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VR marathons: Does long-term use affect your eyes?

If someone asked ‘would it be ok that we will be in VR for over 48 hours,’ the reaction will be a unanimous no. Though there have not been many, the few studies we have on long exposures to VR have shown the effects can be painful at worst, and damaging at best. More crucially, there are no studies which look into long exposures with children – something which will become more important when VR goes steadily mainstream.
But that doesn’t stop Sarah Jones, Dean Johnson, and CyberLink to rise up to the challenge and push their bodies to the limits.

#VR48: Pushing the limits

That was the general advice given to Dean Johnson, Head of Innovation at Brandwidth, when he said he will do a VR marathon, called #VR48, which is launching tomorrow. As such, Dean had prepared himself proficiently: ‘We’re jumping out of VR for 5 mins every hour to record and broadcast our video diaries on Facebook Live and Periscope in 360º.
‘This isn’t a challenge where we’re trying to stay awake continually for the full 48 hours. Several challenges have focused on this recently and it’s the main reason we couldn’t go for the official Guinness World Record. We’re in this for meaningful results and to promote VR’s potential – not merely to prove a point.’
A bold move, and one which will likely make a splash when it launches, he noted that he has always revelled in pushing boundaries; and with fears of general fatigue, and pain from a tattoo experience, Dean has a lot to contend with over a long time.

Guiness World Record attempt and research: What had we found?

Not all people worry about how VR can affect their bodies, however; CyberLink had set the Guiness World Record for the longest marathon watching virtual reality (VR) video content. To reach its record breaking goal, Team CyberLink, with help from two devoted New York-based movie fans, endured and recorded a 50-hour non-stop viewing session in a virtual reality headset, setting the bar for future challengers.
“I had no idea just how difficult it would be to complete this VR movie marathon,” said Christison. “Being completely immersed for such a long time was a huge mental strain. It was also physically demanding but an incredibly forward-looking experience. I was shocked by how PowerDVD 17 can seamlessly playback any type of VR content, including the fast-growing YouTube library that is integrated within the software, and it supports both HTC Vive and Oculus Rift headsets – which is an ideal way to enjoy movies in a more immersive environment. It’s like your own personal IMAX theater!”
What is really cool about this is that it is one of few cases where a doctor used it as an opportunity for the health effects of being in VR for so long. Both before and after the VR movie marathon attempt, Dr. Robert Glatter, Assistant Professor of Emergency Medicine, Lenox Hill Hospital, Northwell Health, conducted regular physical check-ups of the participants to examine the effects of prolonged immersion in a virtual environment.
Interestingly, Dr. Glatter’s findings indicated that both participant’s elevated heart rate after a prolonged period of sleeplessness, as well as neurological side-effects such as an increased frequency of involuntary open-eyed “micronaps” and acute hallucinations.
“This challenge offered by CyberLink was a fascinating opportunity to review the effects of prolonged immersion in VR on someone’s health,” said Dr. Robert Glatter. “There has been a lot of speculation about the impact of VR on a person’s health, but there are few studies that have examined its effects in a controlled environment. Both AJ and Alex put themselves through an incredible test of endurance, pushing their bodies to the limit with impressive results.”
Impressive indeed, and also fascinating. In a world where a large chunk of the working populace have to be in front of screens to work, we have seen a steady increase in the number of people wearing glasses. According to the Vision Council of America, approximately 72% of adults use vision correction. With VR becoming more popular, it will be interesting to see whether there will be Nintendo-like warnings after every few minutes to recommend a break – which, like with Nintendo’s products, may be ignored themselves.
Tom Ffiske