Parents Guide to Virtual Reality
What every parent needs to know about Virtual Reality
For people who have never used virtual reality, it can seem like a strange or even threatening introduction into the household.
For those who fully understand the world of Virtual Reality it turns out that it’s not as scary as it seems. Virtual Reality (or VR for short) is fast becoming a common household term meaning now is the time for you find out how it could affect you and your child.
In this guide I’m going to tell you just about everything you NEED to know about Virtual Reality if you're a parent.
- 01What is Virtual reality and how does it work?
- 02When is it OK for children to use Virtual Reality?
- 03Can Virtual Reality be educational for your child?
- 04The dangers of Virtual Reality for children
- 05What are the big discussion points in Virtual Reality?
- 06Choosing the best Virtual Reality headset for your child
What is Virtual Reality and how does it work?
Let’s go textbook here, the Dictionary definition of Virtual Reality is as follows:
noun: virtual reality
the computer-generated simulation of a three-dimensional image or environment that can be interacted with in a seemingly real or physical way by a person using special electronic equipment, such as a helmet with a screen inside or gloves fitted with sensors.
So in short VR gives you the ability to have life like experiences within a completely fake (but authentic feeling) environment.
Virtual Reality can be evidenced as far back as 1838 in the form of Stereoscopic photos but has only recently became mainstream due to advances in technology
VR is a big deal in the gaming and entertainment world because it's a brand-new, incredibly realistic way to make experiences.
By now your child may told you about it or have pestered you to buy their very own headset.
How does Virtual Reality work? (it’s actually fairly simple)
There are three main ways of experiencing VR that I’m going to explain
The first is by using headsets that use either two feeds sent to one display or two LCD displays, one per eye.
The other way is to use headsets where you use your phone as the screen (mobile headsets).
1 & 2. How PC & Console Headsets work
Inside the headset there is a single screen. You or your child will be able to see the virtual world through this headset set. Many headsets come equipped with a wider angle to make it feel like a normal field of vision.
Inside you’ll also find a range of sensors (These can sense your head / body movements and incorporate them into the experience.)
Alongside these PC headsets are the controllers.
Many headsets come with their own, unique controller(s) but they all serve a similar function.
VR controllers can track your hand movements allowing you to perform a range of different actions within a VR experience.
If you or your child has ever had a Nintendo Wii, you can think of it a bit like that.
With the Wii, you could perform the motions to control the game - imagine driving race karts with the Wii steering wheel or playing Tennis with the Wii remote.
Next, the headset needs software to make it run.
Running a PC Headset can be much harder than a console headset. Mainly because your PC will need to be very powerful in order to run the graphics at a high enough frame rate.
This can become very costly but would work out better in the long run. PC’s are less constrictive as consoles and could reach much higher frame rates and graphics than a console.
However, consoles are incredibly simple to connect to off the bat.
The PS VR uses the Playstation so is easier to set up than headsets that use computers and can be great for families that already own a console device without needed to invest in a £1000+ PC
3. Mobile Headsets
These require the use of a phone as a screen so this headset usually comes as a shell with two lenses- there isn’t much or any electronics inside.
These still sit on the users head the same way and also operate in the same way. The major difference is that they are a lot cheaper. This is due to the fact that the quality isn’t that great but is still an excellent way to venture into VR.
Devices like the Samsung Gear VR come with added benefits such as a gyroscope, accelerometer and proximity sensor as some phones built in capabilities are not up to scratch.
Many of these headsets can also come with controllers but can be a lot more basic.
These will mainly be simple control devices without the use of motion sensing.
The BIG companies out there
There are quite a few companies you’d want to know about.
With the PC & Console headsets, there are 3 main companies all with headsets that are increasing in popularity.
- The First is the Oculus Rift which is made by Oculus (who is owned by Facebook). Their headset has gained a lot of popularity though famous Youtubers donning their product and uploading videos.
- Next you have the HTC Vive which is made by HTC & Valve. Unlike Oculus, HTC & Valve have been in the tech industry for almost 20 years making well known phones but have decided to broaden their horizons and delve into VR. The HTC Vive is a heavy contender to Oculus and they have been close running to see who takes the most popular spot.
- The final mainstream company is Sony producing the Playstation VR. This is the only contender to have had a long run in the gaming industry releasing their first gaming console back in 1995. So these guys have the most experience in gaming but whether their headset is better is another matter.
Probably the biggest runner in producing mobile headsets is Samsung with the Gear VR. Many other companies can be found creating cardboard alternatives.
Games and apps and how to avoid the bad ones
There is currently a wide variety of games available with some games being exclusive for particular headsets and others being available on more than one headset.
More quality games and apps are going to be released making our selection even greater.
The best advice? Read reviews, watch videos showing gameplay, ask workers in games stores to see how they rate it for children.
Most importantly check the age ratings to see if they are appropriate for your child.
Be sure to stick by these age ratings as exposure to gore and violence & sex is much more realistic in Virtual Reality.
For mobile headsets, you are more likely to be downloading apps on your phone that can be used in conjunction with your viewer.
First download the Google Cardboard App - this is the perfect app for:
- For discovering the capabilities of VR through the means of travelling the world, funky games, and more
- Finding new, exciting apps in which you can enjoy plenty of games
- Trying out demos of different apps within the google cardboard app
Virtual Reality Recap:
- There’s lots to know about how headsets work but once you’ve got the hang of it, it’s okay
- There are a variety of companies producing VR products but the main contenders are Oculus, HTC, Sony, and Samsung
- A lot of games are available but there are simple ways to find the best ones. Just be sure to stick to age ratings.
When is it OK for children to use Virtual Reality (it could be earlier than you think)
This is a very tricky and highly controversial subject.
That’s mainly down to two reasons:
- Not enough research into how VR affects children
- Parents using their own discretion and experiences
The longest time someone has spent immersed in VR is 25 continuous hours. Derek Westerman now holds a Guinness World Record for the longest continuous virtual reality session in one game (Tilt Brush).
To give us a clearer idea, let’s take a look at what many of the headset manufacturers recommend (which is usually always higher to reduce the risk of a court case).
Playstation VR in a recent beta update mentioned that the headset should not be used by anyone under the age of 12.
Oculus on the other hands goes strictly by Facebook's guidelines and states the recommended minimum age is 13 years of age.
Although not vastly different, it’s clear there is no set agreement of what’s right for a child between current manufacturers.
Here's what 85% of experts agree on:
When we look further into this subject, we realize that there’s a distinct theme that follows directly through from video games.
And what is that?
The younger the child, the stronger the advisement that they should not be using Virtual Reality.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) consistently advises against any screen time whatsoever, (be it TV or VR), for any child under the age of two.
This is because it’s suggested that screen time before the age of two can severely affect Language development of all things.
But what about VR’s effect on your child's eyes?
When reaching out to the UK’s leading eye specialists, Moorfields Eye Hospital declined to comment as they did not yet have enough information on Virtual Reality and its effect on children's eyes.
However, a report into the effect of 3D environments on both adults and children warns that prolonged exposure can result in strabismus (abnormal alignment of the eyes; the condition of having a squint.)
This leads to experts saying children under the age of 7 should not be exposed to VR, especially due to the fact that a home device leads to much more exposure than say a 3D film at a movie theater once a month.
How much to leave to personal preference
This is really up to your personal preference however, we would definitely suggest you do not expose any child to VR under the age of two or three.
It comes down to a mixture of how much time you allow your child to use VR for and what content you allow them to play. We would recommend you don’t allow a child to use VR for more than 2 hours straight nor play content over their suggested age.
Until the industry conducts more research into the effects of VR on children, you’ll need to mostly rely on your common sense and maternal instincts.
Easing them into VR may be the opposite to what you think
If you’re looking to slowly and safely ease virtual reality into your child's life, then listen up:
Instead of piece by piece, showing your child a VR headset and the things you can do with it, immerse them straight into the world of VR. It’s the only way to truly show your child the true scale of Virtual Reality.
Of course, if your child is fairly young, make sure to limit the amount of playing time as they could literally get lost in VR for hours on end. (We know we did!).
Showing your child VR will be much easier than you may think as well. The technology is much easier to get a grasp of, and for most children it will come extremely naturally to them.
Your child will most likely end up using Virtual Reality whether you like it or not. It is better to introduce VR to your child yourself as to ensure it’s within a controlled environment.
Can Virtual Reality be educational for your child?
The current market for VR headsets might be directed completely towards gaming but there’s so many more ways in which these headsets can be used.
A whole variety of sectors are looking to incorporate this new technology into their working days including:
- Surgeons using it for training
- Architects building virtual houses
- Even NASA controlling drones in space from down on Earth (see more about this in the next chapter).
But one area that can really benefit from VR headsets is education.
Big companies are looking at a number of ways in which schools can be revolutionised so that education can essentially be more fun and engaging for students.
With a headset by their side, your children could potentially be transported to a number of places around the globe as well as discover different periods in time to learn more about the world around them.
While books are an effective and traditional way to learn, VR headsets can create more engaging ways to learn that still offer all the information that a book can share.
Young Children: Educational VR games and apps
One of the greatest ways for younger children to learn?
Allowing them to get their hands stuck in to new things; to explore things with senses. For example, when they learn to count, they use their fingers; when they meet something new, they can pick it up and play with it.
VR Headsets do just this:
It gives children the opportunity to discover and explore new things in a safe and controlled environment. They can grab and manipulate objects as well as find new information that they wouldn’t have been able to learn about before.
Experts say that facts and skills that we learn through actions are more likely to be remembered.
They can meet new characters and discover new sights and sounds with the knowledge that they will be within a safe environment.
Along with education, simple games can be a great way for your child to learn many basic things such as moral ethics and life skills.
VR opens up new ways to interact within Virtual environments.
Older Children: Educational VR games and apps
Here’s what’s especially great:
In today's society, children are known as the digital generation.
With this use of technology being integrated into their lifestyles, learning with technology could be very beneficial to them.
Not only can it teach the same information originally learnt at school but older children may find this a more exciting way to learn; a better reason to get out of bed and go to school.
With short attention spans, VR will be a great way to maintain their interest.
VR headsets fixes this problem. As this way of learning is so much more immersive, there is no room for distractions.
As well as traditional learning, Virtual Reality headsets open new, real life situations that children can learn from without having to experience it first-hand.
Somethings might be too unsafe to experience but with VR, they can learn more about it without putting themselves in danger.
Take for example, a volcano:
No parent would sign the permission slip to allow their children to visit a live and active volcano on a school trip.
This kind of school visit would never be allowed due to the shear danger that the children would face.
With a VR headset, children would be able to experience standing at the top of the same volcano without being exposed to the dangers that would come with it.
How Virtual Reality has been proven to be a very effective educational tool
“Kids didn’t realise this is was about education”.
This is a quote from a teacher who had recently sent her class on a school trip to a medieval settlement.
This same teacher then asked the children to recreate the village through a computer program to then explore the village with VR as if they were one of the villagers.
She stated that the kids were oblivious to the variety of skills that this task was focusing on; including project management, computer skills, spelling, and more. The children were also more inclined to download the programs to use at home as well as queueing outside the classroom so that they could use the software during playtime.
Virtual Reality is set to become a bigger part of education where children will be more eager to attend school and learn as they may concentrate on subjects that they never would have considered interesting before.
Credit: Alchemy Learning
With all this in mind, VR won’t be taking over classrooms too soon.
The curriculum won’t be completely rewritten so that all it features is using a screen.
As mentioned before:
We still have to limit our children’s exposure to the headsets as after long periods of use, they can be damaging.
While this might be an exciting direction for education to take, the traditional methods of learning won’t be lost.
Books and communication between teacher and students has been proven to work over the years so these methods are unlikely to be eliminated; VR would only be used as another tool to improve learning.
Of course, this brings on a whole new discussion of “will books die out?” but we can save that for another day.
Many games have proven to build skills in children including problem solving, team work, hand eye co-ordination and more.
The dangers of Virtual Reality for children
Credit: Cerevrum Inc.
Virtual Reality may come as an exciting and new adventure for children and parents but there are still certain dangers that you need to look out for.
Here’s what to watch out for:
For a child, mental development can be affected by using a screen at an early age.
As previously stated, many officials believe that children under the age of two should have no contact with screens, such as TVs and VR, as it can have a serious effect on language development.
Keeping this in mind, we can’t then let 3 year olds use screens as and when they want as their language skills as well as other mental skills are still developing.
Many VR companies have tried to reduce this issue by a) making an age limit around 13 years old so that young, developing minds can’t be affected and b) limiting amount of play in one session to around 15 minutes long.
Doctors have predicted that the number of neck injuries is expected to triple in the next decade due to the heavy hardware we can now carry on our heads.
With smaller children, the weight of the headset may be an increasing issue as to whether their neck can support the headset at all.
We would advise is that parents try the headset first. By seeing how well an adult can cope with the strain, parents can make a safe judgment as to whether a child would be strong enough.
Just like traditional gaming: you will need to make sure the experience is appropriate for your child.
The packaging of any game or experience will usually include an age rating as well as some things to expect in the game i.e. nudity, violence etc. which is a very good guide as to whether your child should experience it or not.
This mainly being due to the sensitive material which could potentially be included within the gameplay.
For instance: a number of games include violence involving weaponry resulting in fatality which could be very distressing for a young child.
If you feel like you need a better judgment as to whether a game is suitable, you can always research a game/experience online to find reviews from other parents to see how their child reacted to it.
Alternatively just shoot us over an email and we’ll be happy to check it over for you.
The rumours or myths that are simply not true or proven
“All headsets cause major eye fatigue”.
Wrong. With further developments in the technology, we are now able to adjust the focal length of the screen so that it adjusts to our eye sights and therefore, no strain.
It is a misconception that VR is very bad for our eyes; many believe having the screen positioned so close to your face can cause serious sight problems.
Photons from the screen reach your eyes in the same way that they would if the phone was positioned further away. If we consider this, as well as the high refresh rate and high optics, the same amount of damage is being done as if we were looking out the window – which is not much at all.
Some may say they have experienced eye strain when using VR headsets but that would only be due to the low quality of the screen and extended amounts of time in VR.
More research is being done in this area to test for the effect of 3D environments on our eyes.
“Virtual Reality makes you violently sick.”
Wrong. This would mainly be due to movements in the game not matching your movements in real life i.e. sitting down whilst moving forward in game could cause you to feel ill.
Frame-rates per second (FPS) from the mobile phone, console or PC may also cause problems. The lower the frames per second, the more nauseous the experience.
( FPS is how many frames your system is producing or drawing, while the refresh rate is how many times the VR headset is refreshing the image on the screen. If your FPS is higher than your refresh rate, your headset will not be able to display all of the frames your phone, console or PC is producing.
Just because one game made you feel ill doesn’t mean all games would make you feel ill. This is because it is more dependant on the types of movements being made and not the headset itself.
If nausea persists, look for new hardware with high quality screens and refresh rates. If the view you are seeing doesn’t look natural, this can also cause you to feel ill.
Virtual reality sickness is different from motion sickness in that it can be caused by the visually-induced perception of self-motion; real self-motion is not needed. It is also different from simulator sickness;
What are the big discussion points in Virtual Reality?
At such an early stage of VR, the big question is what else can VR be used for?
As seen already, Virtual Reality isn’t just for gaming. It can be used for education, science, health and much, much more.
Before becoming mainstream, VR was mainly used in the Military field. This included Flight simulation, Battlefield simulation, Medic training, Vehicle simulation and Virtual boot camp
VR headsets have become popular with consumers in the gaming and home entertainment industry but we are starting to see these headsets being used for completely different uses which include education and training, research and therapy as well as architecture and real estate.
Credit: DSTS Demonstrated by the Netherlands Army
The Future of Virtual Reality and where it will take your children in 10 years’ time.
In the upcoming years, most predict that virtual reality will slowly integrate into our everyday lives. Here’s a few ways that VR will be coming into play:
- Education & training. This doesn't only include children; adults can use the virtual world to perform training that once would have been a risky thing to do. For example, surgeons can use virtual reality to perform operations on patients as if it were real, without having to put a patient in danger. Other forms of training could include situations soldiers would face during war (combat training).
- Research and Therapy. Headsets are already being used to help people with certain types of phobias by allowing users to faces their phobia in the virtual world. This allows them to learn to deal with their fears and also allows them to opt out at any point they start to feel too uncomfortable. VR can also be used for other forms of mental problems which distances users from uncomfortable situations. Professionals can then use the results of the treatment to then see how they make the therapy even more successful for the patient as well as being able to understand the mental problem more.
Research has also benefited people missing limbs. Amputees can use VR headsets to experience life as if their limb wasn’t missing – this helps to reduce their phantom limb pain. This would have only been treated in the past by telling the person to look in the mirror and pretend that the limb is still there. Doctors can use this research to find out more effective ways to treat the problem.
VR has also been considered for other form of research including space investigation. NASA have teamed up with PlayStation VR to see whether it is possible to control a drone in space while using the VR headset that’s controlling it down on Earth – this to save the money and risk that it would cost to send humans. Following this, many research programs in the future could include virtual reality.
- Architecture and Real Estate. VR opens up the opportunity for architects to design and manipulate a building without the need to physically build it. They can reshape and move certain aspects of the house around while walking through it with the headset.
The virtual world can then be used by house buyers to explore a house before it has even been built to see if they’d like to buy it. This can be especially useful when people are attracted to a house but are too far away to view it.
One day, VR could be a huge part of your children’s careers as it will reshape a number of industries. It could also influence the way that they learn in the future as well as how their children learn.
View our future of VR infographic here
Employment, development, and finding out about VR
The Virtual Reality jobs market is one that's growing at a very fast pace.
For your child, the type of skills they could be developing out for this market are ones that are very highly sought out for.
From 3D design and CGI to programing and algorithms the skills involved with the VR market are in demand and great for people of all ages to learn.
Here’s a list of potential jobs your child could get into:
- Assistant producer
- Audio engineer
- Creative director
- Hardware engineer
- Experience designer
- Software programmer
- Games / App artist
- Narrative Copywriter
- Product manager
- QA Tester
- Technical Artist
The list is one that's ever growing.
Choosing the best Virtual Reality headset for your child
After considering the main pointers as to whether a certain headset is safe or not for your child, we are finally in a good position to pick the perfect headset.
While considering things like weight to see whether your child can wear it, we can then start to look at other quality factors that can make the headset the best one for your child.
To kick us off, we need to first ask what kind of headset you would like: a headset that uses a computer or console or a headset that uses a mobile.
The difference between PC, Mobile & Console headsets
If you are still a bit confused between PC, Mobile & Console headsets, they are all explained in detail at the top of this document.
Otherwise, the key things to remember is that PC and console headsets need a computer or games console to operate and are not something you would carry around with you.
Mobile headsets use a mobile device in the front of the headset to operate and can usually be carried around wherever you go.
The specs and hardware you should be looking out for
Here are a couple of the specifications that can really make or break your gameplay:
Resolution - How many pixels are used per eye. The more pixels used, the higher quality the images are; pictures will have smoother edges and more detail.
Refresh Rate - How many frames the screen can display in one second. The higher the refresh rate, the smoother movements will look in the game.
Field of View - How much of the virtual world you can see in a given moment. The wider the field of view, the more you can see without having to move your head.
Sensors - The parts of the headset and placed trackers around the room* that pick up your movements and transfer them into the game. *Not all headsets come with placed trackers.
Tracking Area - How much of the space around you can be tracked by the sensors. The bigger the tracking area is, the more freedom you have to move while in the game.
These may not worsen an experience but you will certainly want to look out for these too:
Platform - The system that allows you to play the game. I.e. consoles are considered platforms.
Weight - How heavy the headset is. Lighter can be more preferable for gamers as there is less strain on your neck so is therefore, more comfortable.
Connections - What leads can be plugged into the headset to allow use of other accessories as well as connections to other displays.
Be sure to also check through the minimum requirements of your PC and mobile phone to ensure you will be able to run the device.
Our recommended picks for Virtual Reality Christmas, birthdays and gifts
With prices in mind, a top end headset may be an expensive present especially for a young child who wouldn’t find this product suitable.
Alternatively we would definitely recommend a mobile headset for a younger child.
With mobile headsets needing a smartphones to operate, parents can easily determine the games that are being played and children are a lot more likely to be able to support the viewer on their face.
Mobile headsets such as Google Cardboard have been said to make excellent “stocking fillers”, while other headsets, such as Samsung Gear, can make perfect gifts under the tree or for birthdays.
Headsets which use PCs or consoles, such as the HTC Vive, are an ideal present for older children as well as adults as they have games for everyone. These could also be a suitable present for the whole family.
Portable headsets that use a mobile device can be a greater, cheaper alternative to top market headsets; they can be ideal for introducing younger children into the world of VR; are great for those who travel around more often so can take the headset with them.
Headsets that use a PC or a console are great for presents that can be used by the whole family; better if you have a higher budget; more ideal for families with older children.
- VR is could affect our lives in more ways than you think.
- Mobile headsets are excellent ideas for gifts for younger children who couldn’t otherwise use the heavier headsets and can also be great for people wanting to get a taste for VR.
- Even though there is lots of fun that VR can allow us to have, we still need to make sure that children, especially young children, are safe while they use them.