In the past decade, technology has made massive steps forward in the areas of mobile technology and social integration. With the easy accessibility of social media, many people seem to disconnect from the world around them, which can be a danger to themselves and others. This type of disconnect from reality has the potential to reach new and dangerous heights with the use of virtual reality (VR). These advances, even though they seem positive, could prove to be harmful in the long run and could cause irreparable damage.
VR technologies are already being produced in the form of the Oculus Rift. Essentially, Oculus Rift is a pair of goggles that will allow the user to experience something entirely apart from his or her actual surroundings. Facebook purchased this highly anticipated VR platform last March and plans “to make Oculus a platform for many other experiences,” according to CEO Mark Zuckerberg in a post on the social network. In addition to using the Oculus Rift for social media purposes, Facebook is planning on further developing the technology for video games. Despite the ambitious plans for Oculus, there are a number of risks associated with the adoption of VR technologies.
The first big danger is disconnection from the real world. Even today, many people find themselves so immersed in social media and video games that they lose touch with reality. Two of the most notable cases reported by Time magazine occurred in South Korea, where multiple deaths have been reported as a direct result of excessive gaming. The first incident involved a 3-month-old child who starved to death while the parents were caring for an in-game child. The second death was that of a 22-year-old man who went into cardiac arrest after playing the popular game StarCraft for 50 hours straight in 2005. Technology like the Oculus Rift that immerses players even deeper into the game will likely increase this trend of excessive gaming and video game addiction.
The American Academy of Neurology has found a strong connection between video games and the release of dopamine, a chemical that causes pleasure, in the brain. This chemical release is very similar to that of both gambling and drug addiction and is triggered by the sense of accomplishment players feel after completing short tasks in video games. This form of addiction is most likely to occur in young adults and teens because the frontal lobes of the brain – the parts that are responsible for weighing consequences and making decisions – have not yet fully developed. With the addition of the Oculus Rift, the rewards can seem more real to the player and therefore cause a greater release of dopamine.
The American Academy of Neurology mentions not only the health risks that excessive gaming can cause, but also the risks to socialization and personal relationships. An article written for Neurology Now uses the example of Anthony Rosner, who became so involved with World of Warcraft, spending 18 hours or more per day on the game, that he nearly missed out on college. While this is an extreme case, more typical addicted gamers tend to lose interest in other activities and remove themselves from other people in the real world.
Despite the negative effects that virtual reality can bring to video gamers, there are positive uses for the technology. For example, the Oculus Rift could be used to train pilots in crash procedure without the danger of actually crashing a plane. This type of simulation could also be used for law enforcement or other fi rst response workers. Athletes could use virtual reality for realistic training programs outside of team practices. Finally, virtual reality can allow people to experience activities that they would not be able to otherwise.
As the Oculus Rift is developed further, the focus of this technology should not be the general public but rather the people who face potentially deadly situations in their professional lives. The growing trend of video game addiction will only escalate with the introduction of VR technology in games. If the Oculus Rift is released to the public as a vehicle for video game delivery, players should be careful of how much time they spend using the system and be aware of the signs of video game addiction.