One of the most popular things to emerge from the virtual reality (VR) scene has been the use of VR to scare the wits out of people. Halloween and horror movie enthusiasts love them — virtual haunted houses and virtual escape rooms. But the fact that they can be such a scream demonstrates another reason why it’s so important to get VR right — you don’t want to make your customers sick.
Rule Number One: Don’t Kill Your Customers
Sound harsh? So is death. When we experience a fright, our bodies respond in all kinds of ways — we breathe heavier, our hands tremble, our pulse quickens. When it’s a fast fright, like when the zombie pops at the end of the haunted house at an amusement park — it’s good for a campy photo and a few laughs after the shock wears off. But in a VR experience that is so immersive that it’s near impossible to remember that it’s not real, there’s a growing concern that we’re not far away from someone literally being scared to death. And there’s a growing chorus of people saying that we need to better understand how VR affects our health. That can’t be a bad thing.
Rule Number Two: Don’t Say We’re Overreacting
When people sound the alarm bell on something like this, there’s a risk that advocates will say we just want to ruin other people’s fun. The thing is, someone has to be the first to yell “fire!” We’d rather yell and be wrong than not yell and be right because, well … see Rule Number One. The fact is that VR technology in the market right now is replete with warnings about the potential for dizziness, blurred vision, nausea and other symptoms. Do you remember when the movie The Blair Witch Project came out in theatres? People ran from their seats to throw up. That really happened. In today’s VR context, there is sufficient concern about health effects from VR that the Mayo Clinic spent 11 years trying to solve some of the most common problems. For us, that shows that we have a lot more to learn about it.
Rule Number Three: Think of the Long Haul
Companies that want to use VR content need to think about how using the technology will reflect on them in the long term. That includes thinking about how the technology affects your customers. It can be scary to watch a bandwagon go by and not be on it, but do you really want to jump on it if you don’t know where it’s going? Investing the time to understand the technology and use it well will build better brand loyalty in the long run. That doesn’t mean we’re not stoked about what VR has to offer — quite the opposite: we’re monstrously excited to see it see it done well. But as much as we enjoy a good zombie flick, we enjoy our customers alive, not undead!