Japanese researchers slicing into U of A-built virtual gym to see if they can’t make it more appetizing

Research team hopeful that improving the sound flying fruit makes when being struck by a lightsabre will draw people of all ages to a virtual reality exercise game.

EDMONTON — If there is a singularly satisfying sound that a flying watermelon makes when swatted by a lightsabre, collaborators on a virtual reality exercise game called Slice Saber will find it. 

The game’s University of Alberta creators and their counterparts from Japan are hoping the sound — along with a host of other gratifying noises and visual and sensory effects — will get otherwise sedentary people exercising and having fun. 

Slice Saber is one of a half dozen games available on Virtual Gym, an exercise platform on which health practitioners provide game-like physical activities for older adults, with configurations that match each user’s capabilities.

To play, participants donning virtual reality headsets enter one of six different virtual worlds where they perform a range of stretches and movements to do everything from popping balloons, climbing mountains, shooting a bow or even slicing at a steady stream of flying fruit.

“Our Japanese colleagues proposed to make Virtual Gym more enjoyable and motivating for younger adults, which is particularly relevant during the COVID-19 pandemic, where people can be stuck at home,” said the game’s co-creator, computing science professor Eleni Stroulia.

The group is experimenting with sound, visual and haptic (touch) effects across the platform, including improving the sound made by slicing watermelons and the physics of how they break when sliced by the user’s lightsabre.

In an effort to strengthen ties between the U of A and Japanese researchers, U of A president Bill Flanagan attended Ritsumeikan University Center for Game Studies — Japan’s only academic centre focused on game studies — to sign a memorandum of understanding March 1.

“It is our hope that we can expand the connections between Japan and the University of Alberta so that we can work together to seek solutions to the world’s most pressing challenges,” Flanagan told attendees.

Digital humanities researcher Geoffrey Rockwell — a pioneer in the relationship between U of A and Japan — added, “Two of the three gaming console makers are in Japan. If you want to fully understand a major entertainment industry, you can’t do that without studying Japan.”

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To speak with any of the researchers or President Flanagan, please contact:

Michael Brown, U of A Media Strategist
michael.brown@ualberta.ca | 780-977-1411