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Is Virtual Reality Addictive?

Picture of Nicholas Conn

Nicholas Conn

Nicholas Conn is a leading industry addiction expert who runs the UK’s largest addiction advisory service and is regularly featured in the national press, radio and TV.

Is Virtual Reality Addictive?
A few weeks ago we talked about the increasing issue of gaming addiction, brought about by immersive games, such as Fortnite and World of Warcraft. We now explore how Virtual Reality will change this and create a new virtual reality addiction?
With gaming technology developing fast, the advent of Virtual Reality or VR (as well as Mixed Reality and Augmented Reality) is further revolutionising gaming as we know it, and has the scope to trap millions in a world that is not real. The world of VR does not only reach gamers though, but also completely changes how the world uses social media for example, and even how people gamble and the way people interact with pornography. A recent study has already highlighted that 9% of Americans are “internet-addicted”. This is already a large amount of people ready to take the next step in the technology evolution to move on to an addiction with more engaging gadgets, such as virtual reality devices. Stories of children not eating and going to the toilet have already been published far and wide, but people have also died after playing games for weeks on-end. A 17 year old Russian gamer played Defense of the Ancients for 22 days straight and went to toilet, ate his meals and slept every night, but developed blood clots due to the lack of movement and died from this. Parents can be no different, after a South Korean couple playing Anima: Beyond Fantasy raised a virtual child together, leading to their failure to feed their real-life infant, who then starved to death. These are only a couple of the real world, scary stories of the many we have seen over the years.

How Does This Change With Virtual Reality?

The digital world helps us reach out to the world and appear to be whoever we want to look like. Virtual Reality goes one step further in allowing people to physically feel and emotionally become whoever they want to be. This in itself can be addictive, let alone also cause severe psychological, biological and social issues. Black Mirror has already highlighted the darker aspects of where technology is going and this is very much based on ideas and technologies that we could have in our living rooms within 10 years. Immersive VR can only exasperate this, not only in the horror stories we see in the media, but on the everyday, sliding health of your technophile next door. Research by the National Academy of Sciences has highlighted the correlation between the consumption of digital media and obesity, sleep problems, increased aggression and the development of addiction.  Stanford University conducted research and found that “the brain cannot tell the difference between an actual or virtual experience.” Whilst there are many positives about where VR can take us, the inherent side effects, addictive nature must be considered in how this new digital medium changes our everyday lives. Help 4 Addiction have seen a 16% increase in the number of calls received from people needing therapy, counselling or rehabilitation to help with gaming addiction, and we can only expect this to increase as the world adopts a new sense of reality. Virtual reality device sales are predicted to sum up to £354 million in the UK alone by 2020. This is huge and with big brands, such as Microsoft, Sony and Facebook investing heavily in the hardware, and they will lead the adoption of VR into our homes, into our offices and our everyday our lives, but at what price?

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