Simply Nerdy Mom: Are VR Games Safe For Kids?

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Are VR Games Safe For Kids?


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VR headsets are becoming an increasingly popular tool for gaming. Not only are there devices for desktop computers and consoles (usually priced more than $200), but a range of much cheaper products for mobile and tablet. 


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The falling price is making VR more accessible than ever before. As the cost of some devices declines to just $50, more and more parents are considering whether to buy their children VR headsets. 

Forward-thinking parents might think that VR headsets are a good idea. One reason is that they’re likely to become an essential interface in the future. It pays, therefore, to get kids acquainted with them at an early age. Many of today’s design and manufacturing jobs already utilize some forms of virtual or augmented reality on a regular basis, meaning that it could become an important tool in the future. 

Then there’s the fun factor. Playing with a VR headset is like nothing else. Suddenly you’re transported to a virtual world that is utterly immersive and convincing. The possibilities for gaming and creativity are quite remarkable. It’s something that children should be able to experience if they want to. 

Finally, VR headsets have the potential to provide children with profound educational experience. VR gives kids the opportunity to perform experiments in virtual labs that would never be possible at school and view recreations of historical events in immersive surroundings. 

Many parents, however, have concerns about letting their children use VR headsets. In this article, we’re going to take a look at the dangers and ask what parents can do to mitigate them. 


Children May Not Be Able To Distinguish VR From The Real World

Children have a famously weak capacity to distinguish between reality and other simulations. Throughout human history, it’s children who have borne the brunt of nightmares, not adults. Kids often fail to understand that a dream is just a dream and can’t hurt them in any physical sense. 

The same confusion, however, may pertain to simulated realities, like those available in VR. Kids may not be able to tell that the reality of the virtual world is of a very different nature to that of the real world and that the same rules don’t apply. While it may be possible to run through a wall in VR, it’s not in real life. 

Is there any evidence that young children think that their VR experiences are “real?” In 2009, a study conducted on elementary kids hooked them up to a VR system where they simulated the experience of swimming with orcas. The children knew that they were doing so with the help of a VR headset and that the orcas were programmed, but that didn’t stop them from reporting to researchers a week later that they had, in fact, swam with killer whales last Monday. 



VR Headsets May Strain Kids’ Eyes

Games like Firmament VR require a lot of focus and concentration. Kids need to be able to watch their surroundings with a keen eye if they want to progress to the next stage. But could eye strain be a problem on VR? 

The answer is, maybe. At the moment, VR manufacturers have put a lot of effort in to make VR displays look and feel natural. When you turn your head, the display moves with you, without delay. Each VR headset also contains two screens, one for each eye, feeding you with a stereoscopic vision - what humans have naturally. 

The problem is that today’s mass-market headsets are designed for the eyes of adults, not children. The “interpupillary distance” or the distance between pupils, is greater on headsets than is suitable for kids, which could lead to dizziness and blurriness of images, making it hard to focus. 


Could VR Cause Seizures?

Eye strain isn’t a particularly big deal if you sort it out quickly, but seizures could be potentially life-threatening. Do VR headsets cause them? 

In-house research by the Facebook-owned VR headset maker Oculus suggests that as many as one in four thousand headset users could experience some form of seizure while in virtual reality. The reason for the seizures, the company claims, is that VR headsets deliver light patterns and flashing lights which could have a similar effect to other forms of media. 

If you know that your child has epilepsy or a similar condition, then it’s worth remembering that VR headsets are very much like the TV or computer and need to be monitored. Headsets have powerful backlights which light up their screens, providing the images that the user sees.



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