The future is here

Virtual reality (VR) can be used to train pharmacists as well as improve health and fitness outcomes for consumers

VR technology first arose in the 1990s, although at the time didn’t take off because of lacklustre graphics, bulky kits, high cost and consumer issues with nausea and headaches.

The concept was eventually relegated to sci-fi movies – until now. VR headsets and games can now be purchased at an affordable price and used in the privacy of one’s home.

Most people have heard of the Oculus Rift, and you might even own a version of it yourself or know someone who does.

A new University of Sydney study has found VR games can provide enough exertion to be considered exercise – including games that may not have even been explicitly designed as ‘exergames’.

Researchers from the university’s School of Information Technologies examined the physical exertion of participants while playing four VR games already on the market – Fruit Ninja VR, Hot Squats (screenshot below), Holopoint (screenshot below) and Portal Stories: VR.

Participants’ heart rates were monitored while playing each game for sessions of between five and 10 minutes.

Results revealed that for all participants:

  • Fruit Ninja’s maximum heart rate score was equal to light exercise (comparable to walking);
  • Hot Squats’ heart rate score was considered heavy (comparable to running);
  • Holopoints’ heart rate score was equal to moderate intensity (comparable to dancing); and
  • Portal Stories was equal to very light activity.

The study also revealed that the more engaging a VR game is, the less a person feels like they are exercising – even when they are working up a sweat.

A YouTuber tests out Holopoint.
A screenshot from Hot Squats.

“The participants’ main response was enjoyment of playing the games, rather than feeling it was exercise… This show that virtual reality games have the potential to make exercise feel fun, engaging and relatively easy,” says study co-author, Professor of Computer Science Judy Kay.

“National guidelines recommend exercise at least 2.5 to five hours a week. However many people find it hard to achieve these recommended levels. Virtual reality games offer a way to overcome this, because they can be motivating and convenient,” adds study co-author Soojeong Yoo, a PhD candidate in the School of Information Technologies.

Ms Yoo will be presenting the study results at a conference in the US later this week.

Pharmacy and virtual reality

Australian pharmacy students are also using VR to learn the ins and outs of the profession.

Starting mid-last year, Bachelor of Pharmacy students from Griffith University, Qld, have been able to experience working within a simulated pharmacy as part of a cutting-edge educational game.

Originating from the University of Groningen in The Netherlands, the PharmG game requires final year students to compete against teams of peers or colleagues from across the world and aims to be as close to real life as possible.

“[The game] provides our final year students with a fully immersive workplace which completely reflects what they would be facing in a real-life pharmacy,” says Dr Gary Grant from Griffith’s School of Pharmacy.

“Starting from week six, students will each be spending 13 full working days in the PharmG environment where they will hone their skills.

“Like other simulation games, e.g. SimCity, pharmacies start with a set number of patients which they will either lose or gain based on performance in activities. Activity includes dispensing of prescriptions, medication reviews, verbal walk-in cases, responding to phone calls, assignments and presentations.”

The introduction of the simulated pharmacy learning method follows the School’s introduction last year of a virtual learning tool, which allows students to work in different environments including hospital and pharmacy from anywhere in the world without having to leave the classroom.

10 most popular VR games right now

Screenshot from Rick and Morty: Virtual Rick-ality.
  1. Rick and Morty: Virtual Rick-ality – Play as a Morty clone as you explore Rick’s garage, the Smith household, and alien worlds.
  2. Batman: Arkham VR – Think like Batman. Utilise his legendary gadgets in Virtual Reality to unravel a plot that threatens the lives of Batman’s closest allies.
  3. Tilt Brush – Tilt Brush lets you paint in 3D space with virtual reality.
  4. 3D Organon VR Anatomy– The world’s first fully-featured virtual reality anatomy atlas.
  5. Rez Infinite – The ultimate version of Sega’s psychedelic rail-shooter adventure Rez (main image).


    A screenshot from 3D Organon VR Anatomy.
  6. Vanishing Realms – An immersive RPG designed exclusively for Virtual Reality. Grab your sword and fight life-sized monsters in epic face-to-face melee combat.
  7. DiRT Rally – Experience that white knuckle feeling of racing on the edge as you hurtle along dangerous roads.
  8. 11:57 – The first 360-degree horror film! The all-encompassing nightmare is made all the more terrifying by making the spectator the main character of the film.
  9. VR Sniper – Immerse yourself fully in this 3D/360 game with the VR headset and save three different cities from terrorists.
  10. Dreadhalls – Inspired by the survival horror and roguelike genres, Dreadhalls has been terrorising people ever since its debut at the 2013 Oculus + Indiecade VR Jam.

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