A virtual reality (VR) headset is a very handy gadget that can lead you into different worlds and let you experience them in the first person. Although it’s most popular as a gaming accessory, a virtual reality (VR) headset can have a lot of other applications, a lot of them being educational purposes in different branches and segments of life. But, despite them being cool and – with time – better and better, we cannot but wonder – are they dangerous? Most technology has some side effects that come from its usage, but since virtual reality is so specific compared to other forms of technology, you probably pondered whether its more dangerous than its competition. Well, we have the answer to that question and it lies within our list of the most common side effects of using virtual reality, which you can check out below. When talking about VR and its negative side effects, we will first answer the effects of VR on the eyes and then proceed to the other potential negative side effects.
Whether the exposure to VR can damage your eyes long-term is still not studied thoroughly, there is certainly a big chance that after some time of exposure to VR, your eyes will start to hurt and strain.
How Virtual Reality Actually Evolved?
The first commercial virtual reality (VR) headset, the Sega VR, announced back in 1991 and debuting in early 1993, was never actually released for consoles, but was used for the Sega VR-1 motion simulator arcade back in 1994. Another early virtual reality (VR) headset, the Forte VFX1, was announced the same year (1994); the VFX-1 has stereoscopic displays, a 3-axis head-tracking, and stereo headphones, which was pretty revolutionary for the time.
Sony, another virtual reality and gaming pioneer, released the Glasstron in 1997; it had an optional positional sensor, allowing the wearer to view the surroundings, with the perspective moving as his head moves, giving a deep sense of spatial perception, something that all modern headsets have. These VR headsets gave MechWarrior 2 players a new visual perspective of seeing the battlefield from inside the cockpit of their craft, which was a breakthrough in gaming at the time.
However, all these early headsets failed commercially due to their limited technology, and they were described by John Carmack as “looking through toilet paper tubes”. It took almost 20 years for virtual reality (VR) headsets to enter the spotlight again.
In 2012, a crowdfunding campaign began for a VR headset known as Oculus Rift; the project was led by several prominent video game developers, including Carmack. The headset was in development for four years before the final commercial release of the Oculus Rift began shipping in early 2016. Still, the product never became a hit for the company.
In March 2014, Sony demonstrated a prototype headset for the PlayStation 4, which was later named PlayStation VR; the PlayStation VR console soon became commercially available and is now an accessory to the PlayStation franchise with several games already released as of 2020.
That same year, Valve demonstrated some headset prototypes, which lead to a partnership with HTC to produce the Vive, which focuses on “room-scale” VR environments that users can naturally navigate within and interact with from the comfort of their homes, without needing additional space. The Vive was released in April 2016 and PlayStation VR in October 2016.
Virtual reality headsets and viewers have also been designed for smartphones. Unlike headsets with integrated displays, these units are essentially enclosures that a smartphone can be inserted into. VR content is viewed from the screen of the device itself through lenses acting as a stereoscope, rather than using dedicated internal displays.
Google released a series of specifications and associated DIY kits for virtual reality viewers known as Google Cardboard; these viewers are capable of being constructed using low-cost materials (and a smartphone with a gyroscope), such as cardboard (hence the naming).
Samsung Electronics partnered with Oculus VR to co-develop the Samsung Gear VR (which is only compatible with recent Samsung Galaxy devices), while LG Electronics developed a headset with dedicated displays for its LG G5 smartphone known as LG 360 VR.
Asian hardware manufacturers like Xion and Kolke have developed inexpensive virtual reality headsets. In 2017, Chinese company Tencent announced it was preparing to launch its virtual reality headset that year. As of 2019, Oculus and PlayStation VR dominate the VR headset market.
In June 2019, Valve released their own headset, the Valve Index, without a partnership with HTC.
The Side Effects of VR
Now that we have seen how it came to be, let us see how dangerous it can be:
Does VR hurt your eyes?
You know how your eyes start to hurt when you watch the television for too long? Or the computer screen, or even your mobile phone? Well, imagine that and then augment it significantly and you’ll understand how a VR headset strains your eyes because it is a truly overwhelming experience for them.
It is also similar to a 3D movie projection, but likewise a lot stronger. Our eyes are not really accustomed to so much technology and the level provided by a VR headset is truly high. The key here is to not do it for too long, giving your eyes time to rest and adapt to the technology.
Whether being exposed to VR can have long-term effects on your eyes and your sight has still not been studied, but neither has it been observed, meaning that – for now at least – it is generally safe, but you still have to use it moderately.
Well, it’s not technically motion sickness since you’re not technically moving, but virtual reality headsets can have a substantial influence on your brain and your perception. They can trick your brain into believing that the simulated reality is actually real, which means that your brain perceives it as being real, therefore it reacts to the simulation as if were reality.
So, if you’re riding a boat or sitting in an ascending plane in virtual reality, you might react as if you were on a real boat or a real plane and have symptoms of motion sickness, which is a very nasty, albeit not that dangerous side effect.
Taking an antiemetic or doing anything else that usually helps you take care of such issues will be equally effective in such cases as well, despite them being only virtual and not real in any way.
This one is pretty simple. Namely, when you put on a VR headset, you enter virtual reality and your brain perceives the images created by technology as reality. You move inside that space and you perceive the obstacles in the virtual space as real.
But, in fact, you don’t actually move in the virtual reality – you move inside a real room you’re actually in, but cannot see it due to the fact that you only see the virtual spaces and rooms. Due to the fact that you do not actually see what’s going on around you – and especially if you’re in an unknown space – you might encounter an obstacle that could seriously injure you, thereby getting into a situation where the virtual reality can cause a real-life injury. Just imagine running in the streets, chasing a criminal as – for example – Batman in a VR game.
You run in Gotham City, you see a street, but in order to move – you might actually have to move inside your room and since you’re not actually seeing where you’re going inside your own room, you might hit a wall or slip on something and break your nose, or a hand or a leg.
This can also be avoided by minimizing real-life movement in a virtual space using a joystick or a similar accessory or by having a large, yet empty space to walk in while playing the game or being in the virtual space.
Although this aspect depends a lot on how much you use a headset and how you perceive the experience, there is a study that shows that people who use VR might experience a so-called clinical dissociation, a psychological phenomenon where a person detaches from reality to a certain degree.
This “existential hangover”, as one might call it, can present itself in different ways (depression, anxiety, stress, light-headedness, dissociation, etc.) and can last for minutes or actual weeks. People get attached to virtual reality and since the brain perceived the virtual experience as real, that might cause problems for the user, as he might lose his grasp on reality and mistake the virtual experience for the real thing, or vice versa.
This is not a common thing and can usually be avoided and/or controlled, but it is certainly a very interesting phenomenon that requires some attention and cannot be completely ignored, as its consequences might be grave.
Game transfer phenomena
This aspect is very similar to the one mentioned above. Game transfer phenomena (GTP) is an occurrence, usually restricted to avid gamers, when a person sees video game elements in real life. For example, a person might see pixels in real life, he might hear video game sounds during his daily routines or actually move and do things that the characters do in video games, like jumping over obstacles, trying to avoid obstacles, etc.
This is also not very common and it usually happens to avid gamers, but since it can happen to people whose brain perceives the game as a virtual experience – since most games don’t have any virtual reality elements – it is understandable that it could happen to people who use or have used a VR headset.
The virtual reality created by a headset is pretty persuasive and it is clear that the things seen or done in virtual reality might emanate into your real life, as the differences might not be that big. This is, luckily, easily avoidable and can be controlled in most cases, so you needn’t worry about it.
Can you get addicted to VR?
In the modern world, their video games have become so much more than simple games (they’ve even become “sports”), it is easy to understand that a child might develop an addiction to the games. They play for fun, but also to better themselves, to win, and to… continue doing all of that because they cannot stop.
Video game addiction is a serious issue that needs to be addressed, so it is only natural that we warn you about the phenomenon of VR addiction, which conceptually similar to video game addiction, with the main difference being in the fact that the latter group craves for more VR experiences.
Although not that common – VR games are still not that plentiful and popular – VR addiction could be a potential problem as more games appear for VR headsets and they become more available for more consumers. VR addiction needs to be addressed as it could have grave consequences and could ultimately ruin your life and cause more problems than intended, so be careful when overdoing your VR experiences.
Long-term effects of VR
VR headsets aren’t that popular and a lot of people still don’t have or use them. Unlike video games, which’ve been present for decades now, VR experiences are relatively new and are rapidly growing and evolving, which doesn’t give us much opportunity to study them carefully, as what we know today quickly becomes old news tomorrow.
There have been very few (extensive) studies on VR experiences and while we do know some short-term side effects, the possible long-term side effects of VR (ab)use are still completely unknown to scientists. VR is at this time not considered to be dangerous – there are certain issues, but they can all be easily addressed and controlled – but we don’t really know how it could affect us long-term, which is why we can enjoy the games and the whole experience, but we must avoid abusing it and learn how to use it properly and moderately so that we can enjoy it longer.
This field requires more studies and our knowledge, albeit somewhat founded, is still scarce and needs improvement when the right conditions are met.
Now that we’ve seen the side effects of using virtual reality headsets, we can definitely conclude that using VR headsets has more side effects than regular gaming and gaming accessories. They are very specific to the nature of virtual reality, but as we can see – it is absolutely nothing insurmountable and nothing dangerous.
If you have pre-existing medical conditions and/or are prone to some specific conditions, you have a safety manual you can check out and avoid any potential issues. So, we can conclude that, although riskier than other gadgets, a VR headset is nothing to be worried about and is definitely something to be enjoyed.
This covers our analysis of the topic for today. For more information, keep following us and stay tuned for more of the same.