Virtual Reality: What Are the Coming Concerns?

David Becker/Getty Images

Virtual reality (VR) will be the future of gaming, and it already has some people concerned. There’s a generational gap forming between older and younger folks over what this new medium will do to our minds: Will we become ghosts in the machine or murderous psychopaths after playing too many death matches in Call of Duty? There are further questions involving concerns about sex and murder simulators, and potential risk for addiction to the virtual world. But these questions have already been asked in the past about rock and roll music, comic books, movies, video games, and virtual reality systems of the ’90s.

Opinions have changed about most of those items, but video games remain a hot-button issue. VR is just another cause to bring up past concerns. Because graphics have advanced considerably, one could argue that players would be more immersed in these VR systems than the 8-bit ones of the past. The barrier to entry is also lower – a few hundred dollars rather than a few thousand dollars to own a VR accessory — which makes it accessible to any youth with a paper route who may want one.

Various news outlets and key figures in the video game industry have expressed concerns that may or may not be relevant to today’s advancements. Past arguments against VR, like addiction and isolation, are still topics at the forefront of some people’s minds. These ideas haven’t quite made it into the mainstream media. Once the Oculus Rift and Sony’s Project Morpheus VR headsets make landfall in stores, there’s no doubt the blame game will point to the newest cultural fad when anything bad happens. But correlation doesn’t mean causation. Remember: Pinball machines were once banned in major U.S. cities because of the harmful effects they may or may not have been causing on our nation’s youth.

There are a few talking points consumers should be aware of — if you aren’t already — and how you need to ready yourself for the coming new wave. Whether you’re a parent or an early adopter, these are the kinds of topics that sensationalists and lawmakers will want to discuss.

Video games becoming a drug

“So video games are addictive — this we know,” writes Forbes contributor Steven Kotler. People do enjoy video games because they like the reward it offers: exploring a new fantasy world, seeing an achievement pop up on Xbox, or completing a story. The same could be said for books and movies to a certain extent (sans achievements). But some believe that VR will become so addictive that the experiences in a virtual reality world will produce a far greater sense of reward than being in the real world.

About 20 years ago, journalists pondered if VR was going to become a kind of electronic LSD. Anyone diving into a lifestyle of addiction or obsession, whether it be drugs, shopping, video games, or hoarding, likely has a deeper problem brewing. Addiction takes many forms, and escaping into any hobby means parents or friends should at least take note. For some, video games have helped people cope and deal with gender identity while others have immersed themselves such activities to help with tragedies. Friends and parents should be aware of moderation, as with any medium.

Real-world emigration

Nintendo’s Shigeru Miyamoto sees isolation when he looks at virtual reality machines. He wants nothing to do with them or integrating them into the Wii U system. Others see dystopian visions of couch potatoes hooked up to the Internet, glued to seats with a headset strapped on their face as the shell of what once was a person thrives in a virtual world, like in the comic book and movie Surrogates. It’s rather depressing.

While technology has advanced quite a ways, the current bend of video games isn’t toward realism in a lot of cases. There isn’t a need to replace your world with a virtual one in the gaming community. There are extreme cases, like people who get so immersed into StarCraft or Diablo that they die of dehydration. These cases point back to psychological issues dealing with addiction and learning moderation. Virtual reality isn’t to the point, even now, where we could replace reality.

Sex and murder sims 

Porn and violence always seem to be big topics of conversation and concern when any new device crops up. Yes, there are sex simulators for video games out there, and porn producers have said they’re already working on VR versions. Violent war games take a backseat to porn, and they are more socially acceptable — save for when something bad happens, then game libraries are often scrutinized.

“It’s impossible to control those kinds of things. You just have to accept it,” said Palmer Luckey, Oculus VR founder, to GamesBeat. “If you’re an open platform that lets people build anything — then people are going to build anything. And you can’t be surprised when people make a thing that you didn’t make or maybe you prefer didn’t exist.”

What you enable to come into your house and how you moderate it is in part your responsibility to educate yourself. Parents need to keep in touch with technology and understand where certain media comes from and knowing what you’re allowing your children to purchase. Xbox and Sony’s marketplaces are highly regulated. You’d be hard-pressed to find any porn, and ESRB ratings help parents gauge the age-appropriate range for games.

More From Wall St. Cheat Sheet: