Is VR bad for children?

It depends what ‘bad’ means in this context. Too much of anything is bad so the question should perhaps be ‘how much VR is bad for children?’ There is a both a physical and mental aspect to this question. Physically, one would question what the impact is on the eyesight of a developing child when using VR. Or perhaps there are the physical trauma injuries that can be sustained during a particular fight with a ‘zombie’. From a psychological standpoint, does too much VR cause children to become detached from reality and affect their cognitive abilities when returning to the ‘real world’?

The Physical dangers of VR

Eyesight is the number one issue that people discuss. This is not limited to VR, but to all types of screen. Do you end up with square eyes for watching too much TV? How long is too long playing on your latest computer game staring at  a screen? There is a confusing amount of information both for and against screen time and/or VR. The problem is that any studies that are carried out take a long time to review. How is the eyesight of an adult who started using VR at the age of 10? Well, that is of course impossible to know until VR has actually been in the mainstream for at least 10years. VR companies do err on the side of caution however, with age warnings on their devices. They certainly don’t want any lawsuits arriving in the future because they have ruined little Johnny’s vision. We must remember the warning labels we sometimes see on bags of nuts- ‘This product may contain nuts.’ The truth is when it comes to VR and long term effects then we really do not know. Will it pan out to be similar to what has gone before regarding TV, PC, laptop, ipad, phones. All devices have their warnings, but most of us will use them a LOT of the time. When it comes to allowing a child to use any device such as  VR then that should be a parents choice and responsibility. 

Physical harm from falls and trips.

This is a genuine danger and should not be ignored. People get hurt all the time whilst experiencing VR. Maybe after a couple of drinks they are imaging themselves as Rocky and end up punching the wall or worse, someone who crosses the room to pick up a book. Now, as adults we are always (well most of us anyway) aware that we are in VR. I know that there is no zombie in front of me, however for a child everything is far more real. A friend of mine heard a big bang and crying only to turn around and see that their daughter was lying on the floor. She said ‘I went to lean on the table, but it wasn’t there.’ Luckily this was a scare and no damage was done, but it does illustrate very well how immersed a child can become making food for the hungry customers in the restaurant!

Psychological harm from VR?

Some of this is pretty much common sense. Fo example, you would not immerse a child into a war zone such as Call of Duty type VR games. There is a clear difference between 18 rated 2D games and 18 VR games.  Despite gaming in general having 18 certificates, it doesn’t seem to stop many children playing games like grand theft auto which are very graphic. However, something like this in VR is a different level. Clicking on a few buttons of a gamepad to dismember someone is one thing, to actually feel like you grip their arms and rip them off is another thing altogether. This could do some serious mental damage to youngsters who experience this on a regular basis. Who can say how it will make them behave going about their own ‘real’ lives in the future. This is something only parents can police and it is up to them to know what their children are doing in order to keep them from harm. 

The other type of harm can come through chat rooms and social VR. At the moment the demographic is one of middle aged reasonably sensible people. VR is not cheap (not yet) so despite being 300 or so dollars it tends to be the PC required that is the stumbling point. People who are not already gamers and want to try VR will be looking at 1000+ to spend up front. Children make up a minority at the moment, but this is growing rapidly. Newer systems such as the Oculus Quest come in at 399 dollars and do not require a powerful pc. This is what is going to make the market grow more rapidly and as such, many more children will enter the VR world. The levels of trolling and abuse in normal online 2D interactive devices is bad enough, but that could become hugely significant in VR. The developers must be very careful here and my worries are the social dangers will outweigh any of the physical dangers if they are not policed properly.