I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of Beat Saber, but I want to talk to you about it in a way that makes you understand it’s not just a game. It’s actually pretty responsible for increasing my self esteem, fixing health issues that I had, and it has given me a sense of self that exists that I am trying to work toward.
How I Discovered Beat Saber
My main passion in the games industry (since only recently) is Virtual Reality (VR) Gaming. I have a lot of ideas about what to make, and I am probably considered a senior VR programmer at this point. I have worked in Mobile/PC VR gaming, and I have a pretty extensive knowledge of how to make people feel ok using VR from a programming and efficiency perspective. I have worked on 3 now published titles.
I was also what you would call a VR skeptic. I think the tech is revolutionary. I think it could have massive implications for fields it’s not really had much work in yet especially education. I thought VR tech needed years more work before it could provide us with any insight into it’s efficiency, or to even be worthwhile for purchase.
When I moved into independent development, my intention was to start working on a story based VR fishing game, that explores themes around parental aging, Alzheimer’s disease, and loss of habitat and extinction in nature. Unfortunately I can’t actually code at the moment due to PTSD from an experience I had in my life.
I got a high end VR headset, I got all the “Triple-A” budget titles which are cool experiences but make VR feel clunky and unresponsive a lot of the time (the notable exception is Valve’s Half-Life Alyx – which is a master showcase of the potential of VR).
I had seen Beat Saber videos in the past, usually popular streamers, but I was awful at Guitar Hero, and this game basically looked like Guitar Hero and Fruit Ninja crossed together. I didn’t think it would be for me, I am clumsy and uncoordinated in real life – I have never been good at sports. Then in December of 2019, I saw a video on Twitter of someone who is now one of my favourite streamers – Naysy (will promo all her links at the bottom – she deserves the support).
I thought that looked really cool, and the concept of light sabers slashing through blocks sounded awesome. I purchased the game.
Unintended Amazing Consequences
I have never really been fit in my life. Exercise is something I hate, I find the gym super boring, I find running super boring, I can’t play sports because I am bad at them. I have made many attempts to keep schedules so that I be “healthy”. I tried really hard to be awesome at these things. I think the longest I’ve kept up any of these habits would be about a month.
Beat Saber changed me completely. I don’t mean in some small superficial way, it actually changed my life completely. When I got the game, the first few sessions I was like “this is cool”. Then roughly 30 minutes later I was lamenting the pain that I felt. I didn’t realise it, but I had actually being doing high-intensity interval training (HIIT) exercising. Better than this though, I had no idea I was even doing exercise. I would be exhausted.
I played through the main base game, but I found the game quite boring, and that’s because the base game is limited to a handful of songs (you can expand with Downloadable Content Pack expansions for some artists too). These are good and I generally buy them to support the developer (but have a lot of ethical dilemmas around who now owns BeatGames – Facebook).
The joy of this game comes from custom mapping. The Beat Saber Modding Group is a community that regularly “maps” songs into note combinations, and the catalogue is always growing. You can load these songs onto the PC VR or Oculus Stand-Alone headsets, unfortunately PSVR has no way to do this (Sorry dimsie).
I got custom songs… then something incredible started happening. I was burning over 1000 calories a day just playing the game for ~roughly two hours. I’m going to show you some of my measured progress (I received a smart watch as a wedding present from my wife).
Hello healthy BMI* range, goodbye fat mass
* BMI is not a perfect measurement, there are a lot of problems, I don’t agree with a lot of the science here but it’s good as a comparative scale.
I got super addicted to this game, I also am a tech geek in a lot of respects, I have a lot of stuff I like to use because it provides me with data so I can see progress, more easily than just looking at myself.
Here’s my weight and fat mass in kilograms.
And here’s my weight and fat mass approximately four months later.
That’s right. In 16 weeks and 1 day I had gone from being 84.3 kilograms down to 69.4 (A total loss of 14.9 kilos). I had not changed my diet, I had not changed the amount of “exercise” I was doing. I had just played Beat Saber, got addicted and played more and more.
How those calories were burned!
Luckily I can show you calories burned too. There’s an app called Yur.fit that allows for Calorie Expenditure Tracking. Here’s the month’s of January, February and March:
So… I need to explain a few things here, you’ll notice that at the end of January and in February I have some weird holes. My headsets that I was using broke, they broke due to sweat damage. At the time I was using HTC Vive hardware with the wireless adapter. The tracking is considerably better than other headsets, but their headset build quality is awful. I don’t use their hardware anymore – even with militant wiping down and cleaning the headset – when you sweat inside the head set it generates passive moisture that would seep in and erode sensors to the point it no longer worked. I’ll list recommended hardware further down.
In March I burn more calories than in the other two months. That is because on top of switching hardware, I had begun thinking of streaming and trying to increase in rank in the main Beat Saber scoring system. This meant I had a more consistent schedule of play, and I also was pushing myself insanely hard. Some weekends and days I would play for up to 6 hours.
I was attending University at this stage, and my intention was to actually do a Masters thesis on Beat Saber. I wanted to see if it could be used for other people like me who are resistant or non-responsive to traditional forms of exercise. My thesis question was going to be around this, then COVID-19 hit – due to being high-risk due to Asthma and Crohn’s Disease – on medical advice I dropped out.
Maybe I can monetise this? (Thanks Capitalism)
This meant I started looking into how to turn Beat Saber into a job. I started a YouTube Channel, and was posting (nearly) daily videos to TikTok. I wanted to do this full time. I started streaming on Twitch. I am not a very personable person when streaming because it’s so unnatural to me (and I have body dysmorphia and also hate my voice), despite this I hit affiliate really quickly and had some subscribes.
Then I started seeing Jeff Bezos earning billions every day and I was talking to people in the USA who were in horrible circumstances. Due to being highly sensitive I attune myself to others pain, and there was a lot.
This started to grind against my personal code of ethics – I don’t want to give money to billionaires if I can avoid it, and talking to people in countries that had not controlled the virus started giving me massive survivor guilt, making me unable to connect with my audience. The worst effect I didn’t really realise until months later is that this actually killed a lot of my love of the game.
Then the June 2020 streamer and gaming personality #metoo moment happened. A number of popular streamers on the platform had sexually assaulted or harassed women at events, or in real life. They were outed, and Twitch made some small efforts to remove these toxic abusers. But this was the final straw for me ethically, I could no longer reconcile my strong ethical beliefs with a platform that turns a constant blind eye to the objectification, abuse and sexual harassment of women, as well as splitting everything I earned 50/50 with the worlds richest man.
I deleted my Twitch, took all my YouTube videos offline, deleted my streamer Twitter, and left my TikTok videos up, but never used the app anymore. Exploring this as a career option killed a lot of interest I had in the game. I have only recently begun appreciating it for the fun and not the slog of a job in recent months. (I underwent a number of mental health crises in this time due to external unrelated issues which hasn’t helped).
Post-Monetisation – Advice to others!
I basically am an evangelist for Beat Saber. I love this game, everyone I’ve ever shown it to has fallen in love with it. The concept is so simple, cut a block in time to music, dodge walls, and avoid bombs. I think it’s the perfect game, and the best game made in my life of video gaming. I can’t really do the description of why it’s awesome justice as well as this video by Jacob Geller I found early on when I started playing. It’s 14 minutes long, but it really explains in depth the awesomeness of Beat Saber.
How to play?
Currently the hardware I recommend depends on what you personally have currently.
|Hardware You Have||Pros||Cons||Price (NZD)|
|A High Spec PC (not a Mac):|
|Relatively cheap |
Great build quality
Easy To Setup
|Tied to Facebook now|
Owned by Facebook
Some small tracking issues
|The Cheapest||NO CUSTOM MAPS|
Bad tracking comparatively
|Stand Alone VR:|
Oculus Quest 2
|Can be used anywhere|
Cheaper than PC
Can be used on PC
|Some tracking issues|
Limited battery time
Tied to Facebook
Owned by Facebook
Preorder atm (27/9/2020)
If you don’t have anything, or you have a PC even, it is probably better to get the Oculus Quest 2. It can be used on PC to power up the graphics by using the computer hardware instead of the inbuilt processor.
The downside here is that Oculus is owned by Facebook, and now you have to have a Facebook account to use the hardware. That gives me a few privacy concerns, I don’t trust Mark Zuckerberg.
However, if I was to purchase any hardware right now – it would be the Oculus Quest 2.
The ability to play anywhere and take the device with you, as well as being able to play with better graphics makes it the stand out winner, even in spite of it’s attachment to Facebook.
It’s really frustrating in a lot of ways, I don’t use Facebook except for support groups I am in, I barely use instagram (but have some friends whom I have no other way of contacting) and I am on a personal losing crusade to have my family switch from WhatsApp. I think the company is evil, and actually destabilising to society.
I wouldn’t buy a PSVR just for Beat Saber on the Playstation 4, the reason for this is that it doesn’t allow for custom songs, there’s no way to load them on the Playstation, so you are confined to the original track list and whatever additional DLC packs they have. If you already have a PS4 and PSVR it’s worth picking up, but this limitation makes it super bad for getting the true value out of the game.
Will I stream again ? Will I make videos ?
I’m not sure. I really liked doing it in some ways as it kept me motivated to play a lot longer than I usually would. I even commissioned a map made by one of the greatest in game mappers – Joetastic – the result here:
Why it changed my life…
Aside from the obvious health benefits of finding a cardio workout that I love. It taught me that I wasn’t bad at sport – just needed some persistence, and I made it into the top 2% of players for a while – but I really dislike the ranked maps (it’s usually a lot of anime songs).
It taught me that with practice I can actually get good at stuff, and that I can improve with effort. It taught me video editing skills, it showed me how to build a community. It inspired me to finally learn an instrument and now I am learning how to sing (again) and play the piano. I know that I can improve at something physical with consistent effort now that I didn’t know about myself previously.
This game changed my life. It made it better in almost every way. Here was a motivational video I made for TikTok.