21 years ago, Nintendo released their version of the future across North America with a little gem by the name of Virtual Boy. This was their version of virtual reality, which was propped up on a tripod-like device and tempted gamers of all ages with its promise of a 3D display. In 1995, the world was as interested in virtual reality then as we are now and as we all know the Virtual Boy turned out to be the biggest and riskiest move Nintendo made that completely flopped. Now, 21 years later we find ourselves once again jumping into the gimmick craze of VR, but will this time be any different?
In complete fairness despite the name, Virtual Boy was in no way was a “true” virtual reality system, at least by 2016 standards. The tech in order to create the experience they originally imagined would not exist for some time afterwards, but regardless, the same health issues experienced with the hardware back then still exists today. In the PlayStation 3.5 firmware Health and Safety Notice, it was explicitly mentioned that “The VR headset is not for use by children under age 12.” Now, why is this such a big deal? The main reason this single bullet point sticks out like a sore thumb is because it directly relates to the Virtual Boy.
21 years later and still the idea of virtual reality can’t seem to get past one of the biggest hurdles it faces. In order to understand why you should take this warning seriously, we must dive into the world of science, biology and the medical field. Without getting super academic, the biggest reason children under 12 should stay away from VR is due to the Interpupillary distance, which is the distance between the center of the pupils of the two eyes. “IPD is stated to be a critical factor in the designing of binocular viewing systems,” (VR for example). “Both of the pupils need to be positioned within the exit pupils of the viewing system.” In short, the further away your eyes are from the typical IPD, the more distorted everything will become and children more than anyone are at risk for potential health hazards including eye-strain, headaches, migraines, discomfort, disorientation and nausea. The IPD in adults, however, vary due to age, gender and race, making it an unknown variable and a large flaw in the design. Just about everyone has brought up this statement, but no one has yet to mention why it’s an alarming warning sign for the future of the current age VR.
Back in 1995, Nintendo wanted to confirm that its new technology would not bring harm to any of its customer’s eyesight. Thus, enter Dr. Peli of Schepens Eye Research Institute, who was hired by Nintendo to begin a study of the possible effects that the Virtual Boy could bring to its consumers. After some research Dr. Peli found that in general the Virtual Boy’s technology was “generally” harmless to the eyesight, however, there was a limitation. Can you guess what it was? Yup, the IPD. It was found that children under the age required, which was seven at the time, should not use the system as it had the potential to develop lazy eye and cause other health effects. The warning stated that kids under the age of seven should not use the system. Sound familiar? Although, this health hazard is directed mostly toward children, during the age of the Virtual Boy just about everyone had experienced some if not all of the symptoms such as nausea, discomfort and others effects mentioned earlier.
Although virtual reality is a lot shiner and has a more elegant (if you want it call it that) design now, the same issue of the IPD still remains. Based on the IPD warning, which was also the main cause for all the problems the Virtual Boy faced, it seems that we will soon be hearing similar complaints from users as history repeats itself. Keep in mind that even the Virtual Boy sold fairly well back when it was released, so sales numbers has nothing to do with the device and the IPD issue it currently faces. Whether it’s 1995 or 2016, you can not change human biology and its reaction to such issues.