Beyond entertainment: The expansive possibilities of virtual reality

Virtual reality is often associated with entertainment, particularly video games and, now increasingly so, filmmaking. Yet, it has also been gaining ground in other fields. These are just a few of the areas in which we are observing strides in the possibilities of VR.

Sports Training

Sports institutions have long used visual technology as a way to hone players’ skills and strategize defense and attack tactics. To become familiar with their opponents as well as their own teams’ weaknesses and strengths, players and their coaches have regularly used meticulously designed video games (such as FIFA Soccer) in addition to watching high quality footage and replays from past games. Now teams are experimenting with VR, using it to build player muscle memory and study the nuances of play execution on the field. From football to soccer, coaches are capitalizing on its ever-increasing methods to train players. Players can, for example, repeatedly practice specific game scenarios designed with a degree of control and variability much higher than ever before.

Healthcare

Medicine is employing VR across the board to train doctors, advance methodology, and treat patients. At Ohio University, VR is being used to practice and perfect surgeries. Meanwhile, surgery patients, particularly anxious ones, are undergoing their procedures first virtually to better understand and become acquainted with them to increase optimism and help alleviate apprehensions. The technology is also being used to approximate for caregivers the experience of their patients so as to better treat them, as in the case with dementia.

Several studies have shown that virtual reality has been an effective tool for treating trauma and PTSD. While it has been used since the 1990s, the current affordability of the equipment has made it more viable and widespread. NBC, for example, reported on its usage for soldiers returning from war.

VR is being used to treat pain, as it permits patients to enter alternate spaces of distraction and calm. Various VR experiences are designed for meditation and controlled breathing, allowing users to escape the tensions, noise, and oppressive elements of their everyday surroundings and take refuge in a peaceful environment designed for relaxation. It has also been used for treating neurological diseases, including Alzheimer’s. Scientists are researching ways to activate certain parts of the brain using visual stimuli to reduce pathology levels.

Education

Some resourceful teachers are reportedly turning to VR to explore diverse ways to enliven their material. At Boston College, for example, students have designed a VR game called “Joycestick” out of the dense text of James Joyce’s “Ulysses.” The technology allows students to connect to the text in more expansive ways, experiencing it as a dynamic visual landscape. Museums and other arts institutions are also integrating VR into their education programs. Additionally, as online courses become more popular, increasingly affordable VR gear could potentially take on a more significant role in education by transporting students to the classroom space, with classmates and teachers, without the high costs of campuses.

Real Estate and Retail

Amazon and other online retailers are turning to VR to allow consumers to try out their products before purchasing. Buyers can test out the comforts of a couch, see how an item fits into their home, or take their potential car on a virtual spin. Real estate companies are also investing in ways to create virtual models of their properties for more efficient and cost effective sales.

Photo Credit: iStock

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