Virtual Reality: It’s Not Just About Gaming
What can you do with a virtual world? Here are five of our favorite answers that change the real world for the better.
Virtual reality is finally, well, reality—and it’s getting a lot of buzz, thanks to platforms like the Oculus, HTC Vive, Samsung Gear and the Microsoft HoloLens. But a lot of the talk about VR focuses on video games. While exciting, we believe this technology is capable of doing a lot more, including applications that literally save lives. In fact, we think that VR is going to move into nearly every area of human activity and change the world we live in.
Here are a few of the most promising ways we see that happening:
- 1. Exposure therapy for PTSD and phobias. The age-old solution for someone who’s afraid of water is to plunge them into the deep end. That “cure” doesn’t work—in fact, it can be very damaging—but there is some truth that confronting our traumas helps us get over them. That approach has been honed in exposure therapy, a technique used to help people who suffer from phobias and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). In exposure therapy, the patient is given a small amount of exposure to their trigger in a controlled, supportive environment. This can take the form of images of spiders for someone with arachnophobia, or, for someone suffering from PTSD after a mugging, a guided talk session revisiting the scene of the crime. This evidence-driven approach is highly effective, but it’s limited by how real (or not-real) the imagery used is. VR can solve that, and it’s already being used to present immersive, safe exposure therapy experienced for PTSD patients.
- 2. Emergency response training. Some of the most important forms of training simply cannot be simulated in a classroom environment—things like disaster response, firefighting and nuclear emergencies. But VR lets first responders and technicians train for these threats in a virtual environment, in scenarios complete with smoke, faulty equipment, and time pressure.
- 3. Virtual tourism. Travel can be a life changing experience. It’s also not accessible for everyone—either because of cost, or disability, or the sheer number of places we all wish we could see, that we never quite have time for. Virtual reality has proven to be a handy surrogate for real-life travel, allowing people to experience the look and feel of a famous site, or even plan their real-life trip by getting to know their destination.
- 4. Immersive media. If virtual reality is prized for gaming because it’s more immersive than looking at a screen, this same quality makes it a promising medium for storytelling and documentaries as well. There simply is no experience that compares with being dropped in the middle of a virtual battlefield, such as in the first-ever virtual reality documentary about children in Syria last year.
- 5. Orientations. Sometimes the best uses for VR are also the most prosaic. A VR tour can be used to orient new employees, introduce potential students to a campus, and guide people through learning basic procedures.
- 6. Science education. Remember the grainy, outdated videos you had to watch in science class growing up? Their days could be numbered, and science could get a lot more exciting once students get to experience powerful experiments firsthand in VR, or take virtual trips to the stars or the world of microscopic organisms.
These are just a few of the ways we see virtual reality changing the landscape—and often improving lives. What are your hopes for virtual reality? Have you tried one of the headsets yet, and which one is your favorite?