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VIRTUAL REALITY (VR): What Parents Need To Know

Virtual Reality, or VR, continues to grow in popularity while the hardware becomes more readily available…and affordable!

Consumer VR comes to the home through a specialized headset (which is connected with a computer, game console, or smart phone) that places the user in a digital world. Professionals are using it in engineering, medicine, and within the educational community.  It has even been found useful for treating people suffering from anxiety and for treating soldiers suffering from PTSD.  Others use VR to visit far places, or attend events, all without leaving home.  Many others are planning on using VR to rid the Universe of the alien monster threat!

So, what’s the big deal?

Well, good 21st Century parents need to carefully look at any new technology to understand the good and the bad that comes with it.

So, let’s look at VR!

VR, or Virtual Reality, gives the user a highly immersive experience, whether it is in a game or a collaborative engineering system.  Using special controllers (game controllers, gloves, and other devices) you can interact with the items you see while in “cyberspace”.  It is an emerging technology that will impact education, engineering, business, gaming, and (probably) relationships.  College courses are already being taught on designing and implementing this new technology!

How do you get started in VR?  It used to take a huge amount of money.  Now it only takes a lot.

System prices range from a little under $100 for systems using cell phones to $400-$600 for high-end systems such as the Sony Playstation VR or Oculus RIFT systems.  This doesn’t count the cell phones, PCs, consoles, or games/apps, all of which easily add another $500-$1,200.  VR is still an emerging technology so prices are certain to drop.

Just in case someone in your house has been a VERY good boy/girl and Santa is considering delivering a VR system, let’s look at some of the things you have to consider:

  1.  Essentially, you are blindfolded.  By strapping on the VR headset and entering cyberspace you lose all inputs from REALspace!  This is called losing “situational awareness”. This can result in hitting people or objects with your hands or arms as you react to virtual events.  You may even find yourself tripping and falling over furniture…or down stairs.  Therefore, you should make sure that the place where you will play with your VR system is set up for MAX SAFETY!
  2. You can get sick.  Back in the 90’s, when LCD projectors came out, a few of us “tested one” using a flight simulator…for about 2 minutes.  The loss of peripheral visual cues that we really we’re not moving conflicted with the input from our eyes and we all began to become dizzy and nauseous.  Well, VR headsets are like that, but on steroids.  Designers and engineers are working on that, with reports that even adding a “virtual nose” to the field of vision helps.
  3. Physical pain.  Some users report headaches and neck pain, especially when using VR headset for long periods of time.  Some of this is caused by wearing a heavy, unbalanced object on your head, and other causes remain under investigation.  The VR equivalent of carpal tunnel syndrome may emerge, or not.  This is so new that there are no many, or any, studies that address these concerns.
  4. Possible eye issues.  Currently, the American Academy of Ophthalmology does not have formal studies on the effects of VR but there are things about it that are known.  You might want to read this article, “Are Virtual Reality Headsets Safe for Eyes?
  5. You might freak out!  Those prone to anxiety issues and panic attacks report being triggers by the VR experience.  Conversely, though, with the right software it seems that VR may find a place in treating anxiety, as well as PTSD.  So, be careful how you react to the realism of the BR!
  6. VR can aid learning.  Just as doctors are learning to use VR to treat medical conditions, educators are finding ways to use VR to train and educate.  This is already happening in engineering, architecture, and medicine.  The K-12 arena is exploring and testing VR for classroom use as well.  So, a child’s expertise with VR may be a competitive advantage in college and the job market.
  7. VR can help communicate.  Think about how a VR set, with a camera (or two) could allow someone to visit an event, or inspect a situation, without having to actually be there.  Designers and business people could also collaborate while working in the same virtual environment.
  8. Knight’s Law: If there is a new media type or communications technology…it will be “porn-ified”.  Adult entertainment has driven many technical advances in the past, and VR-porn is already available for some VR systems on major online porn sites.  It even has it’s own “logo”.    This leads to:
  9. Relationship issues!  The real world is seldom as nice as the fantasy worlds we can create.  Whether it is a Dungeons & Dragons-like epic adventure or roll in the hay with a virtual lover, the sad face it the real world frequently is found wanting.  This IS going to impact us socially as well as in relationships.  VR will allow people to become even more isolated that they are, today.  And relationships, even physical ones, may soon be expanded to include new forms of cybersex.  This will undoubtedly cause the user’s spouse/partner to become upset.  I fear it will also lead to an increasing trend of social isolation.  Some researchers are concerned that the increase in sensory inputs may make VR porn more addictive than current online pornography.

All this doesn’t mean you should avoid VR.  It’s coming, and it’s coming fast.  It means that parents and kids need to understand the hazards and boundaries that you need to observe.  This is no different from learning to drive and finding out about speed limits, traffic laws, seat belts, and what happens when you drink and drive.  Bringing VR into the family could actually be a fun way for parents to spend some quality time with their children.

BOUNDARIES:

If Santa drops off a cool VR system this Christmas make sure that you don’t let the children (or adults) get carried away.  Safety FIRST!

READ THE INSTRUCTIONS AND SAFETY WARNINGS, AND HEED THEM!

Remember that manufacturers recommend that:

  • Only those 13 and over use current VR systems.
  • Users should only wear the headset for 15-30 minutes, max.  Some recommend you take it slow and build up to that length of time.
  • Take 10-15 minute breaks between sessions.
  • People with certain medical conditions should NOT use VR.  Again, read the warnings!

In addition, make sure you have a safe area to play, and that you wisely choose the VR content.  While many parents ignore the ratings of games and software it is even more important to follow them with VR as the increased immersion impacts the brain more intensely.  Therefore, a bloodbath that kids create and shake off on the TV might cause distress or injury when totally immersed in the “world”.

Remember you may have to place sensors around your VR-space to track the movements of your headset and controllers.

I hope this has been helpful for you!  Read these other articles to learn more about creating THE TECH-SAFE HOME!

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