Virtual reality may be considered somewhat mainstream now thanks to Facebook’s Oculus Rift and Sony’s Project Morpheus headsets, but that wasn’t always the case.
This was humorously highlighted in an old NBC feature on virtual reality from back in 1996, where a young Brian Williams warned the public about the potential dangers of VR headsets.
“In focus this evening, those so-called virtual reality games,” a somber Williams said. “When they were first unveiled, the science of it all was staggering, but now there’s some evidence that’s have a staggering effect — literally — on some who use it when they try to return to the real world.”
The news report then goes on to examine how early virtual reality headsets at the time often made people feel dizzy and nauseous after extended periods of wearing the device, an issue we now know was caused by technology limitations. That’s because modern virtual reality headsets like the Oculus Rift have been able to solve the dizziness and simulator sickness problem by increasing the refresh rate of the screens residing inside the headset, while also limiting motion blur and latency — factors that can all combine to make a user feel sick if not accounted for.
“Kay Stanney, a researcher at the University of Central Florida is studying the real world consequences of virtual reality for NASA,” the 1996 NBC feature said. “Experts warn of possible dizziness, nausea, and loss of coordination after extended exposure. It’s hard to know who will be effected and to what extent.”
Gizmodo points out that NBC is referencing this 1996 study conducted by researchers at the University of Central Florida, which concluded that “Exposure to virtual environments often causes users to experience symptoms of motion sickness.” Of course, that’s certainly true, but Williams and the reports in the NBC feature take a somewhat fearful and alarmist stance on the study’s findings, painting virtual reality in a scary light and extrapolating its potential effects.
“Most manufacturers warn players to take regular breaks, but experts say until legislation catches up with technology, it is up to each user to make sure their virtual experience does not become a real world nightmare,” Williams said.
You can watch the full clip of NBC’s 1996 feature on virtual reality below.