“Where everything is made up and the points don’t matter.”

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What’s new?

One of my former graduate students is now fairly high up at Facebook Reality Labs and she sent me an Oculus Quest 2 (also a charger and an Elite Strap). I have now subscribed to Supernatural and I am exercising more than I have in decades.

What does it mean?

The Oculus Quest 2 is a fairly bulky, but surprisingly light, set of goggles and two controllers, one held in each hand. Activation requires a Facebook account and use requires a wifi signal. Supernatural requires the associated phone app. Setup was trouble free for me. An Oculus Quest 2 costs $300 for 64GB storage and $400 for 256GB, including shipping in the US. A Supernatural subscription costs $179 for a year.

In Supernatural, I can select from exercise videos of High, Medium, and Low intensity (and from meditation videos) of various duration (from as short as 8 minutes to as long as 45 minutes). Inside my goggles, I am placed in a beautiful outdoor location (including one on Mars). I appear to be standing on a computer-generated mat, usually several feet off the ground. I can move to look around and up and down in the scene. A new video is issued each day and hundreds of old ones are available. I have created a list of my favorites.

The exercise routine starts with a warmup from a coach who is located on a computer-generated mat about 10 feet in front me and then consists of several songs (usually rock, pop, hip-hop, etc.). During the routines, my hand controllers appear to be light sabers (called bats in Supernatural) with which I strike at oncoming spheres, black for targets to be struck by the black bat in my left hand and white for the white bat in my right hand. My accuracy and power scores are recorded and reported to me between songs and at the end of the session, which ends with a cool down from the coach. During the entire session, the coach’s voice provides encouraging (and sometimes amusing) comments.  

The quality of the vision is remarkable. I have set my initial room in Oculus to a place in a Japanese inn, with a view of an outside street scene and nearby pond of fish. When I move around, the view changes with 3D fidelity. The sound is also very good. When I am standing in the exercise mat in Supernatural, several feet off the ground, I have to keep reminding myself I am standing solidly on my house floor. I have my goggles adjusted so I get a slight view of my real floor if I glance down past my nose, keeping me oriented.

For use while standing, as I do in Supernatural, the Oculus interface requires me to set a safety perimeter in which there are no objects, and it generates a visual signal if I move any part of my body outside that perimeter. Because its use is linked to a Facebook account, privacy issues arise. A friend created a second Facebook account just to use with Oculus.

I have gone through three waves of emotion concerning Supernatural. First, I immediately loved it: this is fun! The movements, the dance, and the exercise all felt great. Then, as I got used to it, I started to pay attention to the two scores: accuracy in hitting targets and power, scored relative to expectations based on my most recent performance. I started to try to get 100% accuracy and high power scores. I hurt my shoulders and the fun decreased. Now I am back to focusing on the fun and ignoring the scores. The strikes and movements are, I now realize, really well choreographed and I focus on feeling that movement. I am back to: this is fun!

In my seven decades of life, I have sometimes exercised a lot, sometimes less, and recently, (now dogless, so lacking any canine friend I always called my personal trainer), I have had trouble making a habit of exercise. I am, with Supernatural, exercising 30 to 40 minutes every day, with noticeable results. I have to pace myself so that I don’t overdo my workouts and hurt myself. Supernatural is fun! The Supernatural Facebook page has ample evidence that it has changed many lives for the better.

What does it mean for you?

Virtual Reality (VR) has been touted as useful for training and now I get it. The view from inside the goggles is not perfect, but it is remarkably good; most noticeably it tracks my movement adjusting the scene flawlessly. It is so good that when I tried a roller coaster ride app, I noped out of that very quickly. Also, the hand controllers allow for various interactions with the virtual reality, including grasping and using objects.  

The Virtual Reality Society provides a list of applications in various areas. In their business category, they list virtual tours of a business environment, training, and a 360 view of a product. VR gaming is very popular, including opportunities to interact with others.  “The best VR apps of 2021” at digitaltrends includes apps allowing the user to create spray graffiti, to watch 360 videos, and to explore 12 underwater environments, This example at Lenovo reports on the use of VR to restore memories for dementia patients

My three stages of emotion in Supernatural reinforce my belief that scoring systems designed supposedly to motive people actually undermine intrinsic motivation and thus long term behavioral change. As a professor, I told students that grades undermine learning.  Alfie Kohn has written great books on motivation, especially in the field of education.  I recently learned of a quote from Barry Schwartz (a professor of psychology at Swarthmore College, my alma mater): “when you rely on incentives, you undermine values.”

Where can you learn more?

The tag line on the TV improvisational comedy show “Whose Line is it Anyway” is “where everything is made up and the points don’t matter.” Or on video here

I read the Barry Schwartz quote in a recent report from the NAACP: “Fossil Fueled Foolery. An Illustrated Primer on the Fossil Fuel Industry’s Deceptive Tactics.” The second edition, issued on 1 April this year, is anything but an April Fool’s joke and I highly recommend it.

Alfie Kohn’s website describes his books; my favorites are Punished by Rewards and No Contest. In his latest blog post (8 March 2021) he quotes one of my heroes, John Dewey, on the bad effects of sugar-coating. Kohn remarks: “These days an awful lot of such sugarcoating is done digitally — for example, with apps that add points and levels to `gamify’ a list of decontexualized facts or skills that students are required to master.”

Virtual reality involves immersion in the computer generated environment. In augmented reality, additional information is displayed on top of person’s real view. The Oculus Quest 2 has a pass through feature for augmented reality, used, for example, to set up the safety space. Wired has a good introduction to VR with explanation of some terms also.

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