In VR, there are no rules, so parents are making up their own

Sure, it all happened in virtual reality. But for Roach — who spotted this gory scene while observing his son’s VR games on a computer screen that mirrored what Peyton was doing with his Oculus Quest 2 headset — it felt uncomfortably real.

Roach knew that when Peyton looked down in VR, he was seeing a weapon held in virtual hands, not just a plastic game console. It doesn’t matter that it was a single player game, which means that the characters weren’t represented by other human players.

“It annoyed me in a way that it wasn’t even on flat screens, because they do it with their hands in physical presence,” he said.

Roach, who lives in Kansas City, Missouri and works as a community manager for virtual reality-based learning platform Edstutia, sat down with Peyton at the time and talked about what happened. He has also stopped letting his three older children (Peton, now 12, and brothers 11 and 14) play this game.

Roach is one of a growing number of parents who are navigating new frontiers in technology, learning as they go. More kids have access to VR headsets than ever before — and with it, they get access to a still niche but expansive virtual world of gaming, avatar-based hangouts, and many other activities. The number of children using it is likely to increase after the last holiday season.

Director of Research Jitch Oberani, a technology market researcher IDC, said he expects to ship 9.4 million VR headsets in 2021, of which 3.6 million are expected to be shipped during the holiday season. IDC believes that the Quest 2 makes up more than three-quarters of these headphones. While demographic data is not available, Urbani suspects that too many children received them as holiday gifts. (Meta, formerly Facebook, which acquired Oculus in 2014, hasn’t released sales numbers for its VR headset. But An Oculus app that complements the headphone that was picked up at number one in the Apple App Store rankings on Christmas Day, indicating a sharp rise in headphones received as holiday gifts.)

As headphones appear in more homes, many models, including the Quest 2, lack the established parental controls such as time limits and maturity settings for profiles that you can find in A traditional video game console or a service like Netflix.

Meta, which has come under scrutiny again in the US in recent months due to the impact of its social networks on children, is facing questions from UK regulators about the safety of VR headsets for children. Meta provides parents with some guidelines on the correct use of VR headsets on its website. (The “Oculus Security Center” tells parents to monitor children in virtual reality and to “use parental controls in content where such controls are available.”) Apps may have their own security features such as the ability to block or mute other users – VR social sites Notoriously, the Rec Room app restricts users under the age of 13 to “beginner accounts” that disable the app’s voice chat functionality — but there are no controls on the Quest 2 itself that are specifically meant to restrict how younger users use the headset. (Parents can set a password to lock the device; this simply prevents unauthorized use.)

Companies that sell headphones often set age limits for the hardware. Quest 2, for example, is for ages 13 and up, requires a Facebook account, and is limited to those 13 and older. But parents may or may not disagree. The only indication of the Quest 2 box’s age, for example, is in the small kind in the back corner of the sliding paper sleeve, making it the most commonly used part of the headset’s packaging.

Meta spokeswoman Christina Milian told CNN Business that the company is “constantly looking to improve the protections and controls” offered to users, and that Quest devices are “not designed” for children under the age of 13. Health and safety warnings [and] In-flight safety video “Make this age restriction ‘clear'”.

but some Parents feel they have To come up with their own rules and VR-Safety strategies quickly. these They range from watching children’s every virtual movement in real time via a smartphone or other screen, to restricting what they can download – or even just letting them use the technology with an adult.

“I think it should be easier for parents,” said Amber Albrecht, a mother in Bend, Oregon, who let her daughter Riley, 10, and son Cooper, 8, buy Quest 2 headphones with Christmas money in December.

Sometimes I feel like someone is watching me

Usually, Parents can see what their children are watching or playing on a screen such as a TV, tablet or smartphone. However, it is more difficult with virtual reality, since the screen is placed on the face of the user, hidden from anyone around them.

roach and Albrecht He told CNN Business that one way around this is to use a feature meant to allow non-VR users to learn about what’s going on behind the headset.And Known as casting. This option allows you to see what the wearer of the VR headset is doing in real time on a smartphone or other flat screen.

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“Anytime my kids jump into VR, I take advantage of the cast feature,” said Roach, whose family owns the Quest 2 headset and PlayStation VR. He said that parental controls are like playtime restrictions across PlayStation 4. In his house, it’s actually easier to monitor their 3D activities than 2D games on the PS4, which is in the bedroom.

Hoping to prevent — or at least reduce — negative experiences in virtual spaces, Roach and other parents said they monitor the apps their children download and set rules around what types of content are prohibited. Roach said his kids aren’t allowed to download any apps, although they can suggest nicknames to him and he’ll search for them (and usually play them himself) to make sure they’re appropriate. His experience with Blade & Sorcery has helped him settle on a zero-violence policy of virtual reality play, but he’s fine with cartoonish brutality.

A child wearing an Oculus Quest 2 VR head set.

Albrecht, who works in public relations for the tech industry, said she doesn’t allow any virtual reality apps that include guns, violence or zombies. Since she’s set up both of her kids’ Quest 2 headphones with her Facebook account, which connects to the Oculus app on her phone, she can check the app to see if they’ve downloaded any free apps. She said the kids use headphones next to her or her husband, where adults can hear (via the Quest 2’s built-in speakers), what’s going on, too.

Despite all the potential risks, Albrecht and other parents said they also see how fun and useful virtual reality can be for their children. “It’s also like this new frontier of their social life, where they’re learning to communicate,” she said. “We work in a remote world. They have to learn these skills, too.”

The effect over time is not clear

While choosing and limiting the types of content children have access to may help adults keep track of what their children are doing, it does not eliminate the possibility of a child experiencing violence or abuse in a virtual environment.

“The things you see you can’t ignore,” said Kavia Perlman, founder and CEO of the XR Safety Initiative, whose efforts include creating child safety standards for virtual and augmented reality, or AR.
Additionally, little is known about how VR use affects children over time. A host of studies have been done over the years, but it is still not clear if and how virtual reality can harm a child’s eyes, brain, or psychological development. Perelman hopes to see more research this year. This work may be funded by Meta itself, which in 2021 announced a $50 million investment in research directed in part toward “youth digital literacy programs” for the so-called metaverse.
In addition to observing what kids do when wearing a headset, Perelman recommends talking to kids about not talking to strangers in VR (as she explains, “this could be anyone” you’re interacting with). The XR Security Initiative lists a set of recommendations for parents whose children use VR online — including checking individual apps for different security settings. Perelman also advised that children spend no more than 20 minutes using VR at a time, though she acknowledged that this is an arbitrary time limit.
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“I think the time limit really depends on how much stimulant the experience gives the child, which we can’t really calculate quickly,” she said.

Even if parents don’t set a time limit, one of the problems with current wireless VR headsets may come in handy for those who are tired of tracking their kids’ virtual activities, Since it only takes a few hours to charge and may run out much faster than other gadgets kids might use.

“I’d say that’s the other parental control: battery life,” Albrecht said. “It doesn’t last that long.”


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