No. Virtual Reality Will NOT Turn Kids into Zombies
Virtual reality goggles have only just started to reach the consumer market (with hefty price tags) but already, there’s “But what about the children?” fretting.
In a preview of what is certainly going to eventually become a chorus of media nanny worrywarts, Naomi Schaefer Riley, in the New York Post, expressed concerns because, well, little kids are easily scared and virtual reality is a thing that can scare them:
“Unfortunately, we have no idea what the effect of putting these headsets on kids will be. And the manufacturers seem to acknowledge that. Samsung’s manual for its Gear VR reads: “Not for use by children under 13. Watching videos or playing games with the Gear VR may affect the visual development of children. When children, age 13 or older, use the Gear VR, adults should limit their usage time and ensure they take frequent breaks. Adults should monitor children closely after using the Gear VR if children feel discomfort.” Hmm.
Riley continues: “What are the chances such a device would be in the home of any kid and they wouldn’t actually get the chance to use it? Pretty slim. But parents should beware. Kids who are still getting used to what is a part of the real world may not be ready for a virtual one yet.”
The headline of the piece, “Virtual reality will completely transform children into zombies,” is absolutely clickbait. There isn’t anything in the entire article that suggests that VR will dull their wits. As a matter of fact, her fear seems to be the exact opposite, that virtual reality is way too intense for children. Then, strangely, she states a personal experience that suggests that the problem solves itself anyway (children themselves are likely to opt out of experiences they find too intense—even in instances where adults don’t seem to recognize the fear factor).
Riley also worries about children being the target of virtual reality marketing. This probably explains how the headline came about. McDonald, as she said in her piece, had a special virtual reality toy in its Happy Meals in Sweden, and little inspires the fear that we’re turning our kids into zombies quicker than a fast food chain giving out free knick-knacks.
Let’s, however, be a bit skeptical about the idea that little kids in Sweden are getting actual virtual reality goggles that run into the hundreds of dollars them as free toys. Indeed, what McDonald’s is actually offering is not much more than an updated version of the old Viewmaster toys from our own childhoods, using a smartphone rather than little paper and plastic reels. Parents should be more worried about this toy, and that’s all it is, causing a headache due to eye strain, rather than any form of ‘zombification’ as suggested by Riley.
Riley’s piece is actually so reasonable to the point of obviousness (hence, irrelevance), we are more likely than not to see that same level of fear-mongering about the impacts of virtual reality on children and teens as we have from movies, music, video games, comic books, advertising, smartphones, or pretty much anything that engages the imagination of the young that isn’t a parent, government authority figure, or school textbook.
Fortunately, the current generation of parents grew up in arcades and playing Nintendo and Playstation, so even though virtual reality is a relatively new phenomenon (not considering failed efforts in dying arcades in the 1990s), there exists a class of adults now that understand the basics of this form of interactive entertainment, indulged in it, and turned out just fine (well, mostly) and are better equipped to manage their children’s exposures.
Whilst Riley does not suggest any government intervention in her piece, we should probably be worried that somebody is going to decide at some point that regulation or some sort of bureaucratic nannying should come into play and set the rules for a child’s exposure to this technology.