Video of 2 Year-old Using the Oculus Rift Raises Some Interesting Questions [Update: Video Removed]

2 year old oculus rift video

Beyond the question of safety (Oculus’ official recommendation is that children under 10 not use the Oculus Rift) and the fact that the child’s IPD is probably too low to properly see through the Rift, one has to wonder what psychological impact virtual reality might have when used from an early age.

Update: video was taken down. I’ve added a screenshot up top. The video only consisted of about 30 seconds of use of the Rift by the child looking around in the Tuscany demo and was merely a jumping off point for the discussion below.

As a gamer from a young age, I’ve watched as non-gamers attempt to blame violence on videogames. In the early 2000s, several court cases involved defenses based on the notion that the accused thought they were in The Matrix. While I can personally attest to never having mixed up reality and videogames or movies, and believe that blaming videogames on violence is largely a scapegoat, things might be different if children are exposed to virtual reality from a very young age.

Born into Virtual Reality

Back in 2011, I put the question to Jim Blascovich, a professor of psychology, director of the Research Center for Virtual Environments and Behavior at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and co-author of the book Infinite Reality:

…do you think that if someone was raised from a young age by living in a virtual world with immersive VR technology, that they would believe that world to be the “real” world (much like the Matrix, or Inception)?

Blascovich told me that yes, it is plausible that someone could grasp onto a virtual world as their ‘reality’, and think of he real world as something else.

I also asked whether or not the complexity (graphics, feedback, etc) of the simulation mattered, or if a person would recognize it as their reality regardless. He told me that so long as they were born within the simulation “they would adapt,” and recognize the virtual world as reality.

Being born into a VR world a la Matrix is way out there, but we still need to contend with the potential for psychological impact of normal VR use by children.

Immersive VR and Its Potential Impact on Children

Let’s say that we’re able to create HMDs that are safe for children of any age (from a developmental perspective). Many of you reading this blog will recognize that VR is likely to become a powerful education tool — one day we might let our children spend extended periods of time in VR.

And while many might say, ‘I played videogames as a kid and I’m perfectly normal!’, it’s important to recognize the difference between regular games and immersive VR.

It speaks to the immersiveness of virtual reality that people become nauseous; it’s different than looking at a screen.

It’s not the graphics that convince us that we’re part of the game… it’s not even just the wide field of view (after all, many people go to IMAX theaters with plenty wide fields of view and few have issues with nausea). It’s the combination of wide field of view and headtracking that sets our mind in a mode to perceive that we’re actually in a different place.

I should stop to say that ‘feeling’ like you’re there and ‘thinking’ you’re there are two important distinctions — the former being that you ‘know’, logically, that you aren’t actually there, but your body feels like it is; the latter being that you actually believe you are there.

Even if our current technology is still only at the ‘feeling’ stage, we’re looking at a completely different scenario than a youngster of two decades ago playing a side-scrolling 2D game on Super Nintendo.

I’m no psychologist — and I write this article mainly as an exercise in curiosity —  but my layman hypothesis is that priming children’s minds to accept virtual places as real, while their brains are still developing, could have unforseen implications.

Comments

  1. Avatar of DevinWeidinger says

    This videos wrecked my nervs, its so sad to see this disregard for safety of such a younge child. I really hope this isnt ever going to hit the mass media and give oculus a bad rep before anyone has really experienced the true potentials of the rift.

  2. Avatar of Morgan says

    There’s bound to be a lot we can learn by carefully allowing children to experience VR. Brief, occasional interaction is not going to be particularly influential, and at that age hardly any different than a child sitting too close to the TV. Let’s not all rush to a ‘bad parenting’ judgment based on 25 seconds of footage.

  3. Avatar of kijutsu says

    I’m with Morgan on this. Like any new “strange” technology people tend to freak out ’cause they weren’t brought up in a similar world and so they feel the fear of the unknown. Let me give you an example of the Oculus winning over TV, say you want to teach your kids about the solar system, you put them in front of the TV, it shows the kids pretty pictures but kids will be kids and they eventually get bored. You get them in the Oculus and now they are flying towards Mars, experiencing for themselves the scales of just how big the solar system is, and best of all, they are flying! Which one will they wanna go back to and learn more about?

    I have young kids and will get the Oculus when the costumer version comes out and yes, for a few minutes a day, I’ll let my kids use it. As a bonus I’ll have more control over what they see then if they were watching TV!

    • Avatar of Ben Lang says

      There was nothing particularly “bad” about the video, I just use it as a jumping point to thinking about VR’s potential psychological impact on children as explained in the article.

  4. Avatar of alexfry says

    I’ve got absolutely no problem with this.

    I have optical concerns, but that’s a solvable problem.. (I predict future me complaining to other dads how quickly kids grow out of their HMDs).

    Are kids going to have all sorts of problems as a result of this? Sure, but its their future, it’s not up to us low tech kids of the 80s to define what that’s going to be like, any more than our parents had any real bearing how our mental model of “friends we made on a BBS”.

    Growing up with VR is beyond our experience, but its not beyond theirs..
    I’m sure they will develop partitions in their mind that we simply won’t understand, trying to shield them from the future by pretending its still the 80s or 90s is futile.

  5. Avatar of roger essig says

    i’ve tested the rift on 18 people so far, one of them a ten year old, she was the only person that didn’t get motion sickness. while i’m not really making a point in regard to this particular article, i think it was an interesting observation.

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