How immersive technology is keeping users sane during the coronavirus pandemic.
There’s no question about it. The current COVID-19 pandemic has us going through a roller coaster of feelings right now. Not only have we been cut off from normal social gatherings such as family gatherings, concerts and after work hangouts, but it’s preventing us from traveling, putting a damper on many holiday travel plans.
Thankfully, we have now have access to an extensive array of VR technology that allows us to escape our dreary reality. A recently published research paper shows that using VR to hang out with friends through socialVR platforms, go to concerts, play games, or “visit” other parts of the world actually has a positive impact on your level of happiness.
Italian researchers worked with 400 participants over a three month period as part of this in depth study. Users were encouraged to view 360 photos and videos of other countries, visit virtual gardens and beaches, spend time with other VR users in platforms such as VRChat or Mozilla Hubs, and isolate themselves in a virtual location referred to as the “Secret Garden” to reflect privately.
During an interview with CNBC Make It, Professor Giuseppe Riva Ph.D., the author of the report and a professor of general psychology at Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore in Milan, said “We define who we are through the memory of people and events that occurred within the different places we frequent,” Riva continues, “But during the quarantine we can no longer go to the places that characterized our daily life and made sense of our identity.”
Riva and his team told participants to use VR anytime during the day; morning, afternoon, right before bed, or any time they felt anxious due to the lack of social activities, like texting a friend or scrolling through Facebook. There were no restrictions. The end results showed that VR technology played an integral role in keeping participants calm and connected while under lockdown.
VR’s impact on positivity isn’t limited to humans. Heck, even cows are happier in VR!
As researches continue to discover new benefits and potential applications for VR, we’re finally beginning to see the mainstream adoption of immersive technology. Facebook CEO, Mark Zuckerberg recently announced that Oculus Quest 2 pre-orders were five times that of the original Quest, which I’m sure brought him a totally different type of happiness.
If you poke around Facebook, you’ll find multiple Quest 2 and VR user groups filled with people all exploring the power of VR. At the same time, socialVR platform VRChat recently reported a massive surge of users during the pandemic; most of which driven from those previously-mentioned Quest 2 sales.
One VRChat user talked about why being in VR makes them happy, telling VRScout, “I work from home because of COVID, and being at home alone all day sucks. I wake up, work in my living room for 8 hours and then that’s it. I’ve never left my home. I live in a rural place so I don’t have a downtown I can visit. Going to work is my social time! And even if I did have a downtown, I can’t go because of COVID,” the individual goes on to say, “But once I put on my headset, I’m able to leave my house and hang out with friends that I’ve made in virtual reality. I know I’m not actually leaving my house, but it feels like I do. I get to talk with people and socialize, and it makes me really happy to have that connection. It’s honestly saved me from going crazy. There have definitely been times when I’m really bummed out, but once I get into VR, I’m happy to see people I know.”
VRChat // Credit: VRChat
Based on their research, Rivera and his team have suggested the following VR guide for maximizing happiness during the lockdown:
- Use VR two or more times a day each and every week. Jump into VR whenever you begin to feel any form of anxiety. Play a game, go to a VR concert, or meet up with a friend. Riva also suggests using the Secret Garden as a safe haven to help reduce emotional stress.
- Socialize while in VR! Play a game together like Adventure Lab’s Doctor Crumb’s School for Disobedient Pets with family members or watch a movie with your friends in Bigscreen. Doing things together in VR can help reconstruct a sense of community and help reduce stress.
- Use VR to reflect on your identity and future goals. Jump into your Secret Garden to clear your mind. Tilt Brush offers a relaxing environment in which to mindlessly sketch 3D art while pondering the mysteries of the universe. Riva has even created a 7-day plan to help you build your own Secret Garden experience. You can look at that break down here.
Bigscreen // Credit: Bigscreen Inc.
The point is, VR technology can have a genuine emotional impact on users, allowing them to connect with or isolate themselves from the outside world at the push of a button. And that’s a pretty good feeling.