Decades of research has shown that experiences in virtual reality (VR) have meaningful effects on users, often more so than experiences on traditional flat screen monitors or TVs, providing psychological benefits (such as improved learning or mental health) but also psychological harm (emotional distress, escalating gambling, manipulation). Inhabiting a virtual body that is physically or ethnically different can increase self-confidence and improve perspective-taking, but acts, such as violence, carried out on one’s virtual avatar can be processed as happening to oneself.
The key mechanisms that produce these differences are the illusory experiences of ‘presence’, or ‘place & plausibility illusion’, and ‘body ownership’. These lead to a more immersive and active engagement with the content experienced, a feeling of ‘being there’, in comparison to a more passive viewing of the content on flat screens. These lab-based studies have important ramifications for the creation and consumption of mainstream commercial video games in VR, because the user moves from being a viewer to a participant. Prior studies employed bespoke virtual environments, limited in functionality (to isolate specific factors) and detail (visual/narrative) and so research needs to be done on commercial products to determine how more richly detailed and potentially multifaceted game worlds influence experience.
The effectiveness of VR is particularly important because of the recent proliferation of consumer headsets, meaning the public is now able to experience high quality linear (e.g., film) and interactive (e.g., video games) VR content on par with productions currently viewed on flat screens. Issues of sensitive or extreme content in video games, particularly violence, are a recurring social concern, however, there is no strong evidence that playing violent video games leads to long-term violent or anti-social behaviour/cognition. VR introduces a new angle to this debate, because of the demonstrable effects VR experiences can have. As VR increasingly tends toward realism in experience and interaction, it becomes necessary to understand how this might affect players. This leads to questions of how this emerging and lucrative field might impact the consumer, and provides challenges to media ratings bodies (MRBs), organisations that provide age-based descriptions and limits for media.
MRBs do not currently consider content experienced in VR as being differently affecting than the same content viewed on flat screens, as the same rating and content descriptors are given to versions of a game with and without VR modes. We argue that the means by which VR is uniquely effective, and the impact of those effects, are outside the remit of media ratings. This implies the public may not be fully informed about the content of VR media or the effect it may have, increasing the risk of unwanted or unexpectedly affecting experiences. If this is the case, ratings may need to adjust. This paper examines how experiences of a violent commercial game may be different in VR compared to TV through a comparative evaluation of a 15-minute sequence from “Resident Evil 7”, a commercial first-person horror game that supports both VR and flat screen presentations of the same content.
- . In Proceedings of the 2018 Annual Symposium on Computer-Human Interaction in Play – CHIPLAY ’18, 2018.
Our analysis of the PEGI questionnaire is from a 2016 version most recently retrieved on 13th September 2017 from http://www.pegi.info/EN/index/id/1184/media/pdf/383.pdf. Following a redesign of the PEGI website, this link no longer works, and the questionnaire does not appear to be publicly available on the site. Therefore, we make it available here for reference to our analysis and for educational pruposes, but with the caveat that it may no longer represent the current PEGI questionnaire. We will update this page if the questionnaire becomes available at a later date.