VR Revolution: Am I the Only One With Serious Concerns?

We should be a little more worried about how extended exposure to VR will affect us...

Oculus Rift. Sony's new "Project Morpheus" VR tech for the new generation. The gaming world is all atwitter with talk of a brave new world.

Sony R&D boss Dr. Richard Marks says virtual reality will eventually become the "preferred medium" in the gaming industry, and the supporters claim an all new level of immersion and absorption.

I have no doubt that all of that is true. Unfortunately, I have serious reservations about the potential impact of VR on humans. There's no knowing what could happen, especially to individuals who may have other problems (both mental and physical). Games have seizure warnings now; what will VR games have...?

The risk is unknowable and therefore terrifying

Mankind has never seen anything like this before. Virtual reality has been around for a while, of course, but the technology was extremely limited compared to what we see in Oculus Rift and the upcoming Project Morpheus. I mean, Virtual Boy was mostly a joke. These new units, however, are something very different and in truth, I believe a lot of research needs to be conducted before these things go on sale.

Remember when 3D movies were coming back into vogue (again, new technology creating a very new experience), and experts were issuing warnings all over the place? Many recommended that nobody under the age of seven should even see 3D because it can mess with the still-developing eyes. They also said everyone should limit their 3D viewing to no more than an hour and a half at once, and even that can cause problems. For instance, I always got a headache when watching a 3D movie.

What will a VR headset do? Migraine? Worse?

Not sure we should be screwing around with the brain

Despite all the advancements we've made, we still have no idea what certain portions of the brain even do. We're not even sure what our current tech does; I'm convinced that prolonged exposure to certain forms of video-related entertainment, especially for youngsters, can and does have some sort of impact on the brain. It'll vary widely depending on the individual but I feel it's unavoidable. We just don't notice it.

Virtual reality is attempting to trick our senses. Of course, we're not about to lose touch with reality. We'll know what we're seeing is fictional. At the same time, the technology is doing its damnedest to convince every last one of our senses that in fact, what we're seeing is solid and tangible. This means eventually, if VR goes far enough, the brain will be the only thing left that keeps us grounded in reality. ...and I'm just not sure a brain that confused - and yes, I think you can confuse it - will always be able to tell the difference.

Think we're jaded and desensitized now? ... look the hell out

They say that due to increasingly violent and visceral imagery, complemented by better and better technology that makes all of it seem more real than ever before, we are a jaded society. We have desensitized individuals that don't fully understand the sanctity of human life. We have people growing up whose first reaction is to laugh or simply shrug their shoulders at the most extreme depiction of violence possible.

Yeah, I say it's obvious that we're like this because of our entertainment. That's clear. So, what happens when that entertainment makes it look just as real as anything around us? Will we be shocked by anything anymore? The harder developers have to work to shock us, the more insane that imagery will get, and it's a slippery slope, as we've already seen.

I know people will say, "Oh, but we'll use virtual reality for enlightening, educational, and empowering things, too." Yes, all of that exists in all forms of entertainment now. But that's not what's causing the problems; what's causing the problems resides at the other end of the spectrum, and it's only getting worse.

I'll abstain, thank you

I'm sure I'll be called a dinosaur. I imagine people will scoff at my fears. However, when I look around at the world today, and I see an increasingly unstable, unintelligent, less emotional populous than humanity has ever seen, I know what to avoid. I feel it deep down, like a gut feeling. I know that in many ways, highly advanced technology is turning us into robots, but not the smart, omnipotent robots of science-fiction; rather, the dull, stupid, can-barely-move-a-broom-around-a-floor sort of robot. When reality can't provide us with sensations that have any impact, and we have to rely on virtual reality to arouse us, it's all over.

I'm not saying that will happen. I'm not trying to be an alarmist. That said, I choose to avoid VR like the plague and in fact, in the future, I may avoid those who use VR on a frequent basis. If you happen to be one of them, let me apologize in advance and say: "Nothing personal. ...if you even know what 'personal' means, anymore."

If you need me, I'll be outside.

Featured Columnist

A gaming journalism veteran of 14 years, a confirmed gamer for over 30 years, and a lover of fine literature and ridiculously sweet desserts.

Published Mar. 19th 2014
  • sindre_6321
    People have been having concerns about new tech everytime there is something as big as this on the horizon. Television would make you go blind, mobilephones would make you sterile... I think the vr revolution should go on and then we will just see what happens. If everything works out fine it will be one helluva awsome medium,
  • James_5304
    Moved..since I posted in the wrong reply area ;)
  • Fathoms_4209
    Featured Columnist
    Casinos create thousands of jobs, too, but they turn out to be economic cancers and utterly destroy surrounding areas. In the end, far more people suffer than benefit.

    That's the danger of looking at things in a cut-and-dry fashion. ;)

    And it isn't silly at all that I think there will be physical and mental issues associated with VR. It's absolutely inevitable, in fact. I suppose people thought it was "silly" that video games could cause seizures, too, and now, years later, we have warnings for that. People probably think it's "silly" that incessantly moving video entertainment - like games - contributes to or even causes attention deficit disorders. And yet, I'm 100 percent certain that they do.

    I'm all for innovation and I'm glad developers like the idea of trying new things with VR. I just won't be part of it.
  • Ivan Mashkov
    Your fears are not unreasonable. New tech always amplifies existing problems and brings them to the fore. Video games today are responsible for some ills, however, overall, they have a positive influence.

    VR is the new frontier and it will blur the line between reality and a virtual world, but most of us will understand that we are just playing a game. We'll have a controller in your hand among other reminders. If you can't tell the difference between reality and a virtual world, then you don't need a Morfeus or Oculus Rift.
  • Hobo With A Keyboard
    Featured Contributor
    "However, when I look around at the world today, and I see an increasingly unstable, unintelligent, less emotional populous than humanity has ever seen, I know what to avoid."

    I'm not sure, although I see exactly what you're saying in terms of intelligence, a vast bulk of people have always been uneducated and unintelligent. We're certainly the laziest generation to date however. But we're probably the most emotionally connected generation in many ways. Maybe that's in my own social bubble, but when you think of the stiff upper lip generation of say the 50s, we're more in touch emotionally than ever, surely?

    I actually saw a video on youtube that touched on this, and it was as you were saying, trying to depict the level that the brain is essentially 'tricked' whilst in VR. It seems we're actually a long way from completely fooling the mind, but it is a fair point to say that we will become more engrossed in very realistic scenarios in VR gaming.

    I think more is to be said for the realism of graphics though. If you were to wear VR in say minecraft, I think that would be pretty innocent. If you're pitted into Vietnam and everything actually looks real, then that could potentially be scarring!

    Still, I'm all for the brave new world of gaming, and can't wait to see what it has to offer. After all, as individuals we can still choose to avoid this medium of gaming if shit gets too real.
  • Fathoms_4209
    Featured Columnist
    "Maybe that's in my own social bubble, but when you think of the stiff upper lip generation of say the 50s, we're more in touch emotionally than ever, surely?"

    No, absolutely not. The stigmas of the 50s are very often false; people in that generation were more communicative than we are now in many ways. Back then, I'm relatively certain individuals could communicate without shifting feet, wandering eyes, general mumbling etc. Our social capability is in the gutter right now.

    And the "choose to avoid" philosophy doesn't mean society will avoid the problems caused by it. We can choose to avoid fast food, too, but the health repercussions of that disgusting mess they call "food" is a big part of the reason we're in the health crisis of today.
  • James_5304
    Again, you lack any scientific data. That is what is silly. Equating Virtual Reality with casinos is a fallacy. There is no correlation whatsoever. Gambling is not related to playing video games (unless you're playing virtual poker). Show me a research paper stating physical side effects and I'll listen to you. My point is you are drawing conclusions based on no information. That is silly (and can be dangerous). We have enough people in the world running around talking about "what I think".. but they DON'T THINK, they just talk. Scientific knowledge, and scientific process is what more people need to think about. You're coming up with wild ideas on physical side effects of a product that's not even out yet.

    Social damage is another story. Of course our society is turning into a lonely place due to technology. Depression, alienation, and the destruction of "the community" are real problems. Which can be addressed. At the same time, the technology that's contributing (not causing) these problems is connecting people who would otherwise never communicate at all (IE global communication). Everything has it's positives and negatives. Also, the social awkwardness description you made; maybe you have been talking to the wrong people, but the people I talk to don't have difficulty communicating with me. They make eye contact, and their feet seem pretty happy not shifting. Your world view doesn't sum up the world.

    Blaming technology on social change is blaming the gun for killing the victim. We are responsible for how we live, and how we let children live etc. So VR is just another tool in the toolbox. Another toy in the toy chest. The world won't explode, and no one's head will either. People are going to play just as much (or as little) on their electronic devices. Adding VR won't change it by much. We're just switching from a flat panel screen to a 3D image via goggles.

    The cats out of the bag already and no ones getting it back in. Society is already hooked on phonics, so might as well accept it. I for one, don't believe that means we all need to abandon our gadgets. Simply take everything in moderation. As buddha said "The middle way"...everything in moderation.

    BTW the 50's also was a time when house wives were popping amphetamines, and their husbands were wasted by dinner time. Society was/is never perfect. Just saying.
  • Fathoms_4209
    Featured Columnist

    You know what's killing us? The complete and total lack of common sense and using our own brains to determine the reality of the world. We need "data" for everything. I'm waiting for the study that's necessary to "prove" that the sun is hot. "Thinking" has nothing to do with reading studies, thinking is THINKING. You know, the sort of thing you do on your own, which nobody is capable of doing any longer.

    Yes, and the "everything is okay provided it's in moderation" is the second tier of the destruction that's decimating society. No, not everything is okay in moderation. Some things aren't okay to begin with, a fact a certain regime in this country has decided to ignore for the sake of promoting laziness and stupidity. We take great pride in telling people it's okay to be idiots who leech off those who actually get up and do something.

    I'm tired of it. You can do your own research, if you must. You will find numerous studies linking various forms of modern entertainment to ADD and other disorders that never existed before. And yes, I'm aware of the "it existed but it just wasn't diagnosed" argument, which is crap. We created attention deficit disorders by putting a premium on inventions specifically designed to feed us information and stimuli at a faster and faster rate. What did we think would happen?

    That technology that "connects" us only separates us still further. It has led to the erosion of quality human communication. I've met people with decent communication skills, too; I've met nobody who could deliver a speech like John Erskine's "The Moral Obligation to be Intelligent," and for the most part, I've never encountered people who could even begin to understand it. Too slow-moving, too boring. Not enough stimuli...attention fading...what?...squirrel!

    It's why movies and television shows have completely chaotic cameras, where no single view stays in place for more than three seconds. It's because we can't sit still for more than three seconds. It's why kids are out of their MINDS these days; we're giving them smartphones, tablets, game consoles and Internet access at the freakin' age of 2. The likes of Adam Lanza and other completely insane mass murderers in recent years? We made them.

    You're right, the cat is already out of the bag. Doesn't give us any right to shrug our shoulders and go, "meh, oh well."

    BTW, the idea that all housewives in the 50s were "popping amphetamines" and all husbands were "wasted by dinner time" is just a pathetic smokescreen. No, it wasn't perfect. Nothing is ever perfect. But if you're so interested in studies and numbers, why don't you check crime rates in everyday suburbs from that time period, and then see if you can find a Columbine in 1955.

    Did you have metal detectors in your school when you were a kid? I didn't. Why? Because we were ignorant of what could happen? No, because it DIDN'T HAPPEN.
  • James_5304
    You seem to have an issue with attention as well. That, or comprehension. You take what I said and twist it. I didn't say "everything is okay in moderation", I said everything should be taken in moderation. That's a huge difference. Again, I never said ALL housewives were popping amphetamines. I said"when house wives were popping amphetamines, and their husbands were wasted by dinner time. Society was/is never perfect. Just saying." There's no ALL there.

    I was simply pointing to the fact that every time has it's own issues. Just like today not everyone is an idiot (or we wouldn't have technology), and not everyone confuses context in a sentence and draws illogical conclusions based on that.

    Wow, what does this even mean

    "You know what's killing us? The complete and total lack of common sense and using our own brains to determine the reality of the world. We need "data" for everything. "

    Really...that's what is killing us? Too many people asking for scientific data? Seriously..I'm really confused with your arguing style. It seems you shift your views/opinions based on the content being projected toward you. After saying everyone is becoming unintelligent, you think the problem is people are asking for PROOF.

    Yea thinking is thinking. That's probably the only thing you've said that has any value. Because what I was saying is that thinking isn't thinking...or wait was I saying that coming up with a list of side effects for something without any knowledge (Scientific, or otherwise) isn't thinking. I can't remember because I'm so unthinking. I lack common sense and therefore I try to apply the scientific method to a problem having to do with CAUSE and EFFECT..It's obviously the worst place to put that type of methodology. From now on I'll just sit down and apply news paper articles about other topics and start connecting them together with some new thing that has nothing to do with it. That's the common sense approach.

    Or I'd actually say common sense is knowing the difference between an opinion, and common sense.

    You grew up in a society where people weren't exposed to high velocity machine guns for sale at gun shows. You grew up in a society where children had parents. I didn't have that luxury since while inflation has been rising, wages are stagnant. Therefore to have the same quality of life, two people need to work for what one person was once able to achieve. What the generation after you lacked wasn't the peace and tranquility of no technology, what they lacked was a parent at home looking after them.

    Of course technology is contributing to physical ailments. However, you are saying that VR is inevitably going to do this and that. You have no way in seven hells of knowing that. You're pulling it out of no where. It really isn't defendable at all. But you persist and label it thinking/common sense.

    Rather than screaming the house is on fire, or just writing an article about it, maybe you should do something. If you really think the generation after you lacks social skills. Or that the community needs to be brought back together. Do something. Become a big brother and sponsor an at risk youth. Take some medication to control your wandering

    You're all over the place now. Yes crime rates are higher in some places, and in others they are way way down. Like NYC for example. Are you still blaming technology for that? Is that technologies fault? I seem to remember prohibition creating a huge spike in crime during the 20's...oh wait what's going on right now in our country for the last 30 years...The drug war. A war waged never ending on our own citizens creating black markets for gangs to bring in massive amounts of money, while militarizing the police force, and tearing apart minority families creating a perpetual cycle of criminal families.

    Society is a complex organism. There are countless causes to any one single statistic. But that my friend, is just common sense.

    Can I ask...do you happen to emphasize with the Tea Party?

    I apologize if my tone in this comment seems heightened. I attempted to match your last comment which seems to have gotten hostile.
  • Fathoms_4209
    Featured Columnist
    I don't have the time to get involved in a giant debate, so this is my last comment on this topic.

    Firstly, "moderation" is one of our famous slippery slopes. You say you don't mean "everything in moderation" when in fact, for most people, they mean precisely that.

    Secondly, yes, the reliance upon data - very often seriously flawed for a variety of reasons - is crippling independent thought processes. We need a study for everything. And if we don't have one, we're not allowed to make any assertions. This discourages people from thinking for themselves, increases reliance upon random data sets (do the exact same study twice and you can easily come up with different results), and in general, fosters laziness on a grand scale. "Nothing is true unless someone tells us it is!"

    Inflation is rising; wages are not stagnant. I know what my father made when I was a kid. They're not "stagnant;" they simply haven't risen as quickly as inflation. Yes, two people need to work now. That is not an excuse for parents to not be parents. This is all you're doing, by the way: Looking for excuses to condone anything and everything because the world is the way it is. Brilliant solution, by the way.

    It's hardly the generation after me that lacks social skills. It's mine as well. It's the one before me. It's a steady decline in traits like charisma, charm, etc. No, technology is not at fault for everything, but you know what? There was a time in human history when we prioritized intelligence; we rewarded great artists in the realms of painting, literature, music, architecture, etc. What do we have now? Do we have a Tolstoy? Do we have a Frank Lloyd Wright? Do we have a Mozart? Do we have a Michelangelo? Did you know that Hawthorne's "The House of Seven Gables" was intended for teens of the time? ...most ADULTS can't read that book today. What sort of commentary is that? Do you have an explanation?

    No, and we may never know such genius again. The latest tablet is not "genius," by the way.

    We've decided such people and such creations are meaningless; instead, we've opted for faster and dumber, which is what technology is best at. We have no idea how to enrich our lives anymore. We don't enrich them by staring at a screen. We enrich them by drinking in that which challenges us, motivates us, and invokes great emotion. Instead, we'd rather preach about how dysfunction isn't actually dysfunction, how everything is "okay" and everything is a "choice," and how the person to our left is every bit as important as ourselves.

    The drug war? We did it. We screwed it up. Crime rates down in NYC? Compared to when? 1975 or 1875? Nothing is ever perfect, then or now, but I've done my research in eras long past. I use my eyes to determine the reality of things present, because I live in it. I compare the two and you know what? It isn't hard. Me joining some club to help kids who are being bombarded on a daily basis with everything I mention here...? Won't do much good, unfortunately.

    Lastly, it's either "empathize" or "sympathize" with the Tea Party; not "emphasize." And it's irrelevant anyway, as I'm an individualist and not affiliated with any given party or group.

    You may reply if you wish; I won't read it. I've got a million projects right now and I'm over-tired so I'm done.
  • Kate Reynolds
    Senior Intern
    I think the one point you really nailed was that in may desensitize us further to real life. I couldn't imagine having to play, let's say Tomb Raider, in Virtual Reality. That near-rape scene would be so traumatizing. Conversely, if I were playing any GTA game, going around kill people and running from the police how de-sensitized could that make people?

    While the studies are currently muddled and unclear about the way normal media interacts with our psyche, there is the fear that virtual relaity could have such a stronger impact. I'd never thought of that before - so thanks for the thought
  • Corey Kirk
    Featured Columnist
    um I would like to disagree on one point in your article... The Virtual Boy was a complete joke.

    That is all. :D
  • Fathoms_4209
    Featured Columnist
    Well, in terms of "virtual reality," it was. :)

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