Posey's Tips & Tricks

Is VR Addiction a Thing?

Over the last couple of weeks I have heard three separate conversations in which someone mentioned the addictive nature of virtual reality. Being that companies such as Meta (formerly Facebook) and Microsoft are trying to drive the adoption of a VR-based metaverse, I think that it only makes sense to take an objective look at whether or not there is a risk of addiction associated with the metaverse.

The first time that I heard someone mention VR addiction, my mind immediately flashed back to an incident that happened a few years ago during the Pokémon Go craze. For those who might not remember Pokémon Go, it was essentially an augmented reality (not virtual reality) game in which the player would use their smartphone to hunt down illusive Pokémon characters in real world locations.

The incident that I mentioned happened at a restaurant while I was having a meal with my wife. A guy who was seated at the next table (and old enough to know better) climbed over the partition and into our booth. When I asked him what his problem was, he told me that there was a rare Pokémon character on my table.

As I thought back to the Pokémon incident, there was at first little doubt in my mind that VR and AR could indeed become addictive. After all, even if the Pokémon guy wasn’t truly addicted, he definitely took the game way too seriously. After I really stopped and thought about it though, I began to realize that it isn’t VR (or AR in the case of the Pokémon guy) that is addictive, but rather the applications that are being used in those environments.

If you don’t believe me, then consider the fact that Microsoft seems to be focusing on business use cases for the metaverse, with conferencing and collaboration being among the key use cases. Do you know anyone who is addicted to Microsoft Teams or who enjoys sitting through endless meetings? Me neither! Somehow I just can’t imagine that virtual meetings will suddenly become addictive just because attendees are wearing VR headsets. It just isn’t going to happen.

On the other hand, video game addiction does seem to be a thing. I’m not a gamer myself, but I know plenty of people who seem to get a very satisfying dopamine rush from playing their favorite games. I’m not trying to judge anyone. If someone wants to play a game for hours on end, then that’s their business. I just want to make the point that it is the application (in this case, a game), not the technology, that can lead to addiction.

While I won’t go so far as to call the metaverse or VR technology addictive by themselves, I do think that it’s plausible that VR could cause an activity that is already addictive to become even more addictive simply by making the digital experience more immersive and more realistic. A gamer might, for instance, be enticed to spend even more time playing if the gaming environment is a hyper realistic virtual world.

Since it seems unlikely that the metaverse’s business oriented use cases would lead to addiction, one has to wonder if there are any other potential adverse side effects to its use. I haven’t really seen any studies on VR related health problems, but I could imagine long term, prolonged use (using a headset all day over a long period of time) leading to eye strain, particularly with low end headsets. Neck strain may also end up being an issue, but it’s hard to say for sure.

From a business use perspective, my guess is that the biggest adverse side effect to using VR headsets for an extended duration will be dehydration. I have noticed that on those rare occasions when I use a headset for a couple of hours at a time that I feel hot and thirsty when I get done. After all, it’s hard to get a drink of water when you have a headset on, and removing the headset breaks the metaverse illusion.

Over time I am sure that headsets will become lighter, cooler and less cumbersome. For right now though, I can only imagine how much of an issue dehydration will be for those who choose to spend their entire workday wearing a VR headset.

About the Author

Brien Posey is a 22-time Microsoft MVP with decades of IT experience. As a freelance writer, Posey has written thousands of articles and contributed to several dozen books on a wide variety of IT topics. Prior to going freelance, Posey was a CIO for a national chain of hospitals and health care facilities. He has also served as a network administrator for some of the country's largest insurance companies and for the Department of Defense at Fort Knox. In addition to his continued work in IT, Posey has spent the last several years actively training as a commercial scientist-astronaut candidate in preparation to fly on a mission to study polar mesospheric clouds from space. You can follow his spaceflight training on his Web site.


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