Say ‘No’ to Virtual Reality this Holiday Season
By Sam Black of Covenant Eyes
I don’t mean to be a scrooge, but this Christmas there will be no virtual reality products on our gift list.
And, yes, I wouldn’t be surprised if my teen son asked for a virtual reality headset. He hasn’t, so I’m keeping mum. But if he does, I need to provide a better answer than simply, “no.” It’s just the way we roll; I think a well-reasoned conversation beats authoritarian answers. I’m still the parent, and my wife and I will ultimately decide such things, but simply wielding a hammer often leads to rebellion. So my dear parent, I’m hoping to provide you points you can use in your own discussion.
Frankly, I love 3D and virtual tech. It’s so immersive. Do I want to sit in the cockpit of an F-18 fighter jet and give the thumbs up to the deck crew before I blast off from an aircraft carrier? Yes, please. Would I like to sit in my living room, watch a concert, and feel like I’m in the front row? Why not? Skydiving from the safety of my recliner? Oh yeah.
And there is more to love. Bands are already providing music videos and concerts in VR. The list of virtual games is growing quickly. You can paint, draw, sculpt, and create 3D masterpieces. Educational options seem endless, with everything from virtual lecture halls to exploring the International Space Station to exploring a coral reef under the ocean. Imagine touring Paris or Mars. In Singapore, real estate companies are selling homes and renting apartments via VR headsets. And Microsoft’s HoloLens will allow you to wear a headset in your everyday world to play and work in an augmented reality.
Future iterations of virtual reality look amazing and exciting. And using technology for positive uses should be on every parent’s radar. (Click here for a great lesson on using technology for good.)
So why the wait-and-see attitude? Here are my five top reasons to wait.
- Better Parental Controls Are Needed
First, and foremost, developers of tech need to do a better job of providing parental controls and monitoring tools. Parents should have a clear view of how gaming consoles systems are used. Games and apps are already difficult to control, and VR tech makes the problem even bigger.
For instance, pornography websites are designing content for VR headsets. Games and online media push sexualized media and the objectification of women in particular.
My wish list? I want to turn off all Internet browsing without turning off other online features and interactive play. I want games that allow me to turn off bad language and sexual content. I want the ability to restrict mods for VR computer games, which alter games to add nudity, greater violence, and other bad content. I want a record, such as how long a system is used for specific games, video, etc., for each day or week. For instance, Netflix provides an un-erasable record of every video that has been watched on my account. I like that. Let’s keep it all above board, so no one is hiding what they do in a virtual world.
- Safety in Multi-Player Mode
Jordan Belamire reported being virtually groped in a multi-player experience using the HTC Vive VR system. While fighting zombies, another male player heard her female voice and sexually assaulted her virtual character with his. This shouldn’t be allowed period, but it is of even greater urgency for families with children.
- VR Is Pricey
VR gadgets seem overpriced, although there are different classes of tech. The comparatively inexpensive versions use a smartphone that is placed in a headset, such as the Samsung Gear VR ($79.99, not including the smartphone). Google Cardboard is actually pretty cheap at $15, but it is basically a cardboard View-Master, if you remember those. The graphics are enjoyable on these smartphone versions, but have much lower fidelity than the more pricey options such as Oculus Rift ($599, which connects to a gaming console or computer).
I suspect these prices will drop substantially in the coming years. Just consider how much modern televisions have dropped in price from just a couple of years ago.
- Is VR Bad for You?
Some critics are worried about the impact of Virtual Reality headsets on the brain. Literally, you are tricking the brain to believe it is inside another world, and this virtual world can be scary and violent. Plus, how will the body cope with issues such as nausea, eyestrain, and headaches. I experimented with a VR headset and the fit felt rough and left me with painful raccoon eyes. Right now, nobody can really say what the impact on the mind and brain will be. We will just have to wait for other guinea pigs to go first.
- Separation From Others
If video games distract or even engross a person from spending time with your friends and family, putting on a headset and blocking out the world has got to be worse, argues my good friend Scott McClurg, a VP for Covenant Eyes Internet Accountability and Filtering. He’s an avid gamer, but he is intentional about time limits for his interactions online and playing games.
“When you are playing a game on a screen and your wife walks in, you can notice her, hit the pause button, and talk with her,” he said. “Putting on a headset is blocking that interaction. I see this as a big issue, where people lose hours and hours of quality living to life in a virtual world.”
My conclusion? Wait. With enough outcry, maybe we can have easier and more effective parental controls and greater safety in multiplayer online environments. And hopefully, any concerns about impacts on the brain and mind will be rectified or non-existent. As well, headsets that don’t block out the real world seem like reasonable advancements. I’m hoping the next generation of virtual reality or augmented reality will be better designed for families.
For more information on this and many other subjects to help you raise a strong child, check out our book 30 Days to a Stronger Child.
Sam Black is an Internet Safety Consultant, partnerships director at Covenant Eyes Internet Accountability, and the author of “The Porn Circuit: Understand Your Brain and Break Porn Habits in 90 Days.” He joined the Covenant Eyes team in 2007 after 18 years as a journalist, and has edited 16 books on the impact of pornography and how to protect our families. He has been married for 21 years and is a father of two.