We still don't really know what smartphones do to our brains and bodies, nevermind VR headsets. Which is why in the run up to Christmas, most headset manufacturers are issuing guidance about whether or not kids should be using it. It's a shiny new tech toy that has cool new games and awesome controllers. Why wouldn't your 15-year-old, or even 9-year-old, be whining to get one this year?
The 'science' is still fairly early so it's not like we have a bunch of long term studies to reference. Instead we've put together a handy guide to tell you what all the headset makers are saying about kids using VR and how safe it is.
Essentially, the younger the kids in question are, the more we'd recommend a cheap Cardboard viewer in very short bursts.
Obviously it's up to you how your children spend their time and we imagine VR could be a great way to get them to shut up for half an hour. But here's the official guidance from the people building the tech.
Google Daydream View
One the latest affordable mobile headsets to go on sale, and the one that has that Fantastic Beasts VR experience where the controller turns into a wizard wand. So, yes, Google's Daydream View is possibly on your teens' radar.
Google is pretty straightforward and no nonsense with its guidance. From its Daydream View Health and Safety Information page:
"Use by children
Daydream View should not be used by children under the age of 13."
Plus just as an aside:
"Do not use Daydream View if you are intoxicated, overly tired, or are suffering from a cold, headache, upset stomach, or other sickness. Those conditions can be worsened by using Daydream View and can make you more susceptible to the discomfort and disorientation that can be caused by virtual reality."
Sony PlayStation VR
Sony says the PlayStation VR - for the PS4 - shouldn't be used by kids under 12. Considering that this is an accessory for a popular console, we'd wager that will anger some 11-year-olds but hey, that still leaves millions of teens who can happily play with PS VR.
Even following the advice, we'd recommend taking regular breaks to avoid motion sickness which seems to be slightly more prevalent on PS VR.
From Sony's disclaimer:
"Before using, read the Health and Safety warnings in the VR headset instruction manual. Carefully follow all instructions for setup and use. The VR headset is not for use by children under age 12. Take steps to prevent pets, children, or other obstacles entering the area during use."
"Some people may experience motion sickness, nausea, disorientation, blurred vision, or other discomfort while viewing virtual reality content. If you experience any of these symptoms, stop using immediately and remove the VR headset."
Read this: Vomit Reality - Why VR makes some of us sick
Samsung Gear VR
Samsung's guidance Gear VR seems pretty concerned about the development of your kid so it's worth a read. The main advice seems to be that it is for over 13s only and to keep things short and sweet which shouldn't be a problem with the current selection of apps, films and experiences. From the Gear VR manual:
"Not for use by children under 13. Watching videos or playing games with the Gear VR may affect the visual development of children. When children, age 13 or older, use the Gear VR, adults should limit their usage time and ensure they take frequent breaks. Adults should monitor children closely after using the Gear VR if children feel discomfort."
It also adds:
"Do not use the Gear VR when the attached mobile device is hot as this may cause burns."
Of all the VR and 360 degree video viewers, Cardboard is the most geared towards kids with special Star Wars editions and Expeditions school trips for classroom use. There's even a couple of Mattel viewers.
So it's no surprise that Google simply recommends that Cardboard, which can after all just be held up to your face for a quick one minute burst, is only used by children when a supervising adult is present. This is taken from its Product Safety Information page:
"Take frequent breaks while using Cardboard. If you experience nausea, discomfort, eye strain, or disorientation, immediately discontinue using Cardboard."
"Cardboard is not for use by children without adult supervision."
Oculus is trying not to alienate the teenage PC gamer market with its guidance. No under 13s should use it and over 13s should be monitored for possible symptoms. So it's not quite all out supervision, just checking that teens are spending hours in the headset watching VR porn.
"This product should not be used by children under the age of 13. Adults should monitor children (age 13 and older) who are using or have used the Headset for any of the symptoms described below, and should limit the time children spend using the Headset and ensure they take breaks during use."
"Prolonged use should be avoided, as this could negatively impact hand-eye coordination, balance, and multi-tasking ability. Adults should monitor children closely during and after use of the headset for any decrease in these abilities."
Now, HTC and Valve don't actually specify an age but it turns out the Vive isn't a fan of kids either. To be honest, this is the most expensive of the lot and another PC based accessory but the motion controllers, and some of the quirkier titles like Job Simulation and Fantastic Contraption would make great family entertainment. From HTC's Vive guidelines, which are also considered about accidents in homes with young children:
"The product was not designed to be used by children. Do not leave the product within the reach of young children or allow them to use or play with it. They could hurt themselves or others, or could accidentally damage the product."
"The product may contain small parts with sharp edges that may cause an injury or which could become detached and create a choking hazard for young children. Consult your doctor immediately if any parts of the product or accessories are swallowed.
"If older children are permitted to use the product, then adults should monitor them closely for any negative effects during and after their use of the product. Do not allow older children to use the product if negative effects are observed. Adults should also ensure that older children avoid prolonged use of the product."