Virtual reality (“VR”) headsets are becoming increasingly popular in the gaming industry. For those who are not familiar with this new trend, these headsets are intended to fully immerse users in a virtual world through visual and audio simulation. Based on my personal VR experience, the device is technologically astonishing and successfully creates a feeling of complete detachment from reality.
While the VR headsets is visually impressive, there are numerous concerns regarding its effect on consumers/users. First and foremost, immediate physical injury can occur during usage of the headset. This occurs because, in order to move in the virtual reality game, one must move their arms, jump, and walk in reality. These injuries may result from “real” objects that cannot be seen while wearing the headset (such as a table) and “virtual” objects that is located within the virtual world, but not present in reality.
Unsurprisingly, VR headset companies have created health and safety warnings to caution users from potential injuries. For example, PlayStation Network has addressed potential injuries in their safety notice policy; “review surroundings and clear obstacles before use. Take steps to prevent pets, children, or other obstacles entering the area during using.” While PlayStation Network indicates that steps needs to be taken by the consumer to ensure safety, PlayStation Network has not created any feature that assists users in taking such steps. For example, there is no alert from the device that indicates a potential collision with objects or people prior to its occurrence.
In addition to the immediate injury, there are potential injuries that may be sustained that create prolonged symptoms such as motion sickness, blurred vision, seizures, and blackouts. Another company, Oculus creates a VR headset named the Rift. Oculus seemingly attempts to lessen their injury liability by addressing minor injuries as well as serious ones such as seizures, repetitive stress injury, and blackouts.
Currently, these VR companies have release few games that are compatible with these headsets; therefore, the overall usage is limited. Additionally, the extensive price has limited the number of consumers. (For example, Oculus’ Rift costs over $500.) However, when the headsets are more accessible and used more frequently, it is foreseeable that risk of prolonged injuries will occur, and these companies will be held liable. In addition to developer liability, according to gaming-focused law firm Gamma Law, liability may extend to VR hardware manufacturers “if they’re not careful to exert enough control over what developers can do with the system.”
It will be interesting to follow the development of this technology and learn how developers and manufacturers will adjust their product based on probable injury lawsuits in the future.