by Steve Risley
editor Joe Parker
For ages, many dreamed of the idea of virtual reality (VR). Television shows and movies have toyed with the concept for a while, only elevating the anticipation for virtual reality’s existence. In recent history, many companies have developed different goggles and gadgets to turn the concept into reality. Samsung, Google, Oculus, and Sony are some examples of companies who have rolled out virtual reality products and video games and it seems to just be the start. What exactly is VR? It is defined as a computer generated simulation of an environment that can be interacted with in a seemingly real or physical way. VR can’t be achieved without the use of a special headset or some other special equipment.
This technology essentially allows you to be the star of a movie or the main character in a video game, all while you sit in the comfortable confines of your living room. There are headsets that work with your mobile phone (Samsung VR, Google Daydream View) and then those that are tethered (Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, PlayStation VR). Samsung and Google use lenses that break up the display from your mobile phone into two images, allowing your smartphone to turn into a VR device. The tethered devices are connected to your computer or in Sony’s case, your PlayStation. This allows for a much more sophisticated experience, as the headset focuses solely on the display and the PC or PlayStation handles the rest. While VR devices were a hot product around the time of the holidays, I’m not sure if it is a good thing to buy for children. If people are already skeptical about the effects of TV, video games, and cell phones have on our children, VR has the potential to be much worse.
Some parents use these items as parenting tools. For example, a toddler may be restless at a restaurant. Some parents will hand over their cell phones to try to keep the kid distracted or amused. This is the first generation of kids growing up with smart phones, so we aren’t completely aware of the adverse effects they have on the developing brain. However, it is obvious that a kid that grew up without smartphones and a kid that grew up with them will develop differently. Parents already allow children to sit in front of the television for hours on end. This keeps them distracted and therefore makes life easier for the parent. Studies prove that watching too much TV literally changes the structure of a child’s brain. It also causes them to be more antisocial and also have higher risks of obesity and mental health issues. I fear that some children will be allowed to sit on the couch playing with virtual reality for so long that it will become their reality.
A child whose brain is still developing may not be able to differentiate the real world from the virtual one. Due to this, they will grow up with an altered view of the real world that they may never recover from. For kids that never knew of life before VR, it may very well become life for them. I feel as if this could lead to a higher risk for diseases such as schizophrenia or multiple personalities disorder. They already have applications that can take you into the mind of people with different disorders so it is easier to understand them. This could make children more susceptible to developing these disorders. I don’t believe that we should be so accepting of virtual reality until we fully understand what effects it can have on a developing brain. The product is so new that long term studies still need to be conducted to either prove or disprove these theories, but it is surely something to think about.