Since its introduction in 1968, Virtual Reality (VR) has grown exponentially in its capabilities and uses in the modern world. In this study, we have discussed the technical aspects of VR as well as how developments in technology have allowed VR to be integrated into different fields. This study additionally focuses on the benefits of using VR. Key advantages of VR include its ability to provide a realistic and engaging simulation of events, allowing VR to be implemented in medicine, education, and gaming. The most notable implementations listed in the study are 3D-simulated training environments as well as immersive worlds that can be interacted with in the form of video games. However, there are also many disadvantages associated with the use of VR. These include cybersickness and the promotion of social isolation, leading users to drive away from real-life communication. Lastly, this study also highlights the future of VR technology and discusses some advancements being made in the field of VR.
1.1 What is VR?
Virtual Reality (VR) is a technology which simulates interactive 360-degree imaginary digital environments to replace the real world for a user using VR headsets. VR is the simulation of an environment accomplished by the creation of immersive experiences such as sight, sound, touch, and in some cases, smell (Altun and Telli, 2021; Curcio et al., 2016, cited in Altun and Telli, 2021). VR systems can be grouped by “desktop VR” and “immersive systems” based on the level of immersion they offer to the user.
Desktop VR uses a monitor to display the image of the world without any sensory output. On the other hand, immersive systems allow users to totally immerse themselves in a computer-generated world with the help of a head-mounted display (HMD) that supports a stereoscopic view of the scene sensitive to the user’s position and orientation (Mazuryk and Gervautz, 1997). Users can face several kinds of experiences via VR such as observing from a third-person perspective, walking around and exploring the virtual scene as a first-person, interacting with the objects in simulation, looking all around in the 360-degree media, entering the VR space, and interacting with each other’s avatars (Altun and Telli, 2021).
In technical terms, VR is an artificial three-dimensional environment created by a computer and presented to a person in an interactive way. It refers to the computer simulation displaying an environment through which one can walk and interact with objects and simulated computer-generated people (avatars). The virtual environment is usually three-dimensional, and it often attempts to replicate the real world in its appearance and physical phenomena. It simulates the user’s physical presence in an artificially generated world that allows interaction with the environment (Burdea and Coiffet, 2003 cited in Kamińska et al.,2019).
1.2 The Technical Aspect of VR
VR is notorious for its highly immersive experience, with advanced eye tracking systems and head movement detection to determine precisely what sections of the 3D-designed virtual environment to display to the user. Although a difference in opinion arises on what most directly defines a VR experience, the general characteristics are 3D images that look as if they are life-sized (from the user’s perspective), an all-encompassing environment combined with the ability to track a user’s motions – particularly their head and eye movements – and modify the images viewed by the user to reflect the change in perspective (Laurel, 2016; Strickland, 2015).
The key component in successfully providing a useful or entertaining experience in VR is the level of immersion, in which a user feels connected to their environment as a consequence of being able to interact with what can be seen – this combination is known as “telepresence” (Strickland, 2015). The immersion provided by VR comprises two main components: depth and breadth of information, referring to the amount and quality of data provided respectively (Strickland, 2015). This information is provided as a result of hardware components that work in collaboration.
The hardware components required to develop a VR system include the computer workstation, sensory displays, process acceleration cards, and a tracking system (Zeng, 2012). The stereoscopic lenses are positioned between a built-in LED screen and the user’s eyes, with the headset passing a beam of light through each lens, taking inspiration from the biological structures of the human eyes (Mattoo, 2022). These hardware devices are used according to the level of immersion that the VR system aims to provide.
Levels of immersion:
In VR systems, computers generate and send sensory impressions to users (Mandal, 2013). It is these impressions that determine the quality of immersion that the user feels. VR systems should ideally offer high resolution, high quality, and consistent displays of information to the user along with a high level of immersion. However, this is not the case as most VR systems offer low-quality information and are often only able to simulate one or a few senses (Mandal, 2013). Hence, VR systems can be grouped into 3 categories based on their levels of immersion:
- Non-Immersive (Desktop VR) Systems: This provides a lower level of immersion and is used extensively throughout the world without the need for special devices. It is the simplest type of VR and is also known as the Window on World (WoW) system. Desktop VR is when a VR environment is viewed by the user on one or more computer screens and the user can interact with it but is not immersed in it (Mandal, 2013).
- Semi-Immersive (Fish Tank VR) Systems: This is an improved version of Desktop VR and gives a higher level of immersion comparatively since it supports head tracking, allowing the user to feel the motion parallax effect. It uses a conventional monitor along with LCD shutter glasses for stereoscopic viewing (Mandal, 2013).
- Fully Immersive Systems (Neural Direct): The ultimate version of VR systems. It allows users to immerse themselves fully in a computer-generated world where the human brain is directly connected to a database and the viewer’s current position and orientation. This type of system injects sensory data directly into the brain and continuously projects the user’s presence directly into the virtual world (Halarnkar et al., 2012).
To sum up, the key defining aspect of VR is its immersion. This immersion is provided through hardware systems such as stereoscopic lenses and tracking systems. Moreover, VR technology has 3 levels of immersion. These include Desktop, Fish Tank, and Neural Direct VR systems. The Neural Direct VR system is generally regarded as the most suitable level of immersion for VR as it is the only one that allows the user’s consciousness to be continuously projected into the virtual world while Desktop and Fish Tank VR systems do not offer the user a complete immersion. However, Desktop and Fish Tank systems are still currently in usage.
1.3 Advantages of VR
VR is revolutionising education, healthcare, and collaboration by providing unprecedented immersion. VR has improved learning, removed physical barriers, transformed healthcare, and enabled seamless remote interactions. The benefits of VR go far beyond entertainment, bringing us a future where virtual experiences can be easily integrated into our daily lives.
VR is most famously known for its high level of immersion. According to Prasanna (2022), VR can be used to create a realistic world. This can therefore be implemented as a means of entertainment, such as hyper-realistic video games. Prassana (2022) further proposes that immersion can be used to increase user engagement with a subject, improving students’ levels of information retention.
Additionally, another advantage of VR is the “try-before-you-buy” feature. Users can download an application, simulating an experience that users can immerse themselves in, upon which they can make a decision whether or not to purchase said product. According to Tamm (2022), Volvo makes use of the feature by allowing concerned customers to test drive from anywhere in the world, helping develop Volvo’s brand loyalty and image.
VR also provides a “standardised, reproducible, and controllable environment” (Morel et al., 2015) – allowing environments and stimuli to be manually regulated – a feat difficult to produce or very costly to set up in the modern world. According to Morel (2015), VR allows patients suffering from physical limitations to continue their rehabilitation process at home and at lower costs, and allows professionals to analyse data received from the balance assessments, proving VR’s vital role in widening access to rehabilitation and potentially improving the effectiveness and speed of the process itself.
Beyond this, VR can also be used to allow the physically disabled to explore and experience activities such as going on theme park rides and visiting different tourist attractions (EDUCBA, 2023). For people experiencing extended periods of social isolation, VR can be used to simulate a live conversation between two people, simulating body language and eye contact, potentially leading to progress in overcoming social anxiety and act as a means to communicate over long distances to friends and family. Furthermore, this ability to simulate live conversations can allow for improved collaboration when completing projects from far away.
Moreover, VR is known for its low risk (Prasanna, 2022). Life-threatening jobs such as firefighting often face the challenge of producing a training regime that can accurately reflect the danger of the job without compromising the safety of the firefighters. Since VR provides a controlled environment, training firefighters can simulate a diverse range of specific scenarios to assess their abilities in various situations and offer a way to enhance their skills without putting their lives at risk.
Overall, VR provides a variety of benefits to all types of consumers. VR allows for fully encompassing and stimulating environments to simulate activities without the user having to leave the comfort of their own home. This can be used to provide a trial-like experience for a user interested in buying a product or give a user an experience they may previously not have been able to gain due to financial or physical limitations.
1.4 Drawbacks of VR
VR can be a valuable technology to provide lifelike experiences without a real presence in the space one wants to be. VR technology is advancing rapidly, but innovators need to address the challenges posed in the areas of physiology, psychology, eye health, and overall user well-being to make the technology more user-friendly and widespread. Some of the major concerns regarding this advancing technology are discussed below.
One of the most pertinent issues with VR technologies is cybersickness. Cybersickness is a form of motion sickness that occurs due to exposure to VR environments. It can lead to various physiological effects including loss of spatial awareness, nausea, disorientation, and dizziness (BEIS, 2020). In a study by Regan (1995), 150 people were immersed in a VR environment for 20 minutes. Out of these 150 people, 61% reported symptoms of cybersickness during immersion and for 10 minutes post-immersion; 5% had to withdraw from the study as they experienced severe symptoms. Since the majority of people in this study reported corresponding symptoms, it can be inferred that the use of VR causes cybersickness.
Eye strain is one of the symptoms of cybersickness. VR headsets contain two small LCD monitors, each projected in one eye, which creates a stereoscopic effect that gives users an illusion of depth (Essilor, n.d.). This can cause eye strain as an individual’s eyes will be continuously focused on their screens. Eye strain can be harmful, especially for children. Eye strain may sometimes cause users’ eyes to become too watery or too dry, and can lead to headaches, difficulty in focusing, and even blurred vision (Stanford Health Care, n.d.). This can have alarming long-term effects on children’s eyes.
Loss of balance and coordination is one of the short-term effects of using VR but is still a concern since it makes the user prone to injury post-immersion. A study by Murata (2004) used a “force place” to measure postural stability in individuals before and after VR immersion and without any VR immersion. The results of this research indicated that longer immersion in VR environments is likely to cause more severe postural instability compared to the pre-experiment state and the control (no VR immersion) state. When it becomes difficult for an individual to adapt back to the real-world post-VR immersion, they may lose balance, have a slower reaction time, fall, and have difficulty standing.
Another important point to note is that VR lacks personal human interaction and the feeling of real communication. It can become very addicting, and users might start isolating from the real world to spend all their time in the virtual world. This leads to the overdependence of users to VR environments and makes them less social, thus causing negative behavioural changes. This can become an alarming issue as humans are social beings, and a decrease in communication and collaboration can be very detrimental in the social and behavioural contexts.
Cybersickness and eye strain can be detrimental both to the user’s health and their willingness to use VR. The loss of coordination and body balance post-VR immersion can be dangerous for users and lead to injuries. VR can also have psychological effects as it can make a user addicted, thus making the user isolated from the real world and experiencing changes in their personality. These are a few key drawbacks of VR technology that need to be resolved to bridge the gap between the real world and the virtual world, and to make users feel comfortable in VR environments.
2. THE IMPLICATION OF VR
2.1 The Implication of VR in Medicine
VR has much potential in the medical industry. By using VR technology, doctors could map out a patient’s anatomy, making surgeries or the identification of damaged organs easier (Javaid and Abid, 2019). Examining the patient’s anatomy helps surgeons prepare for operations. Surgeons could run simulations of the surgery which can increase the success of the operation, or they could also map out the parts of the patient’s body that needs to be modified, which is especially useful in surgeries that involve complex treatment. Since VR helps to view the patient’s body from many different angles, complex treatments such as chemotherapy can be performed precisely, which can aid the patient’s recovery process (Javaid and Abid, 2019). In addition to its strengths in physical treatments, VR can also help doctors treat their patients mentally.
How VR helps with psychological problems:
VR is also used to help with psychiatric problems like depression, bulimia, anorexia nervosa, agoraphobia, fear of public speaking, obesity, claustrophobia, and acrophobia. As VR adjusts to the patient, each patient’s environment is unique to them. This allows the patient to be comfortable with their treatment, allowing for better engagement from the patient (Torous et al., 2021). Better patient engagement can not only aid the patient but also the psychiatrist with their work.
As more effective methods in tackling psychiatric problems arise, the recovery process should be shorter, allowing psychiatrists to meet with more patients, which helps more people overall. One of a psychiatrist’s objectives is to identify the issues, symptoms, and treatments suitable for their patients. By setting different environments, psychiatrists can identify the causes of their patient’s mental discomfort (Bell et al., 2020). Without asking many questions that may mislead the psychiatrist, the psychiatrist could play a rough image of the issue and keep changing the environment for exact results. Therefore, VR can provide a precise and efficient tool with which psychiatrists can treat their patients, especially when their causes and triggers are difficult to identify.
How VR helps patients:
It has been proposed that patients can fear less of their problems by connecting with an accurate model of their condition in VR (Javaid and Abid, 2019). Using virtual environments can expose patients to their fears and problems incrementally, rather than diving straight into them, which can be daunting and intimidating for many patients. Using VR pain relief is also possible. By using a greater sense of presence in VR combined with active cognitive processing from the brain, this combination can effectively alleviate pain (Dahlquist, 2009 cited in Li et al., 2017). Using VR, chemicals are not needed to relieve pain, which can be cost-effective in the long run for hospitals.
How VR helps in medical training:
With the level of content involved in the study of medicine, learning techniques are essential to medical students and trainees. In many ways, using VR can be more effective than many traditional learning methods. According to Li et al. (2002), VR can fully immerse the patient in many different situations, allowing students to train in a variety of cases. This allows students to train under stress-related environments without risking the patient’s life. With such a tool available, the time needed to create experienced doctors is reduced, allowing more patients to be treated than before.
An example of the usage of VR in medical training is how surgeons study laparoscopic surgery. Since laparoscopic surgery requires an extended and extensive learning curve, doctors cannot practise their skills in an operating room without putting a patient at risk (Li et al., 2017). VR is also simple to set up and requires minimal space, allowing doctors to practise anytime and anywhere. After each practice scenario, the VR program can produce feedback for the students, allowing them to improve their techniques further (McGaghie, 2009). With better techniques, the lives of others will be more secure.
How VR can help the future of the medical field:
VR also can allow people to meet across the world through avatars. Doctors can use this technology to interact with their patients in real-time from across the globe. Recent studies have also shown promising results in this category, especially in the psychiatric department (Torous et al., 2021). Being able to meet patients remotely opens many opportunities for doctors’ careers. Doctors could work from home or in different countries, opening them to many paid or learning opportunities. This could also work for surgeons, as long as the operating table has robotic tools connected for the surgery to work.
In summary, the potential of VR in the medical field is endless; it can help doctors and patients alike. Not only does it support the well-being of doctors and patients, but it may also even change how we think about operations or jobs in the medical field. VR isn’t perfectly built, so there will be some errors here and there. However, VR is constantly being improved upon, making the so-called potential of VR a reality.
2.2 The Implication of VR in Education
VR has become an increasingly popular tool for education and skills training in various industries, including the military, medical, and pilot industries (Lege and Bonner, 2020). The use of VR technology in these fields offers many benefits, including cost-effectiveness, safety, and the ability to simulate complex scenarios. However, there are also some limitations to this technology.
One of the most significant advantages of using VR for education and skills training is cost-effectiveness. Traditional training methods, such as live fire exercises in the military or surgical training in the medical field, can be expensive and time-consuming. With VR, it is possible to simulate these scenarios at a fraction of the cost (Stern et al., 2021). For example, training in the detection of IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices) is extremely expensive to set up in a real scenario due to the explosives required. Thus, VR provides an easy solution for recruits and has been proven to grant the same level of skill obtention.
Another advantage of VR-based training is safety. For example, in the military, live fire exercises can be dangerous and even deadly. With VR, soldiers can train in realistic scenarios without the risk of injury or death. In the medical field, surgical trainees can practise procedures in a safe and controlled environment without putting patients at risk (Hamilton et al., 2020). Moreover, VR allows for the simulation of complex scenarios that would be difficult or impossible to recreate in real life. For example, pilots can train for emergency situations such as engine failure or severe weather conditions, without the risk of endangering themselves or the aircraft (Maples-Keller et al., 2017).
Although there are many advantages, there are also some limitations to the use of VR for education and skills training. One of the most significant limitations is the lack of tactile feedback. In traditional training methods, such as live fire exercises, soldiers can feel the recoil of the weapon, which provides important feedback for their training. Similarly, in the medical field, surgeons can feel the texture of tissues and the resistance of the surgical instruments, which is important for their training. With VR, this feedback is not possible, which can limit the effectiveness of the training (Hamilton et al., 2020).
Despite this limitation and some others, the use of VR for education and skills training has shown promising results in various industries. In the military, VR-based training has been shown to improve soldiers’ skills and knowledge, including marksmanship and tactical decision-making (Stern et al., 2021). In the medical field, VR has been used to train surgeons in various procedures, including laparoscopic surgery and robotic surgery. Studies have shown that VR-based training can improve surgical skills and reduce errors in the operating room (Hamilton et al., 2020). In the pilot industry, VR has been used to train pilots in emergency procedures and to simulate flight scenarios. Studies have shown that VR-based training can improve pilots’ skills and confidence levels (Maples-Keller et al., 2017).
In conclusion, the use of VR for education and skills training has many benefits, including cost-effectiveness, safety, and the ability to simulate complex scenarios. However, there are also some limitations to this technology, such as the lack of tactile feedback and the potential for simulator sickness. Despite these limitations, VR-based training has shown promising results in various contexts, including the military, medical, and pilot industries. As technology continues to improve, it is likely that VR will become an increasingly important tool for education and skills training.
2.3 The Implication of VR in Gaming
In the past two decades, the VR community has advanced its development in interactive 3D graphics, user interfaces, and visual simulations (Zyda, 2005). These advancements have allowed game developers to create a more open technology than ever, adding new jobs in 3D and allowing the video game community to develop an infrastructure of science, technology, and language far beyond that of the earlier iterations. The gaming industry has been increasingly involved with the VR community since much of the VR community’s efforts are being paralleled by the development and research being conducted in the gaming community (Zyda, 2005).
Growth of the VR Gaming market:
The global market of VR is estimated to increase from US $7.3 billion in 2018 to US $120.5 billion in 2026 with a significant part of the VR market share being in the gaming industry (Wohlgenannt et al.,2020). The use of VR in the video game community has been rapidly expanding for the past few years. In 2015, the release of Oculus VR and Samsung VR gear brought about the dawn of a new era of VR in gaming (Dani, 2019). 230 VR development companies have been established by 2019, producing different software and hardware, with the VR gaming market reaching US $15 billion in 2019 (Dani, 2019). These statistics show the rapid movement of the VR gaming market and the increasingly important role of VR in the gaming industry in the years to come.
Reasons for VR’s high usability in video games:
VR technology creates a three-dimensional world or environment through computer simulations. It allows users to immerse themselves in senses such as visual, audio, and touch, and gives them the illusion of the real world without any physical risk other than slight dizziness. Many 3D games require interaction in a three-dimensional environment which makes VR technology greatly suitable for such games as it can provide a more realistic environment (Song et al., 2022).
There has been a lack of immersiveness and interaction in video games since its birth, as users perceive the computer screen as an outsider despite its high resolution and realism of the game’s storyline. However, this problem is solved using VR technology with it allowing the user to become active participants in the game and even influence and participate in the game scenes (Song et al., 2022).
Senses provided by VR in gaming:
VR technology in gaming currently is only able to provide users with 3 senses (Dani, 2019):
- Visual: The user can experience a full 360-degree view of the 3D virtual environment. This requires special lenses in the VR headset.
- Audio: When the user is interacting with the VR game environment, unique sound inputs are used according to the user’s interaction with the virtual environment, the distance of the object from the user and the user’s direction in the virtual gaming world. This enhances the user’s experience and is used to make the game feel more realistic.
- Touch or Tactile Feedback: The VR game environment is mainly made up of short and long vibrations of different intensities and frequencies. The use of these vibrations differs from game to game and is used according to game needs. For example, a VR shooting game will have different types of vibrations for each type of gun that the player shoots, for getting hit by a bullet, and so on.
On the other hand, senses like smell and taste are also being researched by companies and universities and have only recently been implemented in the gaming industry. These senses will further increase the immersiveness and interactivity felt by the user (Dani, 2019). For example, companies like Feelreal have implemented masks which can be used with VR sets to give users the experience of smell while playing. Another example is the use of thermal taste technology which produces different temperatures on the tongue to activate different taste sensations without the use of any chemicals. However, this is currently being researched by different universities and may be used in mainstream VR gaming sets in upcoming years (Dani, 2019).
In conclusion, the opportunities available for the use of VR in gaming are uncountable and will endlessly continue to expand. As VR technology advances, the immersiveness and reality experienced by the user will improve by leaps and bounds and may even dim the lines between the virtual game reality and the reality we live in.
3. THE FUTURE OF VR
Virtual reality is a rapidly expanding field that witnesses growth each day. According to Statista’s (2023) recent projection, the market volume of VR is expected to reach $52.05 billion by 2027, driven by an annual growth rate of 13.72%. As technology advances, we can anticipate significant enhancements in the quality of VR sound, imagery, and applications. These advancements, in turn, are predicted to attract more users to VR, fueled by increased funding in the industry. Currently, the entertainment sector of VR is limited to basic and low-budget games. However, as the underlying technology evolves, we can expect renowned triple-A development companies to explore the capabilities of VR. With the release of more high-budget games and advancements in VR systems, such as the anticipated PlayStation Virtual Reality 2, the user base for VR is bound to expand significantly.
According to Kayyali (2022), Meta (previously known as Facebook) is currently developing a high-end VR headset that does not need a PC to operate. It is known as “Project Cambria” and will be having face, body, and eye tracking functionality. The VR headset will track mouth and eye movements to create lifelike avatars. It will also have “passthrough” technology, insofar as the user can view the real world through the headset.
The future of VR is heading in the direction of mind control. Kleinman (2023), a technology editor with first-hand experience of a prototype of mind-control VR, states that when a user wears a headset, actions can be performed just by “thinking” about doing them. For instance, a user may be able to accelerate a vehicle just by imagining that the vehicle is getting faster.
Elon Musk is currently spearheading the development of Neuralink, an innovative system that utilises a “brain-computer” interface (Kleinman, 2023). According to Kleinman (2023), initial applications of this technology on stroke patients have yielded positive outcomes, suggesting that its potential extends beyond gaming and holds promising prospects in the fields of rehabilitation and medicine.
Another technology that is up and coming is the Teslasuit. According to Marr (2021), Teslasuit is a full-body suit that provides haptic feedback to enhance immersion through touch. The users’ heartbeat, sweat production, and other stress signs can all be measured thanks to the variety of biometric sensors that are available. The suit is already utilised by NASA for astronaut training, but it may have countless other applications.
Xie et al. (2021) state that companies are working on increasing the resolution and field of vision of VR headsets to enhance VR experiences. Efforts are being made to improve VR experiences by using haptics to enhance the sense of presence (SoP). All these advances in the field of VR are going to make the VR experience very seamless and user-friendly.
VR technology has the potential to revolutionise the way in which we interact with the world around us. Using VR technology, doctors can have a more efficient method of solving patients’ problems, from mapping out a patient’s anatomy for better analysis (Javaid and Abid, 2019) or interactions through the virtual world to making patients feel safe (Torous et al., 2021). Similarly, VR can have a big impact on the efficiency and effectiveness of education, both in a more traditional sense and in the skills training context. For example, it has been proved that VR technology allows pilots to improve their skills as well as their confidence (Maples-Keller et al., 2017). However, the evolution of VR has not ceased outside of those fields. For example, the gaming industry represents one of the biggest fields of application of VR, with the VR gaming market having grown from US $7.3 billion in 2018 to US $120.5 billion in 2026, with a significant part of the VR market share being in the video games industry (Wohlgenannt et al., 2020).
Even though VR is capable of providing numerous benefits, it also has its drawbacks. One example of this is the inability of scientists thus far to solve the issue of cybersickness. Despite this, the world is constantly innovating and improving, reinforcing the idea that, one day, people may use VR without any drawbacks. Now, all that remains is to improve the ease of construction and distribution of VR technologies, as well as to research how to eliminate the last few drawbacks, in order to make VR a reality accessible to all of society, improving our race as a whole.
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