This is how virtual reality could go spectacularly wrong

The wrong VR experience could make you lose your lunch ... or kill you.
Topic: Innovation
1 of 17 Image: Andrej Sokolow/dpa/Corbis

The dangerous new world of VR

2016 is set to be the year of virtual reality. The tech has made huge advances, and the long-awaited Oculus headset is set to launch in March.

But while virtual reality tech holds a lot of promise in entertainment, education, and the workplace, there are serious downsides to it, too.

Here are 16 ways that VR technology can go very, very wrong.

2 of 17 Image: John Rensten/Corbis

VR can ruin your eyes

Do virtual reality headsets cause eye damage? The answer varies, it seems, depending on who you ask -- and what VR rig you use.

Oculus, for example, brags that it "causes very little eye strain, particularly compared to other standard displays or headmounts." But Rony Abovitz, founder of competing VR startup Magic Leap, says that some hardware could cause serious problems.

"There are a class of devices (see-through and non-see-through) called stereoscopic 3D," Abovitz wrote on a Reddit AMA thread. "We at Magic Leap believe these inputs into the eye-brain system are incorrect and can cause a spectrum of temporary and/or permanent neurologic deficits."

3 of 17 Image: Lovense

VR sex might kill your marriage

Sex sells -- it always has, and it always will. So it's no surprise that there are already numerous companies (Lovense, Thrixxx, etc.) working on VR sex simulation programs that will allow you to have virtual relations with your fellow humans and high-tech sex-cessories that blur the line between the virtual and real world.

We're being pretty hyperbolic by suggesting that VR sex will lead to humanity's extinction. Still, if VR sex winds up getting really, really good, it's easy to see how the tech could get in the way of real-world intimacy between couples.

4 of 17 Image: Lions Gate Entertainment

VR can numb all our feels

As lifelong gamers who witnessed the infamous 1993 Game Violence Senate Hearing, we take any purported connection between virtual violence and real violence with a huge grain of salt.

That said, it's impossible to ignore the possibility that maybe, just maybe subjecting yourself to repeated, immersive, ultraviolent VR experiences could be desensitizing. Not Patrick Bateman-level desensitization, but still.

"Clearly, the projection of images in virtual reality has some value," explains Daisaku Ikeda, head of the UN-connected Soka Gakkai International, a Buddhist peace organization. "But it can distort as well as stimulate the real-life experiences in which people share direct contact with each other.

"On the harmful side, I think the overpowering stimulation and excitement of virtual reality can dull the imagination and numb sympathetic feelings for real pain and suffering."

5 of 17 Image: deux/Corbis

You'll be puking all over the place

If you have issues with motion sickness, you should probably avoid VR, or at least have a barf bag ready when you use it. Bad motion tracking, changes in virtual acceleration, low on-screen image refresh rates and poor resolution animation can all cause what is known as "cybersickness," the virtual equivalent of motion sickness.

Good software and hardware design can help reduce the incidence of sickness. And a recent study from Purdue University suggests that virtual reality sickness can be reduced by another 13.5 percent just by adding a virtual nose on your screen.

6 of 17 Image: Sandy Huffaker/Corbis

Someone WILL scare themselves to death

If you have a heart condition, you should probably avoid virtual reality; it could kill you. Seriously.

Denny Unger of Cloudhead Games explains: "The low hanging fruit of VR, to me, is horror games that purposely do jump scares. We're very close to having the first death in VR. I firmly believe that.

"When the commercial version comes out, somebody is going to scare somebody to death-somebody with a heart condition or something like that. It is going to happen. Absolutely."

7 of 17 Image: Ian Hooten/Science Photo Library/Corbis

A nation of strained necks

Virtual reality is a literal pain in the neck. Frequent use of heavy, head-mounted units causes strain.

Virutal reality headaches are rather common problems, too, though modern VR devices are addressing this issue.

8 of 17 Image: Colin Anderson/Blend Images/Corbis

Virtual war; real PTSD

According to noted VR investor Mike Rothenberg, exposure to intense and violent virtual reality scenarios could have a lasting traumatic effect on some viewers.

"Inside a virtual reality war experience, you may feel like you are actually in a war," Rothenberg told VideoInk. "VR could make a very different imprint on your memory and your brain that could lead to actual post-traumatic stress disorder."

"We simply don't know the real-life implications of experiencing terrifying content in VR," he added.

9 of 17 Image: Ian Hooton/Science Photo Library/Corbis

VR can turn us into sad hermits

For some people, the better virtual reality looks, the worse real life will look in comparison. It could even lead some to embrace social isolation.

That said, some doctors are using virtual reality as treatment for mental health issues. A recent study published in the British Journal of Psychiatry Open suggests that you can reduce your feelings of depression and improve your self-compassion simply by showing compassion to a virtual human in a simulation.

10 of 17 Image: Timothy Fadek/Corbis

There's nothing virtual about the panic attacks

Do you have problems with anxiety? Because virtual reality is so immersive (and occassionally disorienting), a stressful situation inside an intense VR game could trigger panic attacks in players.

But there's good news here, too: VR technology is currently being used to treat those with anxiety issues. Deep, an underwater exploration game for the Oculus Rift, ties your in-game movement to relaxing breathing exercises.

Indie game developer and mental health professional Christos Reid discussed his experience with Deep to Vice: "I had never had such an effective anxiety treatment before. Nothing has ever helped me the way Deep did."

11 of 17 Image: Tim Pannell/Corbis

You could get sued into oblivion

Very few consumers have tried out virtual reality technology, and even fewer use VR on a regular basis. Because of this, we've seen few virtual reality-related injuries. But they will happen.

Gaming-focused firm Gamma Law warns that if you're making VR content, you could be at serious risk of legal action once these injuries start to occur. A person that breaks a leg falling over a living room couch could seek damages due to the tech being "defective and dangerous," for example.

VR hardware manufacturers could be sued over this too, if they're not careful to exert enough control over what developers can do with the system.

12 of 17 Image: James Leynse/Corbis

People will make fun of you

When you wear a piece of technology on your head -- especially something as hot and trendy as virtual reality glasses -- you draw a lot of attention to yourself. Unfortunately, a lot of this attention winds up being negative.

Remember how Google Glass users were branded as "Glassholes" and banned from Silicon Valley restaurants and bars?

13 of 17 Image: Jordi Boixareu/ZUMA Press/Corbis

You can become a VR junkie

You've probably heard about people getting addicted to video games and the Internet; technology can produce cheap dopamine highs in people.

But that kind of tech will seem like an entry-level drug compared to the crack cocaine that is virtual reality.

As science writer Steven Kotler explains for Forbes, the added immersion of virtual reality will better allow programmers to trigger rushes of neurochemicals such as norepinephrine, anandamide, serotonin, dopamine, and endorphins.

"Right now, we don't know enough about manipulating this neurochemistry to routinely trick the brain into releasing this cascade of chemicals via video game but that will change," Kotler writes.

14 of 17 Image: Antenna/fstop/Corbis

Children will starve

In South Korea, a number of children have starved to death because their parents could not pull themselves away from playing online games. In one particularly upsetting example, an infant died because her parents were too busy raising a virtual child inside a game.

When parents suffer from a tech addiction, it's often their children who suffer.

15 of 17 Image: Frank Rˆder/Westend61/Corbis

People can rob you blind

If you use a VR system in public -- say, while riding on the train on your way to work -- you could find yourself being targeted by thieves.

"You forget where you are other than the vibrations and bouncing," explains Patrick O'Luanaigh, the CEO of British virtual reality firm nDreams. "It's hard defending against real-life threats you can't see coming."

If thieves are bold enough to steal Google Glasses off peoples' faces, surely they won't hesitate to steal an even-more disorienting Oculus.

16 of 17 Image: T & L/BSIP/Corbis

VR can make our brains lazy

Neuroscientists have discovered that virtual reality simulations affect the brain very differently than the real world does -- at least in rats.

According to research performed at the University of California, Los Angeles, our brains create mental maps of our real-life surroundings using all our available senses. Because virtual reality only uses some of these senses, these maps are incomplete while inside the simulation.

It's not yet known if this disconnect between reality and virtual reality will have any long-term effects on brain function in humans.

17 of 17 Image: TrueTube

You'll get pranked like mad

Yup, some jerk will probably wind up pushing you while you're VR-ing, with hilariously disasterous results.

Just like the guy in the YouTube video above.

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