Since the birth of the modern Virtual Reality (VR) systems in 2010, gaming has been the primary focus of the industry. This is because the gaming industry itself is the most marketable, and therefore, for all intents and purposes – appears to be the most profitable avenue for VR developers to take. Developers such as Oculus Rift seem to focus all their money and manpower into creating VR games to immediately sell to their growing consumer base. However, despite owner of Oculus Mark Zuckerberg claiming that VR as a way to have experiences beyond our limited reality, Virtual Reality is still largely trapped within the commercialised gaming industry.
However, the winds of change may be around the corner. It’s highly likely that the next decade will see the birth of a new era within Virtual Reality, with other, less commercialised uses coming into the limelight. The beginnings of this change in focus can already be seen, with VR in limited use for battlefield, surgical and inflight training: all of the skills, with none of the risk. But, perhaps most prevalently, in the fields of education and therapy.
VR in education isn’t a new idea, appearing throughout science fiction; but with it the speed at which iPad schooling took off, becomes an ever more likely reality. In fact, learning through VR is almost guaranteed to surpass that of the iPad trend as companies compete to produce cheaper and more accessible forms of Virtual Reality.
Allowing semi-physical interaction with objects that may otherwise be unattainable such as planets, particles, geographical locations and bygone eras has the potential to revolutionise the way we teach and learn. VR adds a level of engagement with source materials that was previously unimaginable. As a result, VR education could produce the most intellectually curious generation yet.
Unlike educational VR, there is a lesser known use for Virtual Reality that is slowly but surely gaining traction: exposure therapy, a type of therapy that aids people in overcoming phobias, anxieties and dealing with PTSD.
Usually it requires patients to face their fears slowly and repeatedly, but thanks to VR exposure therapy has never been safer. Now patients have the ability to face their fears, not only in a safe and comfortable physical environment, but with a quick and easy way out if it gets too much. What may come as a surprise is the fact that VR’s use in exposure therapy isn’t a new development. Companies that specialise in it, such as Limbix, are built on two decades worth of research and clinical trials.
Virtual Reality is already being implemented during exposure therapy, both in the US and Spain, as the clinical trials proved it to be equally as effective in treating patients with aviophobia as the previous method of going to airports. Limbix aren’t the only company on the market using VR in their exposure therapy either, so it seems that medical usage of VR is on the rise and here to stay.
Interestingly, unlike education and therapy, there is one avenue of Virtual Reality that is often left unconsidered. This is the use of VR in altering the way we consume media altogether. In the information overload hellscape we live in online, VR could be the solution.
Despite evidence to the contrary, contemporary digital media has been built around the idea that attention spans are short. Therefore, along with technological advancements meaning content can be delivered at a faster rate, the content itself is made faster and easier to digest. This, unsurprisingly, leads to the mountains of excess content which contributes to information overload. In turn, this affects our mental health; The Atlantic compiled evidence to suggest smartphones have measurably affected the happiness and behaviour of an entire generation. VR potentially offers the solution; getting us all to slow down. This may seem unlikely, but VR has to unfold in real time lest it cause nausea. As a result, this allows the user to focus on one experience at a time; processing content at their own pace. Anita Balakrishnan of CNBC suggests that instead of disconnecting us from reality, VR has the capability to ‘realign our mental clocks with how humans are meant to learn in the real world’.
All in all, be it in education, therapy or making the media more manageable for the sake of our mental health, Virtual Reality is making progress. So regardless of what the marketers tell you: it’s not all about the games.