People Who Lost Weight in Second Life Also Shed Real Pounds

Second Life is the future. Second Life is also full of crazy people.

Apr 29 2013, 8:35pm

"Playing video games is an effective way to lose weight." That's a sweeping, misleading and altogether silly statement. It is not, however, an incorrect statement. A team from the University of Kansas Medical Center just published a head turner of a study entitled, "Weight loss programs via virtual reality."

It's basically exactly what it sounds like. A group of 20 test subject signed up for a nine-month-long ordeal. For the first three months, the subjects participated in a clinical weight loss program that consisted of weekly clinics that educated attendees about how best to shed pounds. Some did the program in real life, and others did it in Second Life.

Each group lost about the same amount of weight in this first stage. Then, for the final six months, the subjects did a weight loss maintenance program, also either in person or on Second Life. Believe it or not, the people who did their weight loss maintenance via virtual reality actually shed more pounds than their analog equivalents. 

Don't go joining Second Life expecting to lose 100 pounds now. (Seriously, shit gets real weird in Second Life, if you let it.) This study has its shortcomings, and having just 20 test subjects is one of them. It's a stretch to take the experience of so few people playing one specific game in a controlled environment and make a big claim about how video games are good for weight loss.

Also, it's important to remember that these people knew they were part of a weight-loss study. Aside from the role of virtual reality, one might assume that this group was especially motivated to shed those pounds. And again, they weren't playing a video game to lose weight. Essentially, they were taking lectures via virtual reality. Still, that attending weight loss clinics online was as effective, if not more so, than taking them in meatspace is fascinating.

It could be argued that those who did their weight loss via Second Life also enjoyed less friction by being able to do things virtually. And that's exactly what the researchers expected. "Individuals who want to participate in real-life scenarios without real-life repercussions can use virtual reality," said lead investigator Debra Sullivan. "For example, participants can practice meal planning, grocery shopping, and dietary control when eating at restaurants and holiday parties to a much greater extent with Second Life compared with the time-limited clinic meeting."

This is not unlike the real world of losing weight. The ultimate effortless weight loss tool is certainly the Wii Fit, a fun video game that makes you do push ups and stretches and fake skiing and all kinds of things. The only problem is that it doesn't actually make you do anything, because it's easier and more fun to sit on your ass and play Call of Duty instead. Apparently, most Wii Fit owners go nuts the first month they own the device and then never touch it again.

But Second Life is different. Second Life is a lot like real life, but it's easier to make friends. Second Life is the future. Second Life is also full of crazy people. So lose weight at your own risk.