I love VR gaming. That first experience of strapping on a headset and diving into a 3D gaming environment is quite surreal. But my interest for VR is no longer limited to the games industry. I’m more so interested in VR technology and how it could impact lives. That’s not to say our current hardware is mediocre in any way. A quick look at the timeline of VR technology shows incredible advances. The Sensorama is considered by many as the first “VR headset.” See how far we’ve come?
Unfortunately, VR is mainly associated with VR gaming. But it’s more than just a play space. It could be an excellent source of improving one’s quality of life. It could be used for educative purposes and could change the way in which we experience media, all while remaining in the safety of our homes. In this short piece, I’ll be highlighting some of the ways in which VR impacts contemporary society in meaningful ways that go beyond VR gaming.
VR is a safe, digitally constructed virtual experience and works well with psychological intervention. We are out of harm’s way and able to shut off experiences with the press of a button. This allows us to explore fears or phobias in carefully regulated environments, and some therapists are realising this.
Systematic desensitisation is the process in which patients, with the help of a therapist, are slowly exposed to phobias until they are comfortable being around said fear. Take my fear of spiders (It’s perfectly normal!). A therapist could have me take a look at pictures of spiders. This could then be followed by me holding a toy spider, and hopefully by the last session, I could hold an actual spider in real life.
Am I going to do this? No, because anything with more than 4 legs should not exist. But that’s not the point. Many therapists are combining systematic desensitisation with VR as a means of helping patients conquer fears. The best thing about VR is how hyper-realistic and, at the same time safe, the experience is. If anyone can conquer their fear in VR, they could transfer said skills into the real world.
VR is also useful in helping those who have experienced forms of stroke, spinal chord injury and multiple sclerosis. There are many professional businesses that help those seeking physical therapy with VR technology. Physiotherapy exercises combined with VR gaming is a lot more engaging than traditional physio exercises. And thanks to the applications being digital and downloadable, those who are unable to attend sessions due to mobility disabilities could utilise applications in the comfort of their homes.
VR hardware is quite expensive right now and no easy task to set up. Wires, cameras, controllers and sensors aren’t at peak user friendliness right now. But as the tech industry advances and usability issues are fine tuned, the hardware is more likely to get cheap and hopefully become less of a hassle to set up. Here’s to hoping that VR will in the future be a household item, unrelated to VR gaming.
School often features at the bottom of the list in terms of general popularity for many children. One of the main reasons for this is how we are taught lessons in class. We’re required to absorb a ton of information from different subjects via books, presentations or Q&A interactions with teachers. Understandably, it’s difficult for some children to stay engaged in class. But an important factor that contributes to how our mind retains information and remains engaged is the way in which we learn.
The power of VR merged with education is something that could benefit many children struggling to concentrate in class. This was something I personally experienced during a history test in which I remembered information not from class, but from an Assassin’s Creed game. As the VIVE video above demonstrates, virtually visiting locations and interacting in an immersive world could certainly teach a thing or two to people in an enjoyable way.
It’s not just about having fun (wow, I sound old). Beyond all the interactive gaming sides to VR, it could also be a better way of learning simply because of the way in which information is visually presented. Some people, including myself, learn better with colours, graphs, charts and sketches. Take the digestive system for example. Reading about each section is certainly vital but visually processing it could allow you to encode information in a different way. VR and education is a perfect match and something generations could benefit from in the future.
Training & Work
We talked about VR and how it’s a safe virtual environment, which leads onto another point: training and work. We learn by making mistakes, but some jobs have little room for error. For example, learning how to pilot a plane, performing surgery or even security operations. Any occupation in which a life is at risk is perfect for VR training. Thankfully, this is something that many sectors of various industries have been employing, as seen above.
VR is also perfect for creating emergency scenarios. Evacuating buildings, fire hazard training, basically all safety procedures could be better demonstrated via VR in an immersive way. The difference between a staged fire emergency at work, in comparison to a more serious seeming virtual scenario is huge. As said before, knowing exactly what to do in a hyper-realistic VR setting could naturally lead to the transferring of skills over to the real world, rather than simply gaming.
Films, musical concerts and sporting events have all started to benefit from VR and its immersive side. While it remains relatively new, VR and the way we experience media will completely change in time. VR could be a common household item in the future, and the more the entertainment industry explores VR hardware, the more likely it results in unique experiences.
Another incredible side to VR and its adaptation to live events is the awesome options it provides to people with mobility disabilities or psychological conditions. Many who are confined to remaining indoors unfortunately do not get to experience live events. But VR’s immersive options allow people to capture some of the essence of live performances while remaining in comfortable environments.
VR is the Future
If the article was any indication, I’m a big VR guy. Many people still aren’t sold on VR and initially, neither was I. But I’ve really fallen in love with the tech and believe that it could provide life changing experiences for many. If you’re someone who isn’t sold on VR, I hope I was able to display ways in which the tech goes beyond a gimmicky VR gaming experience.