Virtual Reality and the Oculus Rift - How real is too real?

Oculus Rift

Yesterday, I watched my friend flip out over Dreadhalls, a horror dungeon game for the Oculus Rift where the goal is to sneak out of a dimly lit dungeon. Despite the technical limitations of the Rift (640×800 per eye in the developer kit) and the fact that Dreadhalls is still under development, Dreadhalls manages to be an intensely terrifying experience. 1

This brings up a serious question about the implications of VR innovation. As VR software and hardware improve, the experience inevitably will too. So whereas Titans of Space will become an even more awe-inspiring trip through space, a higher-quality version of Dreadhalls would only become more intense and more scary.

What, then, does this mean about a first-person shooter like Call of Duty? With high quality graphics and sound, a VR game like Call of Duty would put you right into the middle of the battlefield, complete with guns, bullets, grenades, and, most importantly, death. With guns aimed at your head and bullets whizzing by, do you panic? When you’re looking down a sniper scope, with your target in sight, do you pull the trigger? When you see the body in front of you fall from the blast of your shotgun, do things get, perhaps, a bit too intense for comfort?

My hunch is that this sort of experience won’t be universally enjoyed. The brutality of World War I led to shell shock, a physical and emotional reaction to the intensity of the war that has since become ingrained in our memory of the war. Nowadays, we talk a lot about PTSD, particularly in the context of war veterans after returning home from war. It seems plausible that we’ll see some resemblance of PTSD or shell shock appear due to increased intensity and immersion in VR games. At the very least, I wouldn’t be surprised to hear about panic or heart attacks induced by VR, particular through something like Dreadhalls or a FPS.

So here’s my question: where and how do we draw the line on what experiences are appropriate for VR? Or will something like the uncanny valley appear and solve this problem naturally? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

  1. This Reddit thread and this Youtube video can give you an idea of exactly how people react to the game. Warning: strong language.