VR – The Escape for the Masses?

The non-profit organization Equality Lab is developing technology to support communities in a variety of tasks with the development of VR experiences that target specific parts of our lives. These areas are easily forgotten or on the back burner of every community on the globe.

They are using an interdisciplinary scientific advisory board to develop VR experiences that have a strong impact in such areas. SO far they have developed two programs:

  • VR Genie
  • VR With a Cop

VR Genie is program targeting seniors and creating experiences that they otherwise can’t fulfil for a variety of reasons. The can make you visit Europe, swim with dolphins, etc. This is definitely improving the quality of life for these seniors at a very reasonable cost. Fulfilling the last wish of someone’s life is valuable indeed.

VR GenieVR Genie – a VR experience by Equality Lab

VR With a Cop aims to help the police force to interact with at-risk youth in cities by creating VR experiences and games that help develop a connection to individuals that are otherwise outside of the reach of the police force. Creating a feeling of ‘we are on the same team’ may help to diffuse more dangerous real life situations in the future.

VR with a CopVR with a Cop – a VR experience by Equality Lab

All of these programs are developed with support of the Roddenberry foundation (Yes, as in Gene Roddenberry, the creator of Star Trek). The advisory board includes scientists from the fields of neuroscience, social psychology and VR technology to develop and constantly monitor such programs. This is a very hands on, practical approach to the development of effective VR experiences without the pressure of business success lurking in the background.

A different, more business like approach, is the Esqapes Immersive Relaxation installation that opened in Los Angeles. The idea is to combine a massage chair with a VR experience to intensify the sensation of the massage and allow for better relaxation. The VR part was developed by Angeles Vista Creative Ventures (AVCV LLC) a VR game developer that trademarked the idea of VR massages.

EsqapesEsqapes – A VR experience by AVCV LLC

Currently they offer 10 different experiences using the massage chair from garden and spa settings to beach and tropical retreats. You need to book a session in advance, with 30 min costing you $45. So far the only place you can experience this is in Los Angeles.

Well known is also the use of VR in the treatment of PTSD and similar disorders. We have reported on these applications before.

All of these application have in common that they interfere and alter the user’s mind. In some form, VR could be seen as a mind altering drug, without the chemical side effects. This is exactly what TRIPP wants to be. They target the enterprise and business world by promising increased productivity via reduced stress. “A turnkey solution that works in just 8 minutes”, what business depending on creative minds could not want to try this out?

TRIPPTRIPP – A VR experience for business people

Of course there are many more ideas in this direction in the market already. To a certain degree, VR rollercoasters play on the same mind alteration / interaction with the user. Alter ones mind and create an experience that is difficult or even impossible to achieve otherwise. This will attract thrill seekers as well as the spa relaxation crowd among us.

These kind of installations are not just based on trial and error, they rely on fundamental research showing positive results in various applications of neuroscience and psychology.

A review by a research group from the UK (Head-Mounted Virtual Reality and Mental Health: Critical Review of Current Research, Shaun Jordan of the current research status from July 2018, compared 82 studies of the influence of VR on mental health. They saw all the above mentioned applications for VR being researched and in general all studies indicate a high potential influence for VR on the human mind. Considering that most of this research was done with first generation headsets, at best, one may ponder if the effect with better quality headsets may be even greater. But that is the topic for future research, of course.

As with many important developments, VR has the potential to do a lot of good for mankind, however with all this positive potential comes also the potential for the negative side. If one can influence minds with this technology, who says what is good and what is evil? This maybe the biggest issue for the use of VR in these mental health fields. If you can’t think how this technology good be used for evil, I suggest watching the Matrix again. Influencing people on a large scale could create a real issue in the future sociologically as well as politically. – (NH)