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Should VR games and applications have an extra layer of regulation?

VR side effects.jpg

Weng Dongdong, a professor and researcher at the Beijing Institute of Technology, warns that all virtual reality content should be regulated to protect public safety as well as VR consumers. Dongdong explained his reasoning to China Tech.

“All the side effects of consuming media become amplified when it comes to VR,” (referring to problems like children getting addicted to playing computer games or being traumatised by content of a violent or other nature). It also changes people’s perception and behaviour in the real world,” Dongdong explained.

If I understand it correctly, then virtual reality games undergo classification the same way other video games do. Should VR games have an extra layer of classification? The idea might sound absurd, but do we fully understand the impact of virtual reality on the human psyche? Dongdong's concern comes from an incident that happened after a scholar tested the sports car simulator at the Beijing Institute of Technology. The person caused a traffic accident immediately after the testing. Dongdong explains; “He got too used to the simulation and hit the gas too aggressively while driving.”

Here's an interesting fact - "There are currently over 2,000 location-based virtual reality entertainment zones in mainland China," states Kevin Geiger from the 2016 China/US motion picture summit. That's a lot of VR centres, and I can sympathize with Dongdong's concern about the possible fallout of VR - especially in China. If you don't understand the concern, give this a read; "Death by gaming: an investigation into the Taiwan café fatalities" by Eurogamer.

However, the complications that could come from virtual reality gaming (and other uses) are not limited to China. Remember this comment from an interview between GamesRadar and Sony President Shuhei Yoshida? “Originally, when the Sony London team was making the London Heist demo, they had the ability for you to shoot yourself. You could point your gun at yourself. And that felt wrong - it was too stressful - so they removed it. The medium is so powerful, so we need to be careful with what we provide.” 

A lot has been said about the dangers of video games addiction and other possible psychological side effects (positive & negative). The concern is that with VR immersion goes to a whole new level. Have enough studies been done to track the mental, emotional and physical side effects? That being said, I am not suggesting that VR games/applications need heavy regulation - but it does need educated decisions. Last year we talked to two local game developers about the possible dangers of VR - and both had some serious concerns, check it out here.

Luckily VR is still in its early development stages, and it will probably be some time before we play games that are so advanced it blurs the line between reality and fiction. On the other hand, I don't think we should take Dongdong's warning lightly. Imagine the scenario where a person who already struggles with say depression or violent behavior plays a VR game, and he or she is having a really bad day.

Where will that VR experience take them? Where will it take any of us?

What about playing horror games on VR, extremely violent games, or sexually explicit games? Are the health risks being calculated and documented with each game release? When we tested the Oculus at the MCave Desmond reported how it sometimes made him nauseous. I have a condition where my five senses are in a constant state of "hypersensitivity" - how will playing a VR game affect me? What about people with eye problems? The list goes on and on. My suggestion on how to make VR "safer" would be to include those details with each game and app. So, proper testing should be done, much like games undergo quality control tests.

What do you think - Is there a reason for concern, or will VR games be just like playing any other game? Before you make up your mind, take a look at the video below where Ana Serrano (Chief Digital Officer of the Canadian Film Centre) talks about "Life inside the bubble of a virtual reality world."

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"The medium is so powerful, so we need to be careful with what we provide"

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