When it comes to virtual reality (VR) and children the line has been pretty clear since the technology had its ‘second coming’ – VR devices for children have a recommended age limit. Botht the Oculus Rift and the Samsung Gear VR head mounted displays (HMDs) operate with an recommended age rating of 13 years old. Sony Interactive Entertainment’s (SIE’s) PlayStation VR goes slightly lower with a recommentation the HMD is not suitable for children under 12. The HTC Vive on the other hand does not mention an age as such, but does note that it might not be suitable for children.
Something of a concensus, at least, there between the four main VR HMD manufacturers. But what are the real risks? A child’s body is still maturing and developing. It simply might not be ready, either in terms of the brain or the eyes to adequately cope. This is a universally understood point. But there are other factors, such as the weight of the HMD and the impact on the muscles in the neck; the design of an HMD is, after all not typically aimed at a child. Consdiering all this there is, perhaps understandably, not much in the way of research done in this field there are questions that need answering.
This is sespecially true as there are a number of interested parties in bringing VR to children and the technology becoming more inclusive. Everything we have all seen to date on the inclusion of VR in the classroom has indicated it would be a benefit to education. There’s also the commerial implications, with companies like Nintendo highly cagey about VR as a whole. No doubt confirmation of the risks would factor into future decisions for them regarding the technology.
It has fallen to researchers at Leeds University in the UK to find out some answers, and as reported by The Guardian and based on a report initially made on Medium, the concerns are very real and unless headsets change they could pose a risk to children.
The research team tested 20 children in the 8 to 12 year old bracket following a 20 minute session playing a VR game. The result was not an obvious detrimental effect on eyesight but other senses were affected. One child had difficulty balancing afterwards, described in the report as a “drastic worsening” of their condition before entering VR. Whilst two other had difficulties post-VR in reacclimatising their hearing. With their ability to determine sounds at distance being affected.
Whilst a relatively small examination, and in the same sense a small percentage of those tested suffered from side-effects afterwards it is something that bodies will no doubt want to explore further down the line, as Faisal Mushtaq who led the team’s research explained.
“This study presents one of the first ever investigations into the impact of VR use on children’s vision and balance, establishing the scientific evidence base on safe usage is important if we want to ensure that children benefit from all the exciting possibilities that VR has to offer.”
“In a VR device, a virtual three-dimensional world is displayed on a 2D screen and that places strain on the human visual system.” Added Leeds Professor of Cognitive Psychology Mark Mon-Williams. “In adults, that can lead to headaches and sore eyes. But with children, the long-term consequences are simply unknown.”
“The great thing about virtual reality is that you are no longer restrained by Newtonian mechanics. You are creating your own world but that has the potential to set up unnatural interactions. There may be some fairly simple solutions to the problems we have uncovered. Nevertheless, an immense change lies ahead about we see things. We want to make sure that it is implemented correctly from the start and, to be fair, so does the VR industry which takes this kind of study very seriously.”
VRFocus will bring you more news on this topic at a later date.