Help! My Kid Wants an Oculus!
The most popular virtual reality (VR) hardware belongs to Meta’s Oculus (formerly Facebook). And as more games a videos offer a VR experience (YouTube has an entire VR channel), more kids are asking parents for an Oculus Quest 2.
I purchased an Oculus this week and performed a full review so that parents know exactly what the risks are and can make an informed decision about what’s best for their kids, now that virtual reality is mainstream.
VR has educational, therapeutic, and amazing experiential uses. Especially during lock-down periods when it’s not possible to physically visit certain places. Or maybe someone’s health or age prevents them from visiting an exotic or natural place that’s always been on their bucket list. VR can give them that experience. Nothing beats the real thing. But if the real thing isn’t possible, then VR can be a good surrogate.
VR also has amazingly helpful training uses for the military and in the medical field. The University of Washington Medical Center is now using virtual reality video games instead of addiction-forming narcotic painkillers (e.g., morphine) as part of its pain-management program for severe burn victims. By playing the game SnowWorld through a set of VR goggles and using a joystick to throw snowballs at cute penguins, severe burn patients find that their sensation of pain decreases greatly while playing the game.
The porn industry also jumped into VR quickly. In fact, they were one of the first industries to embrace this technology. The old adage goes that anything new in technology is first monetized and then it’s pornified.
Key Features in the Oculus Quest 2:
- Starting in 2020, a Facebook account is needed in order to log into the Quest. This requirement created a lot of pushback, especially for parents who already had children under age 13 using the device.
- Does Oculus have any parental controls? Not really. Oculus has its own web browser (just like Google), but no on-device filters. This means a router with strong filtering and category controls is a must for any family using the Oculus Quest 2 (or any VR headset with a browser).
- But you can cast the Quest to various devices! Yes, you can cast whatever it happening on the Oculus Quest to various devices, as explained here. This can be a good way to monitor what is happening on the Oculus if you want to see what they’re seeing. Here is the support article form Oculus explaining how to do that.
- File saving on the Quest: parents can synch the Quest headset to the Oculus app on their phone to ensure that any pictures or videos downloaded to the headset are also seen by parents on the app.
- Quest battery life: according to reports from parents, a full charge lasts maybe 1-2 hours.
- Oculus game cost: VR games, activities, and experiences have a cost and are downloaded from the Facebook Oculus Store. Prices range from $14.99 for individual games to $70 “packs” of similar games.
- Oculus storage: We purchased the 128GB storage device ($299 USD). The 256GB version is $399 USD. This is really the only feature difference between the two levels.
- Game size: Many of the popular games, e.g., Beat Saber, Fruit Ninja, Pistol Whip, and Echo are all 2GB and below. More recent games that include the Oculus 2’s enhanced graphical power range from 5-12GB.
- There is no external storage like an SD card in order to store more games on Oculus. Therefore, if you exceed your Oculus Quest storage, you’ll have to pick and choose which games you want locally on the device vs. which ones are uninstalled (but can be reinstalled from the App Store). This has been an achilles heel for Oculus, since when you uninstall a game, you lose any “saved” games. Fortunately, it was recently announced that Oculus cloud backup is coming before the end of 2021.
- Multiple popular video sites, like YouTube (and also porn sites) have an ever-expanding VR video offering.
- After only about 15 minutes of use, the headset gave me a burning rash on my face, as you can see here:
Other Considerations for Parents Who Might Purchase an Oculus Quest 2:
- Very little is known about the effects of the totally immersive VR experience on a developing, young brain. This makes us a little nervous. The phrase we use with parents is, “For all of its complexity, the brain operates according to a simple principle. Whatever I feed my precious brain is what it learns to love. Especially before age 16.” Therefore, I’m hesitant to put such powerful, new technology in front of my own young boys, which means I cannot fully recommend it to others. The articles we did find agreed with my gut-level hesitations. One article hypothesized that “Children at a young age might fail to emphatically discern between reality and fantasy, leading to upbringing issues.” Other articles pointed toward ocular strain (the “vergence/accommodation effect”), and disruption to a child’s default coordination strategy, which was published in Scientific Reports.
- Honestly, using the Oculus Quest 2 was very disorienting for my adult brain. I felt like I needed to sit down and almost get my bearings again after about 20 minutes of use. Maybe I would get used to it over time, but I’m not going to find out. I know that I have a very sensitive dopamine reward system, which makes me susceptible to compulsive activities, and also makes me a little nervous about getting “hooked” on virtual reality.
- Since Oculus has no device-level parental controls, even if you have a great router in your own home, allowing the Oculus to travel to other WiFi networks in other homes carries risk that must be considered. Remember, up to 25% of video content on the unfiltered internet is explicit (Reward Foundation research). Even if the video and/or pictures aren’t optimized for VR, it can all still be watched on Oculus just like on any smartphone or smart TV.
Oculus Quest 2 Bottom Line:
For me, Oculus Quest (and all virtual reality) just makes me nervous with kids. If a router is in place, the device is synch’d to a parent app, and there’s minimal use, I’m sure a few parents will say that it’s a lot of fun. It’s the brain side that is the greatest unknown and source of potential concern for me.
Should adults use Oculus Quest? It’s up to you! Our adult brains are definitely more ceramic (rigid and formed). We don’t know much about any long-term impacts of virtual reality on us, so listen to your body and (as an adult) use cautiously.
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