Staying safe in virtual worlds: What (not) to do with a VR headset on

When wearing virtual reality headsets, make sure not to pass beyond virtual boundaries when you approach them to avoid getting injured. — Photo: Boris Roessler/dpa

SAN FRANCISCO: Broken bones, cuts and contusions: Researchers say these are the most-common injuries as rising numbers of people wearing virtual reality headsets come into contact with hard reality while at play in computer-generated worlds.

Recently published Dignity Health research into US emergency-room data shows significant increases in injuries as the technology has become more popular.

Major companies selling virtual reality headsets provide warnings about how to use the products safely, and recommend keeping small children from using them. Dr. Ryan Ribeira, assistant medical director of the Stanford Emergency Department and founder of SimX, a startup providing VR-based training for doctors, nurses and paramedics, also provided tips to help VR users stay out of emergency rooms.

To keep yourself and your loved ones from getting hurt in the real world while playing in a virtual one, here are recommendations from Ribeira and leading VR headset makers Meta and Sony:

  • Play in the centre of a safe, clear space that also has a buffer zone empty of objects or hazards that extends beyond the virtual boundaries you set. Ensure no hazards like ceiling fans and lights exist overhead. Plain or highly reflective walls, or poor lighting, may interfere with your system’s virtual boundaries and other functions.
  • Remain seated if appropriate for the game. Do not walk around.
  • Do not pass beyond virtual boundaries when you approach them and they appear in your world.
  • Do not use VR while impaired by alcohol or other drugs, as your balance may be affected.
  • Ramp up gradually in game intensity to acclimate to the surprises and stressors that can come at you in a virtual world. Games are typically rated by comfort level.
  • Make sure you’re suited for the physical activity a game requires, and take breaks as needed.
  • Remove your headset as soon as something in the real world requires your attention.
  • Remove your headset if you become dizzy or nauseous.
  • Prevent people and pets from entering your play area.
  • Do not use VR outdoors, as the environment cannot be controlled, safety features may not work, and the elements can damage headsets.
  • If your headset requires a cable during use, make sure it is not wrapped around your body or legs.
  • Limit or prevent VR use by children, depending on age: Meta only allows children 13 and up to use its VR through Meta accounts, but permits parent-managed accounts for kids 10 to 12. Sony says its PlayStation VR headset is not for children under 12, and offers parental controls. – tca/dpa
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