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Virtual Reality: How Safe is the Technology?

By Dick Weisinger

If you did something that caused symptoms like nausea, queasiness, cold sweats, dizziness, headache, and fatigue, would you do it? Virtual Reality is the activity that can bring about these symptoms.

Thomas Stoffregen, a kinesiologist at the University of Minnesota, told Inside Science that “with contemporary commercially available Virtual Reality (VR) systems, the incidence of motion sickness after only 15 minutes is anywhere from 40 to 70 percent.” And some VR simulations can induce sickness in almost 100 percent of the people who use them. Some people call it ‘cybersickness’.

While technology companies are strongly trying to push the idea of ‘the metaverse’, many in the public are skeptical. 35 percent worry about the health implications, and in particular, 29 percent of people worry that they will experience VR cybersickness.

There are many factors that can affect the level of severity and duration of VR cybersickness. The factors include gender, stress levels, and length of exposure. VR cybersickness can last for up to four hours.

When users wear VR headsets incoming light focuses on the the retina in the back of your eye. The VR image display is very close to the eye and causes the eye to be strained as it focuses on the image. The VR headset is equipped with a complex array of lenses to help avoid the problem. If there is even a very small mismatch in how the light travels and the lenses are configured, the user might experience eye strain, dizziness, and headache.

VR cybersickness is a top priority for VR headset makers in order to achieve user acceptance. But there could be other problems too.

Niclas Braun, the head of the Virtual Reality Therapy and Medical Technology research group at the University of Bonn, in a study found that “half an hour of VR use can induce mild symptoms of depersonalization and derealization, which, however, do not reach clinically significant levels and are only evident directly after VR use.” If the level of and portrayal of violence already used in video games is carried over into the design of VR games, there are also societal questions about the safe use of VR that need to be addressed.

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