Virtual reality (VR) has made a splash in the gaming world, with companies like Meta, PlayStation, Valve, HTC, and HP getting in on the action and working to create innovative headsets that truly make you feel like you’ve entered into a digital world. Even Nintendo has its own entry-level virtual reality headset, but Microsoft, a large company that makes the popular Xbox gaming consoles, has yet to get in on the fun of a virtual world.
A virtual reality headset blocks out your surroundings, displaying a three-dimensional world of images that create the simulation. This process makes users feel like they have actually stepped into the simulated scene, and they can interact with it. Players use motion controls or body movements to manage the experience. Moving the head to look around causes the scene to pan accordingly. With most systems, users are able to pick up simulated objects and interact with characters.
Sometimes, the tracking capability of the headsets doesn’t register motion quickly or accurately enough within the virtual environment. When this happens, users can experience a syndrome called virtual reality sickness. Symptoms include losing balance, feeling dizzy and nauseous, sweating, and looking pale. Very sensitive people might begin to feel these symptoms within only a moment or two of using a virtual reality system. Feelings of motion sickness happen due to discrepancies between what players see and what they feel. After playing with virtual reality, some people also feel temporary changes in their manual dexterity, with their sensor, motor, and perceptual abilities diminished. Other dangers with virtual reality can occur for those who play in a crowded space. While wearing a VR headset, it’s impossible to see your real surroundings. Thus, it’s common for people to trip, fall, or run into real objects around them.
Many manufacturers have designated an age range for users that starts at age 12 or 13. Children are often eager to try virtual reality, especially when older family members regularly play these games. However, kids may not be able to adequately recognize and communicate symptoms of VR sickness if they occur. For this reason, it’s best to allow young children to use a virtual reality system only under careful adult supervision and only for a few minutes at a time.
If virtual reality sickness sets in, stop using the device immediately. Take a break from the game for one or two hours to enable the body to recover and re-adapt to the real world. Don’t attempt to drive or use heavy equipment or machinery within two hours of playing a virtual reality game. Some experts suggest that players should take a 15-minute break for every 30 minutes of play, even if symptoms aren’t a problem. Avoid playing virtual reality games within two hours of sleep time due to the excessive amounts of blue light emitted from the headsets, which can disrupt circadian rhythms. Some people have specific vulnerabilities that make virtual reality potentially dangerous. People with epilepsy, who suffer motion sickness or balance problems, who get migraines, who have implanted medical devices, and who are pregnant should not play virtual reality games. Some manufacturers also suggest that playing while overly fatigued, intoxicated, or sick is not a good idea because virtual reality may exacerbate symptoms.