Lewis set me up with an account on the Black Box app, which tracks fitness stats like rep intensity and weight, then velcroed two hands-free controllers onto my forearms. The comfortable headset didn’t weigh down my neck or shoulders, but put some pressure on my cheeks and forehead. It connects to a cable from the ceiling, ostensibly to prevent exercisers from dropping and breaking the device — or stealing it.
With the headset on, I was transported to a virtual waiting room and then catapulted into the first of 10 virtual “battle arenas.” I started in the base-level arena, which looked like a warmer version of Planet Krypton.
The high-quality graphics made the environment appear as real as an animated game could hope to look, while the detail and vastness of my virtual surroundings helped distract from some of the discomfort of the headset — and the awareness of being alone in a room with a stranger, squatting and punching with no vision of my real-world surroundings.
The game dropped me onto a field with two pink crystals, placed on opposite ends, the goal being to destroy the opponent’s crystal before he destroys mine. Here’s where the exercise comes in. To fire off an attack or defense, I had to complete a series of traditional exercises. There are six to choose from — chest press, overhead press, row, lat pulldown, squat and deadlift — with each corresponding to a different weapon. A chest press, for example, shoots off a fire beam; a shoulder press emits a meteor strike. The more reps I completed, the more damage I inflicted on the enemy.
It sounds expensive and repetitive. I don’t expect this to be a viable gym model. I expect most gym models are predicated on selling memberships that go unused for a while before cancellation and on catering to a crowd who knows a good workout, and tarting the experience up with high-cost electronics and high-overhead processes will outstrip the money spent on the novelty of it, and the cost of a membership would be noticeable if you’re not using it even in San Francisco.
I don’t like the gym so much that I bought the company. And I would totally buy a Prop Cycle game for my home gym. So maybe VR gyms are the wave of the future, and I’m a Luddite.