The emergence of new technology is always creating exciting new experiences, and right now, the audio-visual world is booming, thanks in part to faster processors and better software. While this has a ton of applications for a variety of industries, it seems to be most impactful in the world of entertainment. From the 3D movie craze of the late aughts to you’d-think-it-was-real gaming graphics today, the audiovisual boom shows no sign of slowing. One of the developments I’m most excited about is a new project by the makers of The Real Escape; they’ve created a new facility called Activate Games here in Winnipeg, augmented reality (AR) physical gaming using a variety of audiovisual technologies.

The other development that’s causing a big stir right now is virtual reality, or VR. The distinction between AR and VR aren’t clear to some people; AR games take place in the real world, where a variety of technologies are used to project audio/visual stimuli onto existing structures. VR, conversely, requires a VR helmet; it takes you out of the real world and replaces your auditory and visual stimuli with a whole new reality. This technology is intimately linked with your vision, so it’s worth considering what some of the consequences of using VR technology might be to your eyesight.

First, the downsides. The technologies are relatively new, so there hasn’t been a lot of research as to the possible impacts to your eyes; caution is always a good route when research is sparse. What we do know is that staring at screens for a prolonged period of time can cause digital eye strain, and that VR headsets use two LCD monitors to create the 3D effect, so digital eye strain is a real concern. We also know that motion sickness can be caused by a mismatch of visual information and body position; this mismatch can be prominently felt in VR, in something some are calling “cybersickness”.

The news isn’t all bad, though; VR technologies may open up a whole new world of immersive and therapeutic treatments. Some such treatments are already in development, and may help individuals increase eye coordination, hand-eye coordination, and depth perception. The technology is worth monitoring for these pursuits, as anything that can help patients live better lives is something healthcare professionals will look into developing.

For the time being, treat VR technology with care. Don’t overuse it, and stop using it if you feel sick or dizzy; be mindful of how long you stare at the screens, and remember the 20-20-20 rule. Most VR technology will come with words of caution and indicators of how long it should be used for in one session, so be mindful of these rules. When you feel like you don’t have sufficient information, it’s always good to talk to a professional. Should you experience sickness or other problems while using VR, it’s a good idea to talk to your Winnipeg optometrist before resuming use.