Why VR’s Health Implications Scare the Sh** Out Of Me
We all worship at the alter of new technology. We’ve been doing it for decades. Gamers especially seem willing to accept all forms of new tech as an automatic progression, a one hundred percent positive, an exciting boon. Of course, there’s a reason why games now come with seizure warnings and why, despite early scoffing, video game addiction has become a very real thing.
Of course, I’m one of the first to defend one my favorite hobbies. No, I don’t believe playing violent games turns you into a violent person (though I do believe that if you have violent tendencies or other psychological issues, violent media of all kinds can indeed trigger forms of aggressive behavior). Yes, I understand seizures are rare and a remote possibility for most. And as for game addiction, it’s an addiction like anything else; I don’t believe video games are any more or less addictive than other hobbies that can really hook certain individuals.
That all being said, as I’ve grown older, I’ve started questioning more and accepting less. And as someone who really can’t sit in front of a screen all day without getting severe eye strain and headaches – extremely common complaints; just ask anybody who’s a little older and works on a computer all day, or opts to game all day – I’ve got my reservations about virtual reality. Serious reservations. It’s not merely that I’m not interested in this greatly updated form of immersive interactive entertainment. I’m not bashing it because I don’t want it. I worry that we have no tests or studies done to determine the possible damage this “grand” new tech could feasibly cause.
Look, this isn’t the VR from before. And this certainly isn’t sitting in a theater with 3D glasses. This is something very different and one has to question what the experience can do, especially to a still-developing brain and pair of eyes. Not long after 3D got big again in movies, doctors started recommending that children not be exposed to any 3D media for more than 90 consecutive minutes, as it can have major repercussions on developing eyesight. Furthermore, headaches and disorientation complaints have been understandably more frequent with stereoscopic 3D, in theaters or at home.
Now we’re taking this to a much higher level: We’re placing tiny screens directly before our eyes, and forcing both our eyes and brain to adapt to something the human brain might not be capable of adapting to. Or even if it is, the “growing pains” involved might be a lot steeper than people think. On top of which, if you think about it, do we really want to train our eyes and brain in this way? Everyone mocks the idea of people confusing reality for virtual reality but are we not on the path where the brain could, potentially, really have difficulty distinguishing between the two? Isn’t that the current path of technology? Isn’t that the ultimate goal of virtual reality?
How is that not frightening to anybody? The neural implications of this are staggering and if you ask certain members of the medical and mental health communities, they will voice the very same concerns. Remember the admittedly comical Tetris phenomenon decades ago, when people would see falling blocks wherever they went? Sure, we all laughed and really, how harmful is that, really? And of course, nobody was questioning their reality; Tetris blocks, first viewed on that tiny green GameBoy screen, can’t cause our brains to lose total touch with reality. But what could? What happens when we experience insanely realistic images that fool our brains into thinking they’re actually in existence?
One wonders what sort of flashes we might see when wandering around the world after extended periods of VR. One wonders what affect it could have on our dreams and possibly even our cognitive and rational mental processes. I’m sorry, but the idea that such tech can’t have any effect at all is both naive and dangerous. It absolutely can and will have an effect; the only questions are:
How pronounced and potentially damaging might these effects be, and how long could they last? Could we be talking permanent effects in some cases? The bottom line is we have no idea. Nobody does. And I’m not going to be even remotely surprised when, a year or two down the road, a few studies start popping up that prove the side effects of VR are not only real, but downright terrifying.
In the meantime, I choose not to experiment on my eyes and brain. You’re welcome to mock if you wish. But I absolutely guarantee that at some point, all VR units will be sold with a myriad of health warnings adorning the box, a few of which might shock consumers to read.