While virtual reality is without a doubt a fantastic example of modern technology, it is certainly not without its drawbacks. With an increasing number of applications for VR comes an ever-evolving list of issues and concerns. As with any form of technology, VR is prone to malfunctions and can have a host of negative affects on its users. What is more, given that the technology is still in its infancy, many have expressed concerns that it may pose more risks than those of which we are currently aware.
One of the most basic issues posed by VR is a loss of special awareness. After only a few minutes in virtual reality, it becomes increasingly more difficult to keep track of the space around you. As much as users are advised to clear enough space around them before using the hardware, it is not always possible to create an entirely safe environment. If players are made to move around a lot in a particular game, then they could easily find themselves bumping into various nearby objects or pieces of furniture. While for the most part this would likely be no more than a tiny inconvenience, it is not beyond the realms of possibility for users to trip over furniture and become injured. Depending on the hardness and shape of objects in their immediate vicinity, players risk developing serious injuries due to a lack of spatial awareness. While it is ultimately the responsibility of the user to ensure they use the hardware in the safest possible space, there are few scenarios in which safety can be 100 percent assured.
Virtual reality comes with a whole host of possibilities for a player to become disoriented. At the most tame level, users may experience some dizziness after a certain period of time, caused by the constant motion of the headset and the close proximity of their eyes to the display. With such feelings of disorientation, it is not unknown for players to fall over or, once again, walk into furniture.
This disorientation can develop further into feelings of vertigo and motion sickness, particularly when faced with experiences that the brain perceives as unnatural. A prime example of motion sickness caused by virtual reality is with Nintendo’s Labo VR when paired with The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Despite the experience supposedly being tailored for use with the headset, players have found the motion controls with the camera to be unbearable. This is due to the fact that when players look up, the brain expects the camera to follow suit, but instead the camera zooms in to focus on the player’s avatar.
One of the most heated debates when it comes to gaming surrounds the effect that games can have on the minds of players. These worries are most present among parents, who express concern over the large presence of violence in many video games and the effect that might have on their children’s development. The most common argument against this concern is that, even to kids, there is always a disconnect when it comes to video games. Players know that everything they do is confined to a virtual space, far different from their own world.
However, virtual reality turns gaming into a direct experience. When using a VR headset, the human mind perceives events occurring within this virtual space as real, even though the player is aware that they are not. For example, in games such as Superhot, users automatically react to objects coming toward them, as if they could be physically harmed by them. While violent content may still not be such an issue in this regard, that is not to say that players cannot be affected by VR gameplay. When it comes to horror experiences such as Resident Evil VII, players are at much greater risk of heightened anxiety and nightmares, as the experience registers as a real memory to the brain.
Most VR developers discourage those with epilepsy from using the hardware. This is due to the fact that the fast movement caused by head motions can increase the risk of seizures. This risk is further compounded by the amount of time spent using the equipment, therefore users are encouraged to take regular breaks. Even those who aren’t diagnosed with any such conditions are at risk, so regular rest periods and water is vital when using virtual reality.
Naturally, with a bright display held so close to the eyes, users are eventually going to experience some level of eye fatigue or irritation. Eye strain is commonly reported when users first put on a headset, which can be easily rectified by adjusting the focus on the equipment. Some researchers believe that users’ eyes may be at risk of long-term damage from the use of VR, suggesting that they may find it increasingly difficult to focus interchangeably between close and far away objects. Once again, the key here is to take regular breaks in order to give your eyes a rest from the bright display.
Perhaps the most serious concern surrounding virtual reality is the risk of users’ exposure to radiation. As many headsets such as the Samsung Gear VR now operate with the use of a mobile phone, which themselves emit a certain level of radiofrequency radiation, there are increasing concerns over the safety of this equipment. Some studies have suggested that extended periods of time in close proximity to mobile devices could pose a risk to users’ health, but scientists cannot yet declare objectively whether this is true. These concerns extend to the use of wireless communications such as Bluetooth and Wi-Fi which, when used with wireless VR headsets, are transmitted directly toward a user’s head as opposed to a separate, stationary device. Once again, this factor is still heavily debated, and therefore further research is necessary before any true conclusions can be drawn. Even so, this remains one of the most significant concerns surrounding virtual reality technology.
When faced with this lengthy a list of issues, it seems sensible to consider virtual reality as an area of technology best avoided. However, these drawbacks are generally rare and quite easily avoided by taking regular breaks and creating the optimum space for a safe gameplay experience. That being said, technology is never perfect, therefore it is always important to be aware of the potential risks posed by any device in order to make well-informed decisions for your own personal well-being.