Horizon CDT Research Highlights

Research Highlights

Exploring the potential of personalized VR bodily training systems

  Christine Li (2019 cohort)

An ongoing challenge in HCI is designing immersive experiences to promote physical fitness. A classic form of this is the exertion game. Shortened as “exergames”, these video games are designed to encourage players to exercise through digital play [1], [2]. Unfortunately, there is a lack of evidence supporting their effectiveness in helping players adopt and maintain active lifestyles in the long term [2]. Conventional physical fitness philosophy and practice demonstrate that regimen adherence is maintained through a sense of achievement [3], [4]. While exergames attempt to replicate this through gamification features such as high score boards, they are relatively impersonal and the short-lived sense of achievement lacks relevance to the player’s life outside the game. It stands to reason that these experiences would be more effective if they were designed to not only encourage exertion, but also to account for players’ personal fitness goals, e.g., facilitate performance tracking, milestone creation, etc., for a more fulfilling experience. In short, gamified exercise may become more effective with the meaningful integration of the user’s performance data.

The recent democratisation of virtual reality (VR) technology suggests that we have reached a point where this could be a viable technical intervention to support training. Recent work on somaesthetics suggests that a “body-centric” approach to design might offer a promising methodology to explore these challenges [5], and further recent work on sensory (mis)alignment suggests a potentially applicable approach [6]. This proposal suggests designing, deploying, and studying VR prototypes to support physical training, with a focus on creating a flexible system that will provide a tailored experience based on the users’ personal performance data. More specifically, this PhD will attempt an alternative angle from most exergame work in that it will be designed for athletes, i.e. users who focus their training around a particular type of activity or sport and would use kinaesthetic VR to supplement their training. It should be noted that this is not limited to professional athletes, but includes users of any level. Specializing the use case should theoretically give more freedom to create a system with higher relevance to the user’s personal goals.

This research aims to explore novel ways of implementing sensory misalignment, somaesthetic design, and personal data into an available but immature technology with the hope of pushing forward advances in exertion-experience design, body-centric interaction design, and immersive design, ultimately giving people access to new tools and interventions in the contexts of personal fitness, rehabilitation, digital entertainment, and beyond. 


[1] F. ’floyd'Mueller, M. R. Gibbs, and F. Vetere, “Taxonomy of Exertion Games,” in Proceedings of the 20th Australasian Conference on Computer-Human Interaction: Designing for Habitus and Habitat, Cairns, Australia, 2008, pp. 263–266.

[2] J. Marshall, F. “floyd” Mueller, S. Benford, and S. Pijnappel, “Expanding exertion gaming,” Int. J. Hum. Comput. Stud., vol. 90, pp. 1–13, Jun. 2016.

[3] M. N. Silva et al., “Using self-determination theory to promote physical activity and weight control: a randomized controlled trial in women,” J. Behav. Med., vol. 33, no. 2, pp. 110–122, Apr. 2010.

[4] M. S. Fortier, S. N. Sweet, T. L. O’Sullivan, and G. C. Williams, “A self-determination process model of physical activity adoption in the context of a randomized controlled trial,” Psychol. Sport Exerc., vol. 8, no. 5, pp. 741–757, Sep. 2007.

[5] K. Höök, Designing with the Body: Somaesthetic Interaction Design. MIT Press, 2018.

[6] J. Marshall, S. Benford, R. Byrne, and P. Tennent, “Sensory Alignment in Immersive Entertainment,” Proceedings of the 2019 CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems - CHI ’19. 2019, doi: 10.1145/3290605.3300930.

This author is supported by the Horizon Centre for Doctoral Training at the University of Nottingham (UKRI Grant No. EP/S023305/1).