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PlayStation VR and other headsets could lead to serious eye problems, leading surgeon warns

Sony is ramping up the hype of PlayStation VR ahead of its launch on October 13. The headset, which is generating plenty of buzz at trade shows and gaming conventions, could very well help usher virtual reality gaming into the mainstream.

However, one doctor warns that the technology could spell doom for a generation of gamers, who risk developing serious eye problems from using the technology.

Leading laser eye surgeon Dr David Allamby, who is the clinical director of London’s Focus clinic, told The Mirror that VR could create a generation of people with myopia (short-sightedness) and “dry eye”, which is basically insufficient tears to keep the cornea moist.

“With virtual reality headsets about to experience a real boom, we are setting up the next generation of gamers for some potentially serious eye problems,” he explained.

“Parents and younger people need to know the risks. With VR, we’re going to potentially see more and more people suffering from a lack of exposure to daylight – something which affects the way our eyes naturally grow and which can lead to short-sightedness, or ‘myopia’.

“And because VR prevents our eyes from naturally focusing at a far distance, this too can speed-up the progression of myopia.”

Dr Allamby said that due to the complex visual processing of a VR headset, many users experience dry eye because they forget to blink, which is needed to lubricate the eye. VR’s “3D action environment” exacerbates this problems, he says.

“And it’s not something to be taken lightly. Over a prolonged period of time, dry eye can lead to extreme pain, with sufferers sometimes describing it as being stabbed in their eyes,” he warned.

Our eyes naturally converge and diverse as we focus on objects at different distances, and VR disrupts this process.

“VR headsets contain two small digital screens, each projected at one eye, creating a stereoscopic effect to create an illusion of depth. The closeness of these to the eyes over intense long periods of use could lead to severe vision strain or neurological issues and needs to be better understood,” Dr Allamby explained.

The Word … with Master Fenix

I’ve spent quite a bit of time with PlayStation VR. I played it for about 2 hours across maybe five demos at E3 2015, and then a few times at gamescom that same year. Games like Kitchen, which essentially turned into Resident Evil 7, did a fantastic job of creating tension and fear, and I think VR can do a great job of immersing players in those tense, frightening environments. Other games, however, made it difficult for me to really appreciate and enjoy the technology. The RE7 demo I played last week made me nauseous, not because the game’s poorly designed or anything like that, but rather because there’s so much movement, and constant changes in environmental depth and lighting.

The best demo I have played is Star Wars Battlefront: X-Wing VR Mission, and I think the reason that demo thrived and generated such universally positive buzz (apart from the nostalgia and fantasy element) is because it takes place in such a vast virtual environment, and so how brains and eyes are able to adapt faster than they can in, say, a demo such as RE7, which is varied in its environmental aesthetic.

It may be that I’m overthinking this, and I’m no surgeon so I can’t claim to know anything about perception and how our eyes and brains function when using VR. But it’ll be interesting to see how people embrace PlayStation VR and the tech more broadly once it really fights its way into the mainstream, and if this doctor’s claims are indeed correct.

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