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Fit in my 40s: a virtual rave with sabers and songs – what’s not to like?

Zoe Williams
·3-min read

When somebody suggested Beat Saber to me, I wasn’t interested. First, it looks rather intimidating from the demo videos: you’re inside a virtual reality headset, with a controller in each hand, which resembles a swishing lightsaber on your screen. You have to slice through bright blue and red blocks as they come rushing towards you, having first noticed which way their arrows point. Plus there’s music. If you can imagine being in an arcade with a hangover, that’s the dread that went through me.

Second, you have to invest in a headset. There are about six that people recommend – including a thrifty Hamswan one (£19.99) – but only one that’s a stand-alone, in that you don’t need to already have a PC to connect it to. I borrowed one, the Oculus. It’s expensive (£299) and I didn’t want to buy one. Except then I did, because I didn’t want to give it back.

To start, you draw a circle on your floor with the controller, which is your game area. This stops you bumping into furniture, most of the time, and means you can play even in the most ridiculously small room. Then you pick a song. Everyone always picks Believer by Imagine Dragons, though there are plenty and you can buy more. The hardest part is the first beat: I couldn’t work out exactly when to start, though I did work out how to switch off the “failure” function, which powers you out every time you fail. So that speeded things up a bit.

Depending on what level you’re on, at some point more big squares will start rushing towards you, besides the red and blue ones that you’re meant to swish. These require you to duck, or lean, or do some other fast thing. It’s not just a workout for your arms and brain, it’s a release: I experience utter concentration, intermittent exhilaration, like colouring in and going to a rave at the same time.

Related: Can exercise really release trauma stored in your body? | Zoe Williams

From a distance, Beat Saber doesn’t look like very strenuous exercise. But I took measurements on my Fitbit, which logs minutes of exertion (23 minutes counts as an exercise day). Every song counted as about six minutes of moderate to intense exercise, and I was averaging about 40 active minutes a day. (Sometimes, I notch up some cardio just whisking an egg or fighting with a teenager, so take it with a pinch of salt.) But nothing could deter me: not an ache or a pain, nor gloomy weather. The game was paired to my son’s phone and, for a while, before I figured out how to pair it to mine, too, he couldn’t go to the toilet without me following him around, jonesing a go on The Greatest Showman. Don’t ask why he takes his phone to the toilet. It’s what the young people do.

What I learned

With headsets, look for “degrees of freedom”. 3DoF recognises head movements but 6DoF includes three other body movements (up-down, left-right, forwards-backwards).