There’s a lot of hype surrounding virtual reality, and a pervading sense that it will soon be used for just about everything. But one VR expert doesn’t agree with that sentiment.
Jeremy Bailenson, founder and director of Stanford’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab, explains to Slate just why he believes VR should be reserved for “special experiences.”
Writes Slate’s Will Oremus, “The key to understanding virtual reality, Bailenson said, is that it’s both potent and taxing. It’s potent because it’s so visceral and immediate that it can trick your brain into mistaking it for reality. In doing so, his research shows, VR experiences can change how people think about themselves and others, perhaps in places where other media might fail. In a just-published study, Bailenson and colleagues found that taking the perspective of a cow or even a coral reef in a VR simulation produced more empathy for those organisms’ plights than watching a video about them. In a 2013 experiment, people who experienced colorblindness through a VR simulation went on to spend more time helping people with colorblindness than those who merely imagined having the condition. Yet that immersion comes with costs—physical, mental, and financial. Though the technology today is far better than the laggy, monochromatic Nintendo Virtual Boy games that gave people headachesin the 1990s, virtual reality headsets can still fatigue your visual system, he says. VR content can also take a psychic toll. Shooting up bad guys on a video-game console is one thing. But ‘when you’re using your hands for murder, and you’re feeling haptic feedback as blood spatters on you, it’s just a different category.’ Similarly, ‘if you saw Jaws in virtual reality, you might never go in the ocean again.’ It’s not just that users risk being desensitized to violence, although that is one possible effect. It’s also that violence in virtual reality can simply beexhausting and unpleasant.”
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