6 Potential Dangers of Virtual Reality

We’ve seen it happen a hundred times before: Whenever a new technology hits the market, people latch onto unfounded worries about how it will bring the end of civilization as we know it.

Some people worry the rise of virtual reality will cause everyone to exist in their own personal bubbles, isolated from the rest of society. That’s the same thing unimaginative worriers predicted with the rise of the Internet, not realizing that things like dating sites, social networking, and free, instant communication would actually link us closer together.

That said, VR does pose some actual problems that we can try to avoid by taking preventative measures.

1. Breaking expensive equipment

Believe it or not, when you strap a box over your eyes and swing your limbs around, you might hit something. You might even hit something expensive, seeing as you’re surrounded by pricy equipment when you use a VR headset. Products like the Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, and PlayStation VR cost hundreds of dollars on their own, and they require either a powerful computer or console to run, plus there’s probably a TV or monitor nearby.

It all adds up to hundreds or thousands of dollars’ worth of electronics just waiting to be knocked over by hapless VR players. Making matters worse, all of the headsets connect to your PC or console via a cable. Whip your arm the wrong way or wander too far from home base, and those cables could pull your expensive equipment to the ground. And heaven forbid you have a beverage near this stuff. Just think of all the ways you could ruin your expensive gear.

2. Injuring yourself or others

What could be worse than breaking your equipment? Breaking yourself or those nearby. Moving through physical space while your brain thinks it’s in a virtual world can be fraught with danger. You might think you’re facing one way while you’re actually facing another. You could lose your balance and bash your head on the edge of a coffee table. You might step on your cat or punch your kid. Heck, your apartment could catch on fire and you might not notice until it’s too late.

I’m starting to sound like a crazy luddite here, but all this stuff is possible. That’s why whenever a company offers VR demos at trade shows, each participant has a handler nearby to make sure nothing goes wrong. But when you’re playing in the comfort of your own home, unless you have a saintly spouse, you’re not likely to have anyone watching your every move. Bad things could happen.

3. Looking like an idiot

Beyond the physical dangers are the emotional ones. For instance, let’s say you’re fully absorbed in a game that pits you against invading aliens that come at you from all angles. In your head, you’re a futuristic soldier protecting your planet. In reality, you’re standing in a room waving your arms, turning this way and that, frantically fending off … nothing at all. Anyone who sees you playing will just see a clumsy oaf whirling around like a moron.

4. Getting pranked

Playing VR games means warding yourself off from the real world. Your vision is obstructed by the headset and your hearing is blocked by noise-canceling headphones. This is a great way to immerse yourself in a virtual world, but it’s also a great way to leave yourself open to pranks from roommates, family members, and so-called friends.

Some people are willing to do mean and embarrassing things to get a laugh. Playing VR games means leaving yourself open to the whims and jokes of the people you otherwise trust. You might even be pranked when trying it out in a mall, like in the video above.

5. Dizziness and nausea

Perhaps a more common problem is the very real issue of motion sickness caused by some VR games. Some people are more prone to it than others, but a few players have reported feeling dizzy, nauseous, and disoriented when they emerge from VR into the real world. Some players report these feelings sticking around for hours after they’ve taken off the headset.

6. It’s expensive

To top it all off, the first wave of VR headsets is expensive, so it’s going to put a dent in your finances no matter which one you choose. The Oculus Rift costs $600 — and that’s not including the $900-plus computer it requires to run it. The HTC Vive costs $800 out of the box, not counting the PC. Sony’s PlayStation VR will be cheaper, but still $500, and will still require a PlayStation 4 console. The bottom line is this: Don’t buy a VR headset unless you can afford it.

The tech companies making these headsets are aware of these issues, and are presumably working on fixes. Surely some future iteration of the hardware will cost less and will be able to warn us before we punt a cat or knock over a lamp, making the experience a little safer.

In the meantime, be safe out there, VR gamers. It’s an exciting new world, but it comes with some legitimate dangers. Knowing what they are is half the battle.

Follow Chris on Twitter @_chrislreed
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