Game on, Ping-Pong: VR sport improves real life performance

  Last updated June 5, 2020 at 5:25 pm


Strap on a headset – training in VR can really help your real-world sport skills.

Old men play ping pong VR sport

Playing VR sport does translate into better skills in the real world. Credit: skynesher

Why This Matters: Gaming has a huge range of benefits, don’t listen to the naysayers.

Pulling on a headset and entering a virtual world might seem like a complete disconnect from the real world. But, new research has shown how sports skills we build in a computerised playground do translate into the real world.

And while it’s been tested using table tennis, it could be a sign of things to come for a range of sports. In the future, mixing real-world training and VR skills development could be the key for athletes.

Using the VR game, Eleven: Table Tennis, a study published in the journal PLOS ONE by UniSA researchers has found that real-life table tennis skills substantially improved after people completed training in an virtual world.

The research is one of the first studies to investigate the transfer of sports skills from simulated to real environments using a head-mounted display.

Players competed against a virtual opponent, moving and responding to incoming stimuli, while receiving haptic, auditory and performance feedback in a 360-degree simulated environment. Results were compared with a control group that did not receiving any training in the real or virtual worlds.

The skills were assessed by an expert table tennis coach who didn’t know whether they had been through the VR training or not.

By nature, table tennis is a sport which requires players to respond in a continually changing, unpredictable and externally-paced environment. It demands flexibility in visual attention, quick decision-making and fast interceptive actions in response to an interactive opponent. That makes it a perfect test sport for VR training. (Plus, it’s just damn good fun).

VR isn’t just for gaming

Lead researchers, UniSA’s Stefan Michalski and Ancret Szpak, say the findings demonstrate the versatility of VR in modern society.

“Using VR as a training tool is becoming increasingly popular,” says Szpak. “It’s regularly used by surgeons and pilots to hone their skills and techniques in a safe and controlled environment.”

Also: Multi-user VR opens new worlds for medical research

“VR offers an immersive digital space where users can interact with objects and navigate environments as if they’re present in the real world.”

“For sports, VR opens fantastic opportunities that can otherwise be limited by costs (such as sporting equipment), logistics (such as the need for a training partner), or environmental factors (such adverse weather conditions, or training grounds like ski slopes).”

“It also lets players closely log and monitor their performance and development, as well as manipulate the virtual space in diverse ways.”

VR can train us in tasks that are difficult or dangerous in the real world

“Our research shows the potential that VR sports training can have in real-world settings. The real benefit is an ability to learn and practice tasks that may be logistically difficult, dangerous or impractical to do in the real world.”

Michalski says the research also provides a foundation for other VR skills training.

“Potentially anybody can benefit from skills training in VR.”

Also: Using virtual reality could make you a better person in real life

We are beginning to look at using VR to help people with an intellectual disability to build skills for independent living.”

“Our hope is to use VR in this space to further the notion of skill transfer by demonstrating that people living with an intellectual disability can develop social, cognitive and vocational skills within the safe, comfortable and repeatable environment of VR.”

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The latest and best news from the University of South Australia.

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The University of South Australia is Australia’s University of Enterprise. Our culture of innovation is anchored around global and national links to academic, research and industry partners. Our graduates are the new urban professionals, global citizens at ease with the world and ready to create and respond to change. Our research is inventive and adventurous and we create new knowledge that is central to global economic and social prosperity.

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