25 Hours in Virtual Reality
Last week, a Los Angeles writer, Derek Westerman, 32, set a world record for spending 25 hours playing a single game in virtual reality.
He took on the challenge, having tried virtual reality for the first time earlier this year. Westerman had been wondering how long anyone could last in an experience that he considered intense and overwhelming, and when he found out there was no world record for time spent in a virtual reality headset, he pitched the stunt to Super Deluxe, a maker of comedic YouTube videos.
The challenge consisted of Westerman spending 25 hours making three-dimensional artwork in a game called Tilt Brush. At the beginning of every hour, Westerman would start a new painting, and alternate between standing, sitting down or lying on the floor.
At intervals during the ordeal, a support person fed Westerman a few pieces of pizza and a Chipotle chicken burrito. The Guinness Book of World Records demanded that two observers were on hand to keep a minute-by-minute journal of Westerman’s actions. He was not allowed to sleep or stop playing the game and even trips to the bathroom were replaced by a red bucket.
Westerman considered quitting several times as he grew fatigued by the marathon session, and to conserve energy he would paint extremely slowly. At one point, he threw up into the red bucket.
Westerman, who ultimately said it was a great experience, hasn’t used a VR headset since setting the world record about a month ago. Spending a day in virtual reality changed how his brain registered space and for 24 hours after the experience, he said that everything looked uncanny, with objects in the distance looked odd and unreal.
HTC, which manufactures the headset Westerman wore, recommends virtual reality users take periodic breaks. An HTC spokesman remarked that the company has no official comment on how long one can wear a Vive headset. Google, maker of the game Westerman played, refused to say whether it had any recommendations for how long someone should play the game.
You get used to it
According to University of Maryland professor Amitabh Varshney, who leads its virtual reality research efforts, human senses are capable of adapting well to new and different circumstances. Varshney mentioned an experiment in which an Austrian professor outfitted his assistant with glasses that inverted his vision, turning the world upside down. Even though the assistant was initially confused, before long, he was able to perform everyday tasks such as ride a bicycle.
Improvements in VR tech make extended Use Possible
Varshney points out that Westerman’s experience highlights the progress in virtual reality headsets and games, which is encouraging some users to actually consider spending extended periods of time in the headsets.
“If you tried virtual reality a few years ago your experience would be dramatically different than today,” said Eric Romo, the chief executive of AltSpace, a company which creates virtual reality software. “The inability of people to stay in virtual reality for a long period of time is not as real a problem as people think.”
Westerman’s need to throw up in a bucket at a point, is also a reminder that the health impacts of the new technology are not yet properly studied and understood, according to Varshney, leaving users largely on their own to make sure they don’t overdo it.