I’ve been playing PSVR for some months now and am about to start using a HTC Vive in an educational setting. One of the things that has become very apparent to me which i think will also need to be carefully considered when using VR in education is its integration with personal space.
Normally with computers personal space is not an issue. Well, of course there is the issue with someone taking over your mouse and control of your PC which is a little rude. When you play a game or interact with 2D content on the computer the computer does not intrude on your personal space. You might feel involved — and for many users this involvement is complete. I remember the hook that was Asheron’s Call — but you have the option of looking away, breaking that interaction.
With VR there is an amazing level of immersion. Even with simple games or experiences. A large part of this is due to the headset enclosing the whole of your auditory and visual inputs. Once in, you cannot escape. For me this was an epiphany and has led to my interest in VR. The first ‘proper’ VR experience was using my PSVR with the The Deep mini-game (which I have to declare an interest as my brother was one of the VR programmers working on that title for Sony). The immersion was gobsmacking. Being able to lean over the side of the cage I was travelling in immediately revealed this to be far better than traditional 3D. When the shark charged at the cage, it was genuinely scary.
My next example of immersion and personal space is the game Farpoint. This game involves moving along an alien world following a crash. The problem is, the world is inhabited by crab-like aliens. These burst through the earth and jump out at you. If you do not shoot them in time, they launch themselves at your head. Think face huggers in the film Aliens.
Now if this were just played traditionally on a PC or console in 2D this would be exciting but certainly would not cross over to my personal space. It is on a screen a few feet away, I can recoil away not just from the monster but the whole scene which helps make it less real. I can even look around my room and see my (laughing) family or see familiar objects. With VR, however, it’s a wholly different proposition. When the alien launches it feels very, very real. I’m not kidding when I say that on one occasion I was terrified and nearly ran from the room. A difficult proposition as I was wired to the PS at the time. Even moving my head to the side could not remove the image!
Game companies know this and can create some amazing experiences using the fact that you are trapped in a specific setting. They know where you will look, where you are standing and can apply the same sort of tricks that are used in horror films only with a far more effective — read terrifying — impact.
How does this relate to VR in an educational setting? Well, obviously I am not intending on using horror games with students. But it does make me wonder about whether certain students might find the VR experience more stressful or challenging than you might think. I think that I will have to develop strategies for introducing students to using VR and ensuring that they understand how VR can interact with their personal space. It also means that I will carry out a review of research into this further. Are there aspects I have not thought of?
There is the possibility of making positive use of VR and personal space. For example, I can imagine creating scenarios where students can experience being bullied (or being a bully) or other situations. However, I think I will now be a little more cautious before introducing students to such experiences without considering how it will impact on their personal space.