Virtual reality has things to be aware of

By Hugo Fonzi

Staff Writer

Photo Credit: Pixabay

Whether it is flying a spaceship or washing cars, virtual reality headsets allow anyone to experience a whole new world within their room. 

The difference between Virtual Reality (VR) and the real world may seem unreal to some people, but a 2009 study found it can trick kids into thinking what they saw in VR was real. The study had the children swim with two orcas or shrink to the size of a mouse, both had children believing that those scenarios were real.

Children can be tricked with VR, and yet VR sales are still growing. “Pre-orders have outpaced the original Quest pre-orders by more than 5x and have surpassed our expectations,” Mark Zuckerberg, the Facebook CEO, said.

About 2% of Steam’s users have a VR headset as of Nov. 2020. That is about double the amount of Steam users with a VR headset during Nov. 2019, and with over 120 million monthly active users that would be about 1.2 million.

With so many new people joining VR, privacy comes into question. A study from Scientific Reports said, “Out of a pool of 511 participants, the system identifies 95% of users correctly when trained on less than 5 min of tracking data per person.” This may mean that someone could potentially find out your identity while playing VR.

While this could also be true with tracking data on web searches, there is “private browsing mode.” However, “with accurate VR tracking data, a ‘private browsing mode’ is in principle impossible,” the paper said.

VR also can take you to other places on Earth. An example of this is Google Earth VR which allows you to go to many places around the world virtually. 

Using Google Earth VR, an exchange student showed his classmates his home neighborhood, and even got homesick. The exchange student’s emotions being affected by VR is not an isolated incident – it happens to adults as well. 

According to an MIT journal where a group of adult participants were shown a video about a computer generated hedgehog on their birthday, “more than 80% of adult participants in our experimental study reported feeling sad after watching the 360° video.”

VR may bring immersion to the next level, but it is something to be watchful of. “If it’s an activity that you’re ethically not comfortable with in real life, don’t do it. If you think of it that way, the guidelines on what you want to do in VR become very clear,” Jeremy Bailenson, founding director of Stanford University’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab, said.  

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