by Aastha Kaul
“Virtual reality” has always sounded like the content of a science fiction film, but suddenly, it is now becoming a reality. Virtual reality (VR) is a major technological innovation which allows the user to immerse himself in an alternate experience. The user could have afternoon tea in Paris with friends, and then go skiing through the Swiss Alps by evening. Deeply immersive games and movies currently exist for such devices, and are expected to become even more immersive in the future.
As virtual reality becomes more realistic and more affordable, people are expected to live their lives more virtually in the future. In 2014, Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook acquired Oculus VR, a virtual reality company, with the mission of making virtual reality “a part of daily life for billions of people”.
The concept of virtual reality certainly has many perks, such as new platforms for limitless exploration and social communication. However, these perks of the virtual world can satisfy so many social and psychological needs, that the user often feels no need to physically interact with society. With the ever-increasing rate of technological change in our society, it can seem as though VR is the obvious next step in this tech-friendly world. However, it may actually be a potential public health issue. For example, already far fewer children get enough physical activity because recreation now includes stationary activities, such as playing video games and watching TV. Virtual reality could not only further this lack of physical activity, but also reduce social skills in children. Additionally, research has shown that “participating in a violent VR game produced more aggressive thoughts than either watching this game or acting out the physical movements” (Calvert & Tan, 1994). This shows an obvious impact of violent virtual reality, similar to that of existing violent video games. Furthermore, VR is already more realistic than video games in that it allows for spatial immersion, such that the user can truly feel that he is somewhere else. This can mean dangerous deep immersion for the user, allowing him to escape his own life to delve into an unreal one. Of course, virtual reality certainly needs further research to fully escape its benefits and dangers.
Calvert, S. L., & Tan, S.-L. (1994). Impact of virtual reality on young adults’ physiological arousal and aggressive thoughts: Interaction versus observation. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 15, 125-139.