Virtual reality (VR) has taken the world by storm. Just two years ago this industry didn’t exist. But experts are now predicting that 2017 will see VR valuate at more than $7 billion, and by 2021 it could reach $75 billion. However, as with any revolutionary technology, virtual reality raises its own ethical dilemmas.
VR offers an immersive experience unlike any other medium, but it’s possible that this could become a problem if taken too far. In movies, if a frightening scene appears, viewers have the option to look away. But this doesn’t work in VR. Developers will have to strike a balance between immersion and the wellbeing of their users to avoid exploiting them in their immersed state.
VR demands a viewer’s full attention, an attractive characteristic for content creators. When a person uses VR, they feel as though they are genuinely in a virtual space. VR can make the heart race, and despite its ‘game’ status, some question whether it can lead to mental exhaustion, emotional distress or heart attacks. But there is little data available on the effects of prolonged VR gameplay. Studies are in progress to determine the effect that the VR experience has on the brain. But even so, it’s up to each producer to ethically heed or deny the data.
The International Age Rating Coalition has applied age ratings to VR games and mobile apps around the globe. The standardised rating system allow users to decide for themselves what kind of experience they’d like to have and make an informed decision about the titles they purchase. Still, there is concern that VR producers will unethically push the limits of the rating system, making it difficult for users to truly control their experiences based on ratings alone.
As with all burgeoning technology, functionality comes first and regulations follow. VR has massive potential, and with regulatory oversight improving the user experience it’s likely to continue growing into 2021 and beyond.