If you’re anything like me, you’ve probably wondered how long you could hide from the real world in your virtual-reality (VR) headset, and questioned what would happen if you spent extended hours in the digital world.
The easy answers are: not very long, and very unpleasant things, respectively.
The complicated answer is that everyone experiences VR differently, and not all VR headsets or platforms are created equal, so certain games on certain headsets on certain people are going to cause more problems than others. The makers of the most popular VR headsets, the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive, recommend taking “at least a 10 to 15 minute break every 30 minutes, even if you don’t think you need it.”
Here are a few things that can happen if you spend too much time in VR, and some hilarious videos to demonstrate:
LOSS OF SPATIAL AWARENESS
In every guide to getting started with VR, step number one is always to make sure that the area around you is clear of any furniture, cables, animals, small children or other things you could trip on, run into, or knock over.
This is especially true for full-room VR experiences like those provided by the HTC Vive, but is equally important for those who are using a stationary or seated game.
Spending more than the recommended 30 minutes in VR will — in nearly every case — cause you to lose spatial awareness of the room around you. After 30 minutes, it is much more difficult to identify where things are in the physical world, from inside your headset.
Here’s an example of what can go wrong when this happens:
DIZZINESS AND DISORIENTATION
Disorientation varies very widely among VR users. Those who are prone to motion sickness or vertigo are much more likely to experience uncomfortable disorientation while in VR, but the feeling can happen to anyone that hasn’t taken a break in awhile.
Games that involve flying, high-speed movement, heights and falling are known to cause extreme disorientation and should be avoided by anyone prone to this kind of reaction.
Makers of VR headsets say that you should take off the equipment immediately if you feel dizzy at all, to avoid accidents like the one this guy had:
Most makers of VR equipment don’t recommend people with epileptic conditions or special sensitivities to rapidly changing light try the experience, but these symptoms can occur even if the user has never experienced a seizure before.
According to the instructional booklet that comes with the Oculus Rift:
Some people (about 1 in 4000) may have severe dizziness, seizures, eye or muscle twitching or blackouts triggered by light flashes or patterns, and this may occur while they are watching TV, playing video games or experiencing virtual reality, even if they have never had a seizure or blackout before or have no history of seizures or epilepsy.
The likelihood of having a VR-induced seizure is compounded by the number of hours you spend in the headset without a break, so a good rule of thumb is to treat VR like playing a sport. Every so often, take a break for water, and catch your breath.