VR headset makers warn against wearing their gear for extended periods. Oculus, for example, recommends taking "at least a 10 to 15 minute break" every half hour whether you think you need it or not, and more frequent and longer breaks as needed. Likewise, HTC warns against prolonged use of its Vive headset and says to take "regular breaks." Ignoring any and all warnings of extended use, two VR enthusiasts decided to live in a virtual world for 48 hours straight. Well, mostly.
Dean Johnson, head of innovation for Brandwidth, recruited his friend Sarah Jones from Coventry University to spend two days in VR immersion. Among other things, they wanted to test the arbitrary limits of VR use. In doing so, they went against practically every VR health and safety guideline out there and only took five-minute breaks every hour to record video logs and use the bathroom.
The duo told Engadget that this was not a PR stunt for any particular VR headset company, and that every headset manufacturer he approached about this experiment was unwilling to participate, "mostly because they thought we'd die," Johnson quipped.
Rather than spend their 48 hours watching movies and playing games in VR, Johnson and Jones participated in several real-world activities, such as riding go-carts, getting tattoos, and even standing on the wings of an airplane while it was airborne.
"We wanted it to be as physical as possible," Johnson explained. "How extreme do you need to get with the physical additions to VR to make it feel real?"
Johnson was also curious as to how VR could affect real-world activities, such as getting a tattoo. He had never been inked before and was not all that enthusiastic about about having a needle repeatedly pierce his skin. However, being immersed in VR while having it done settled him down.
"I began the process with my headset up, allowing me an unimpeded view of my arm as the needle struck home—my baseline pain levels were set. If I were to describe this raw tattooing pain as a sustained maximum of 10, I felt the VR content and the subsequent cocktail of endorphins and adrenaline genuinely dropped the irritation to a 6 or 7," .
He also measured kept track of hits heart rate with an Apple Watch while this went on. After peaking at 130 beats per minute while in the tattoo studio with a clear view of the procedure, it dropped to 74 beats per while wearing a VR headset.
Interestingly, standing on the wings of an airplane did not prove all that thrilling while wearing a GearVR headset. Johnson the experience "didn't feel real to us with what we were seeing," in part because he and Jones couldn't see all that well through the headset to get the full experience.
While both participants lived to tell about their extended time in VR (along with some extreme adventuring), none of this proves that the warnings against extended use are unfounded. Johnson admitted to some ill effects, such as slightly more blurry vision without glasses for a few days after this took place. The duo also experienced physical pain—the bridge of Johnson's nose ended up bruised, and Jones complained of her cheeks having "kind of permanent red marks on them" afterward.
It will be interesting to see what other experiments get conducted as VR matures and starts to enter the mainstream. With regards to gaming, reports surface every now and again of someone dying after playing for an extended time. Gaming in VR tends to be more physical than sitting down with a keyboard and mouse, though like anything else, moderation is the key.