Last summer, Allen Roach saw something that really upset him: His then-11-year-old son, Peyton, used a sword to cut arms and legs of characters in a medieval virtual reality fantasy game. Blade & Trolldom, and then threw the disintegrated digital bodies down from a bridge.
Of course, it all happened in VR. But for Mr. Roach – who watched this bloody scene while watching his son’s VR game on a computer screen that reflected what Peyton was doing with an Oculus Quest 2 headset – it felt uncomfortably real.
Sir. Roach knew that when Peyton looked down at VR, he saw a weapon held in virtual hands, not just a plastic game controller. It did not matter that it was a single player game, which meant that the characters were not represented by other human players.
“It bothered me in a way, it does not do it on flat screens itself because they do it with their hands in physical presence,” he said.
Roach, who lives in Kansas City, Missouri and works as a community manager for the VR-based learning platform Edstutia, sat down with Peyton at the time and talked about what had happened. He also stopped letting his three oldest children (Peyton, now 12, and his 11- and 14-year-old brothers) play that game.
Roach is one of a growing number of parents navigating a new frontier in technology and learning as they go. More kids have access to VR headsets than ever before – and with it access to a still niche but expanding virtual world of games, avatar-driven hangouts and many more activities.
Technology market researcher IDC predicted shipments of 9.4 million VR headsets in 2021, of which 3.6 million were expected to be shipped to the United States during the past holiday season, said research director Jitesh Ubrani. IDC believes that Quest 2 makes up more than three-quarters of these headsets.
While the headset is popping up in several homes, several models, including Quest 2, lack established parental controls such as time limits and profile maturation options that you can find on a traditional video game console or service like Netflix.
Meta, which has come under renewed scrutiny in the US in recent months for the impact its social network has on children, is now facing questions from UK regulators about the safety of their VR headsets for children.
Companies that sell the headset often set age limits for the gadgets. Quest 2, for example, is intended for ages 13 and up, and requires a Facebook account that is limited to those 13 and up. But parents may disagree or not even notice it.
The only indication of an age limit on the Quest 2 box, for example, is in a small print on the back corner of a removable paper holster, making it the most disposable part of the headset’s packaging.
Meta spokeswoman Kristina Milian told CNN Business that the company is “constantly seeking to improve the protection and controls” offered to users, and that Quest devices were “not designed” for children under 13.
Ms Milian also said its “headset packaging, health and safety warnings (and) onboarding safety video” make this age restriction “clear.”
‘It should be easier for parents’ – mother Amber Albrecht
But some parents feel they have to come up with their own rules and VR security strategies on the go. These range from watching children’s every virtual movement in real time via a smartphone or other screen, to limiting what they can download – or even just allowing them to use the technology with an adult.
“I think it should be easier for parents,” said Amber Albrecht, a parent in Bend, Oregon, who let her daughter Rylee, 10, and son Cooper, 8, buy Quest 2 headsets with Christmas money in December.
Sometimes I feel like someone is watching me
Usually, parents can see what their children are watching or playing on a screen like a TV, tablet or smartphone. However, it is more difficult with VR as the screen sits on the user’s face, hidden from everyone around them.
Both Mr Roach and Mrs Albrecht told CNN Business that one way they get around this is by using a feature designed to let non-VR users in on what is happening behind the headset, known as casting. This option lets you see what the VR headset wearer is doing in real time on a smartphone or other flat screen.
“Every time my kids jump into VR, I take advantage of the casting feature,” said Mr. Roach, whose family has both a Quest 2 and a PlayStation VR headset, the latter of which offers parental controls such as playing time restrictions via a PlayStation. 4.
In his home, he said, it’s actually easier to monitor their three-dimensional activities than two-dimensional games on PS4, which are tucked away in a bedroom.
Hoping to prevent – or at least minimize – negative experiences in virtual spaces, Mr Roach and other parents said they monitor the apps their children download and set rules for what types of content are illegal. Roach said his kids are not allowed to download any apps, though they can suggest titles to him, and he will research them (and typically even play them) to make sure they are appropriate. His experience with Blade & Trolldom helped him find an unrealistic violence policy for VR games, but he’s okay with cartoon-like brutality.
Ms Albrecht, who works with public relations in the tech industry, does not allow any VR apps that include weapons, violence or zombies, she said. Since she set up both of her kids’ Quest 2 headsets with her own Facebook account, which connects to the Oculus app on her phone, she can check the app to see if they have downloaded any free apps. The kids use the headset next to her or her husband, she said, where the adults can also hear (via Quest 2’s built-in speakers) what’s going on.
Despite all the potential risks, Ms. Albrecht and other parents said they also see how VR can be fun and useful for their children. “It’s also like this new frontier of their social life where they learn to communicate,” she said. “We work in a distant world. They also need to learn those skills.”
The effect over time is not clear
While casting and restricting content types that children can access can help adults track what their children are doing, it does not eliminate the possibility that a child will be exposed to violence or abuse in virtual environments.
“Things you see, you can not see,” said Kavya Pearlman, founder and CEO of the XR Safety Initiative, whose efforts include creating child safety standards for VR and augmented reality or AR.
In addition, very little is known about how VR use can affect children over time. A number of studies have been conducted over the years, but it is still unclear whether and how VR can damage a child’s eyes, brain or psychological development.
Ms Pearlman hopes to see more research this year. Such work may be funded by Meta itself, as in 2021 it announced a $ 50 million ($ 69 million) investment in research aimed in part at “youth digital skills programs” for the so-called metaverse.
In addition to monitoring what kids are doing when wearing a headset, Ms. Pearlman recommends that you talk to kids about not talking to strangers in VR (as she pointed out, “it could be anyone” you interact with) . The XR Safety Initiative lists a wealth of recommendations for parents whose children use VR online – including checking individual apps for the existence of various safety settings. Ms Pearlman also told that children do not spend more than 20 minutes using VR at a time, even though she acknowledged that it is an arbitrary time limit.
“I think the time limit really depends on the amount of stimulus the experience gives the child, which we can’t really calculate in an instant,” she said.
Although parents do not set a time limit, a distinctive feature of existing wireless VR headsets can be an advantage for those who are tired of tracking their children’s virtual activities, as they only have a few hours of charging and can run out much faster than others. gadgets kids can use.
“I would say it’s the other parental control: battery life. It does not last that long,” Mrs Albrecht said.