.

My particular favorite in those early days was “Kill This Love” by Blackpink, a tough, upbeat party song. From there, not only did my obsession with the rhythm game grow, but so did my love of K-pop. It basically took over my life, and now I’m taking (Covid-safe) dance classes to learn choreography from my favorite songs. It turns out it’s something I enjoy even more than Beat Saber, but I wouldn’t have taken the step to try it without getting hooked on the VR game first.

As my digital fitness regime has slowly evolved into a more traditional one, it got me thinking more about my fitness journey as a whole. I feel like exercise is often defined in one specific way, where you’re decking yourself out in Nike apparel and going to the gym to do deadlifts until your arms fall off. While that’s obviously commendable, I think it’s important to expand our definition a bit.

That means more earnestly embracing fitness games, rather than mocking them. There’s this underlying stigma that seems to dismiss any sort of fitness video game at face value, which I think can honestly be chalked up to the fact that you kind of look ridiculous doing it, no matter what game it is. And to that I say… who cares? Live and let live people. I feel like the needle has moved a bit in terms of more widely accepting the genre since Ring Fit Adventure rose in popularity at the start of the pandemic, but we still have a ways to go.

Rowing in Ring Fit Adventure
[Image Source: Gamesradar]
When I asked fellow Destructoid staffer and fitness game connoisseur CJ about his experiences, he told me that “any fitness game will work for you so long as you keep the motivation alive to stick with it.”

He hit the nail on the head with that one, because that’s what it all comes down to: The key to fitness is finding something that works for you. If you can find an activity you actually have fun doing, the feeling of obligation will melt away. For me, it all comes back to moving with music, in whatever form that takes, because I enjoy it so much it makes me forget I’m exercising altogether.

If you’re someone who doesn’t even know where to start with all of this, fitness games are such a great option (especially because if you’re reading this, there’s like a 95% chance that you already love playing video games anyway). I think it’s a real shame that people count fitness games out, because they’re an opportunity to help people find the healthiest version of themselves, whether they’re the starting point or the end destination.

Noelle Warner