Is Virtual Reality Bad for You?

We are all familiar with the monitor, keyboard and mouse computer setup. Computing has increasingly moved to more mobile devices such as phones and tablets.

Virtual-Reality-Main

In recent years, virtual reality (VR) goggles have also been popping up. Apparatus such as Facebook's Oculus Rift have arrived at the scene, offering an immersive experience.

While such an experience can be exciting, the question arises as to whether this is a good thing or a bad thing.

The Emergence of VR

Before we start getting all judgy, it's useful to take a step back and look at the origins of VR. One of the earliest and most notable VR inventions was Morton Heilig's Sensorama.

This was an arcade-style machine capable of simulating smells, vibrations and wind. It also contained an immersive stereoscopic display and sound. The device was invented in 1952 and patented in 1962.

Morton Heilig's Sensorama
Morton Heilig's Sensorama | mortonheilig.com

This was a highly advanced device considering the time of its invention. Heilig also followed up the Sensorama with a head-mounted device called the Telesphere Mask. It provided a stereoscopic 3D imagery with wide vision and stereo sound.

Morton Heilig Telesphere Mask
Morton Heilig Telesphere Mask | mortonheilig.com

Another early example of an immersive experience similar to the modern-day VR is the View Master (Model L).

View Master Model L
View Master Model L | Wikimedia Commons

The View Master used film reels that contained pairs of stereoscopic images. It was also a device that was accessible, price-wise, to the masses. Viewing the film reels through the View Master gave a sense of depth which was ground-breaking at the time.

A big focus for VR these days is on gaming. You'll probably be surprised to know that the Virtuality Group had this covered in the 90's with their arcade machines.

Virtuality-Group-Arcade-Machines
Virtuality Group Arcade Game | Virtual Reality Society

In those days VR was in an even more primitive state than it is now. So concerns of whether this technology could be harmful may not have been as prevalent due to the raw novelty.

As the technology matures and becomes more widespread however, this demands a closer look.

VR Cross-examination

This cross-examination will involve the recent development in the VR realm and the health risks it may induce. From there we'll try to draw a connclusion

VR Training for US Olympians

US alpine skiers are using the aid of VR to learn their runs thoroughly before their events. This is undoubtedly a positive use for VR.

This gives the athletes time to get a feel of the actual courses without actually being on location which is important due to the limited time they will have to prepare prior to the actual event.

Team coaches captured videos of the courses beforehand in 360° videos and used them to create virtual runs for the athletes who then practiced on the courses using VR headsets and ski-shaped balance boards.

US-Alpine-Skier-VR
US Alpine Skier VR Practice | Washington Post

Creative use of the technology helps to put athletes in top condition for their events and it's hard to see why anyone would be against such a beneficial use of VR.

Gamer Has a Seizure in a VR Chat Room

In January 2018, a gamer (YouTuber Rogue Shadow VR) recounted his experience of seeing another gamer suffer from a seizure in a VR chat room (VRChat) and being unable to do anything about it.

The observer reported that another gamer started spasming while the others in the room could do nothing but watch in horror.

They were complete strangers to each other and had no idea who the victim was or his whereabouts.

VR-Caution

There is a risk of VR causing epileptic seizures due to the flashing lights as a result of the video being played back, however, it can't be said for sure that this caused the seizure. Rogue Shadow VR gave a pretty in-depth account of the occurrence with permission from the seizure victim.

Companies are very much aware that their headsets could cause issues for people suffering from epilepsy. This is apparent from Oculus' warning in their safety documentation that directs users with epilepsy to take caution and consult a medical professional before using a VR headset.

Oculus-Rift

It should be noted that flashing lights is not only an issue with VR. Other forms of media consumption such as watching any kind of video could also pose a risk to those suffering from epilepsy.

Health Risks

It isn't only the people suffering from epilepsy who need to be careful when using VR. All VR users must be careful.

Virtual reality could result in all kinds of physical injury. Bumping into or hitting objects is possible as a result of the user being so immersed in a VR setting. You even run the risk of hitting someone in close proximity if care is not taken.

VR-and-Health

Falling is also a possibility, which could lead to serious physical injury. This can occur due to unawareness of physical surroundings.

VR-induced nausea is also not unheard of. This is thought to be similar to motion sickness in real life.

It also turns out that having a VR headset project images into your eyes from such a near distance might not be such a great thing. This can result in eye fatigue, which may lead to longer-term ocular trauma.

Final Thoughts

VR has clear merit as a training tool. For this purpose, the use of VR use will naturally be carefully monitored. Things get a bit tricky however, when VR is used in the entertainment realm.

Frequent breaks can help with eye fatigue and offer relief in the case of people feeling nausea. However, users might feel inclined to stay immersed in the VR world just a little longer because of the appeal of the content. That's where the danger lies.

VR-Safety-Key
Safety is the key
Safety is key

Its immersive nature may cause people to become addicted to the tech, which leads itself to a host of other problems such as missing out on valuable real-world social interactions.

The tech is definitely exciting and has its uses but consumption should be limited. Precautions should be taken such as preparing a suitable area when using a VR headset to ensure thatvany physical injury doesn't occur.

People suffering fro  epilepsy should probably consult their doctors before using a headset. If you are prone to motion sickness, you might also be prone to VR sickness and should be cautious if you plan to indulge.

Finally, make sure to take frequent breaks to give your eyes some rest and to check in with reality every now and then. VR can be an exciting realm if enjoyed responsibly.


William Elcock

Written By

William Elcock

William has been helping friends troubleshoot tech problems for several years and thus made the natural progression into tech blogging.William's Physics background is shown by his willingness to probe various tech topics at a fundamental level to understand them better. In addition to consumer electronics William also has a vested interest in various renewable energy topics. Look out for William at a lab near you, or at your electronics store. There's nothing he loves more than building out a DIY electronics project.

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