Virtual reality is a simulated experience where people interact with computer-generated elements in a seemingly real way. Due to its fully immersive nature, which is becoming increasingly similar to real-world experiences, many are concerned about the effects of virtual violence.
VR interactions might not affect our physical bodies. However, whether it could potentially leave serious psychological effects is another matter. Given that virtual reality games haven’t been around for a long time, there’s little we know about their nonphysical consequences.
Violence in Virtual Reality Games
For decades, violence in video gaming has been widespread concern. Researchers have studied the link between aggression and video game exposure extensively over the years. To this day, there’s no causal relation between the two.
In February, the American Psychological Association (APA) reaffirmed their stance on video game violence. While their research does associate video gaming and aggressive outcomes such as yelling and pushing, it doesn’t illustrate a conclusive link with more violent behavior.
But can we say the same for virtual reality games?
Existing VR games have already invoked all sorts of reactions. A Reddit user, for example, described the experience of killing in a virtual reality game. In their post, they wrote that they took a break right after that and wondered what the future might bring.
Needless to say, they weren’t prepared for that experience.
Take note that existing virtual reality games have yet to reach full-body tactile sensations. Since that is the goal, it raises more questions about the effects on gamers.
The Potential Effects of Virtual Reality Gaming
In an interview with New Scientist, Thomas Metzinger, a professor from Johannes Gutenberg University, said that VR may lead to depersonalization. That means with extended immersion, your physical body may start to seem unreal to you.
Think of the rubber hand illusion, where you can trick your brain into thinking that the fake hand is your real one. In a fully immersive environment, we might believe that we are our game avatars. In addition, he suggests that some people might be more vulnerable to the psychological effects of extended VR exposure.
He isn’t advocating for restrictions on VR. On the other hand, he does say that there’s a need to study the effects of long-term immersion in VR. As of now, we can only speculate about VR’s future and its implications on our health.
Moving forward, it’s important to remember APA’s statement on violence in gaming. They say that violence is a complex social problem. Additionally, there’s not enough evidence to support the link between violent behavior and video gaming.
With more research, we can better understand the psychological risks of VR gaming. Furthermore, we can identify if there’s a need for us to focus on new ethical and legal dimensions.