Four (Possible) Consequences of Virtual Reality


With the gaming world focusing on the Oculus Rift and Sony’s Project Morpheus, it has left me wondering about the consequences of virtual reality. Virtual reality is defined as a computer-simulated environment that can simulate physical presence in places in the real world or in imagined worlds. So far most of our virtual reality has been constructed visually, but books and television shows have delved into the concept of uploading our consciousness into the internet. So with these possible avenues in the virtual reality field, I give you my list of four possible consequences resulting from VR.

1. Motion Sickness aka Cybersickness

Perhaps you are lucky enough not to suffer from motion sickness while playing games. Perhaps you never thought it possible to experience motion sickness while gaming. Well, I can assure you it does happen because I suffer from it tremendously. First-person shooters typically make me ill, but The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim  and Fallout  have also given me nausea. Before I even boot up a game, I have to take Dramamine so I can endure it, and the resulting drowsiness doesn’t create a pleasant experience.

Scientists aren’t exactly sure why humans experience motion sickness, but they attribute it to the disconnect between what your brain and eyes see. While you are sitting at your computer desk, your character is sprinting, shooting, dodging bullets, or traversing the skies around Columbia. Your brain thinks you must be poisoned so it tells your body to throw up to feel better.

Many studies exist about the consequences of virtual reality on our bodies. The Oculus Rift, while advertised as lightweight headgear, has been known to cause a lot of discomfort in users who play with it for more than an hour.

The headset uses two screens, one for each eye, and if the images do not line up correctly, players have noted experiencing nausea and some have even vomited. People who use flight simulators and other virtual reality equipment experience flashbacks and their coordination suffers tremendously. Since the technology is rather recent, there isn’t a lot of research done into the long term effects of virtual reality, but rest assured that game developers are trying their best to minimize the effects of motion sickness.

2. Replacing Virtual Reality with Real Life

With the possibilities of creating a new identity for yourself and meeting people you normally wouldn’t meet in real life, there is the chance of people replacing their real lives with that of virtual reality. Homes, towns, cities, maybe even nations, can be made in less than a week. Relationships can take the place of real ones, and some are wondering if social media is making us devalue friendships and love. We start to fall in love with our virtual image instead of the real body we were born with. And when our technology is advanced enough to place our consciousness into the internet, will we even want to return?

The answer is, well, we don’t really know. We do know that people are getting used to, and want, virtual reality. A study conducted at Stanford University found that virtual reality can change the behavior of humans. A group of participants were used in an experiment to see if virtual reality had an impact on behavior, and to their surprise, it did. Half the participants were given a pamphlet that summarizes what happens when a tree is cut. It included descriptions of birds chirping, the vibration of a chainsaw, and the cracking of tree branches. The other half were given a headset and experienced it virtually, seeing it happen through their eyes, and using a joystick to tell their virtual avatar to cut down the tree. The study found that the group who experienced the tree cutting virtually was more likely to cut back on paper usage.

3. Addiction

This shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise. If a person doesn’t want to step out of the virtual world, it might be because they are addicted. Surprisingly, video game addiction is not scientifically classified as a real addiction. It means health insurance companies will not pay for treatment or therapy if you suddenly find yourself hooked on the latest Call of Duty.  But what if advancements in virtual reality made it so? Of course we don’t know if it will even happen, as many mental disorders are hard to classify and make official.

4. Losing Your Conscience

I’m not referring to blacking out or going into a coma, although that could happen if you are gaming for an atrocious amount of time. I am talking about losing yourself in a video game. Granted, this goes well beyond our technical capabilities and deep into the realm of science fiction. Scientists haven’t even pinned down what is a conscience, but they have labeled it as one of the most complex things that exists in Mother Nature.

But lets say scientists were able to upload your brain into the internet. Would that avatar, that “person”, be you? Would the interactions you have be of your own volition or done through other external factors? Would the upload be complete or would it contain corrupted files? And when you return, would that person still be you?

Again, these are all possible consequences and the questions presented can’t really be answered until our technology becomes advanced enough to do so. And we don’t know how long it will take either. It could be decades or another century. But the concept is intriguing and worth keeping in mind as we advance further into virtual reality.