Are there any neg­a­tives to VR?

DAN STAINES looks at the real risks posed by a vir­tual fu­ture

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Don­ning the gog­gles and ex­pe­ri­enc­ing vir­tual re­al­ity (VR) for the first time is a pow­er­ful ex­pe­ri­ence. “It’s dif­fer­ent from any­thing I’ve ever ex­pe­ri­enced in my life,” said Face­book CEO Mark Zucker­berg of his first time with the Ocu­lus Rift. Cliff Bleszin­ski, for­mer de­sign di­rec­tor at Epic Games and god­fa­ther of the Un­real en­gine, de­scribed his first time with the Vive head­set in breath­less, evan­gel­i­cal sound­bites. “I was nearly in tears at one point,” he tweeted. “Pure magic. Next level stuff. Mind blown.”

Zucker­berg and Bleszin­ski talk about VR in terms usu­ally re­served for acid trips and ec­stasy highs: an in­tense and trans­for­ma­tive ex­pe­ri­ence, un­like any­thing else you’ve ever done. But what if the char­ac­ter­is­tics of VR that make it so se­duc­tive and pow­er­ful – the sense of pres­ence, of im­mer­sion and agency – am­plify its po­ten­tial to cause real psy­cho­log­i­cal harm? We know what reg­u­larly get­ting high on acid or ec­stasy will do to some­one over the years; the same cannnot be said of reg­u­lar VR use.

Don’t worry – drug anal­ogy not­with­stand­ing, this isn’t go­ing to be a scare piece. It isn't my goal to frighten you off us­ing VR or to sug­gest that the tech­nol­ogy is in­her­ently de­struc­tive. My goal is to in­form: to con­dense what we know about the po­ten­tial haz­ards of VR into a di­gestible for­mat, so that you can make your own de­ci­sions about how to ap­proach the tech­nol­ogy. Zucker­berg and Bleszin­ski tell one side of the story; this is the side they haven't told you.

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