Metaverse must be approached with caution


Stella Maximuk

From soaring over mountains in virtual reality games, such as Test Pilot by Sacchan in VRChat, to having conference meetings, the Metaverse will allow anything to be possible.

Stella Maximuk

Virtual reality is a topic that has rapidly increased in popularity due to the recent discussions about the Metaverse.

Facebook rebranded as Meta last October to show its commitment to building the Metaverse. Ever since then, discussion around the Metaverse has rapidly increased while the development for it has become eagerly awaited.

The Metaverse is a digital world where people can spend time with others without physically being together. It will enhance time spent on the internet and allow people to do everything from working and learning to playing. Virtual music venues, art galleries, games, business offices and conference locations are just a few things that could take place in the Metaverse.

Because of all the possibilities, investment and excitement for the Metaverse has skyrocketed. Meta, invested $10 billion into the Metaverse in 2021 and already, virtual real estate companies such as Metaverse Property have begun selling and buying virtual land from several platforms. The Metaverse is likely to create an eight billion market opportunity, not just from gaming, but from advertisement, virtual events and hardware.

The idea of the Metaverse has opened highly anticipated areas of new business and entertainment. However, while the Metaverse will bring many benefits, it also comes with several risks that make it potentially dangerous for teenage users.

Because of the pandemic, adolescents already have historically high screen time. The average screen time for adolescence over the pandemic was 7.7 hours per day, compared to only 3.8 hours per day before the pandemic. Too much screen time can lead to mental and physical health issues as well as sleep problems. The blue light emitted from screens can disrupt the secretion of melatonin, a hormone needed for sleep. A lack of sleep, in turn, leads to a lack of deep REM sleep, which is needed for processing and storing information. With a virtual reality headset on, people will not only be exposed to more blue light but they will also be exposed to it more directly, as the screens in headsets are only a few inches from a user’s eyes.

A lack of sleep is also commonly associated with several mental health issues. According to the CDC, people who get less than six hours of sleep are 2.5 times more likely to have frequent mental distress. They are also more likely to experience depressive symptoms and develop poor biological measures.

Meta has stated that the purpose of the Metaverse isn’t to increase time spent online but to make it more meaningful. However, just like many people are addicted to smartphones and other technology, it is inevitable that some will spend more time online, leading to more mental and social problems.

Identity is another problem with the Metaverse and virtual reality as a whole. When in the Metaverse, people will use avatars and can easily hide their identity. While many games such as VRChat, a popular virtual reality game, have guidelines intended to protect users, sexual assault and general harassment is rampant. VRChat is especially problematic, as it is estimated that once every seven minutes a guideline is broken. Some of the reported incidents also involve minors. While the sexual assaults may be happening virtually, they still feel real, especially when wearing haptic suites or other devices that can stimulate touch.

The possibilities of virtual reality and the Metaverse are limitless, but developers still need to consider some of the negative aspects of it. If properly addressed, it is possible to create a world that is not only incredible but also safe. For now, people, especially minors, need to proceed with caution when enjoying all that the Metaverse has to offer.