About this Research Topic
Immersive Virtual Reality (VR) allows users to experience and feel present in all kinds of virtual environments (VEs). These VEs can simulate real-world situations or create purely artificial environments full of spectacular places and adventures. Today, this capability of VR is employed in a wide range of use-cases. We can acquire new knowledge and train new skills in realistic situations, treat anxieties by providing a particular stimulus in a controlled and safe way, participate in events of the past like rock concerts, relax in beautiful environments, and experience adventures in games.
However, being immersed in a particular VE might become problematic when the design of the VE is based on either negative intentions or rather good ones but with unexpected side-effects. In addition, the experience of presence and a generally higher visual angle on a particular stimulus in comparison to a normal computer screen might lead to an increased emotional response to audiovisual stimuli. This can make intentional negative aspects more effective. For instance, virtual gambling games and casinos intend to evoke erroneous beliefs in players and to influence their behavior. Research already demonstrated that playing a slot machine in VR causes a higher risk potential in comparison to a desktop version and generally evokes an urge to gamble similar to real slot machines in casinos. Also, the direct presentation of stimuli could lead to severe effects when inducing negative emotions. For example, horror games are based on negatively designed VEs and confront players with shocking or disgusting audiovisual effects.
We can acquire and train new knowledge in realistic situations, thus facilitating the transfer from the training situation to a real-world application. The high realism also is beneficial for applications of therapy. Here, a particular stimulus can be experienced in a controlled and safe way. The experience of being present in a virtual environment additionally helps patients in hospitals to escape potentially painful treatments. Finally, VR provides a huge potential for entertainment purposes. We can take part in fantastic adventures in computer games, meditate and relax in beautiful places, and experience events of the past like rock concerts or the first landing on the Moon.
Lastly, VR provides opportunities for new game mechanics and new ways of visualizing the gameplay. These new approaches could yield stronger effects of negative influence on players.
However, since the immersion results in the virtual environment surrounding us, we cannot escape the stimuli present in the environment. While this might be a good thing when targeting positive outcomes, it might cause even stronger problems when aiming at disadvantageous effects. For instance, virtual gambling games and casinos intend to evoke erroneous beliefs in players to lead them to disadvantageous behavior like continuing to play despite already having lost a high amount of money. In contrast to playing on a 2D screen, gambling in VR results in an omnipresent flow of stimuli that influence a player's behavior.
Finally, VR allows for a higher visual angle on stimuli in comparison to normal computer screens. This higher visual angle can increase the emotional response to audiovisual stimuli and hence increase the effectiveness of the gambling game to lead them to disadvantageous behavior, like continuing to play despite already having lost a high amount of money. Gambling in VR results in an omnipresent and visually more prominent flow of stimuli that influence a player's behavior. Overall, this could lead to a higher risk potential of a VR gambling game.
Apart from the effects of merely being immersed in the gambling environment, other VR factors could potentially be exploited to increase the negative effects even further. An embodied VE could provide avatars that enhance a player's self-esteem and confidence, thus potentially evoking a riskier behavior and negatively influenced decision-making. Furthermore, the provision of agents can evoke a social presence and potentially create the experience of a virtual peer-pressure. This perceived peer-pressure could persuade users to continue disadvantageous actions against their personal intentions.
On the other hand, VR has been successfully used in therapy for years with positive outcomes on the treatment of various disorders, anxiety or phobia and so on. However, it still remains unknown if such therapeutic VR interventions can cause short- or worse , long-term negative side effects. For instance, one could argue that an embodied VE may evoke additional unforeseen anxieties to a patient in an effort to overcome others. In such a situation, the design of the VE followed good intentions but ultimately caused negative effects.
With the increasing availability of VR devices and applications, investigating potential negative aspects of being immersed in a VE is an important research topic. This special topic seeks innovative research investigating and discussing the light and the dark sides of VR. Positive intentions could evoke negative side-effects and negative effects of VE design could be implemented in effective therapeutic applications. The results of this special topic could be of high relevance for policy-makers to correctly assess the risk potential of specific applications. In addition, the results can be useful for researchers and developers of VR applications targeting exposure therapy or training. Identified potential negative aspects of VR on human cognition and perception should be taken into account when designing relevant applications. Finally, the results of this research trajectory can provide new insights into human behavior and the effects of immersion.
We call for original research papers and reviews in topics including but not limited to:
- Negative influences on human behavior, perception and cognition in VR/AR
- Effects of VR/AR on decision-making, logical thinking
- Risks of experiencing risky activities in VR/AR
- Avatars’ impact on user experience and behavior
- Agents’ impact on user experience and behavior
- Ethical issues involving gambling or other activities in VR/AR
Keywords: Virtual Reality, Gambling, Negative Influence, Negative Effects, Risk
Important Note: All contributions to this Research Topic must be within the scope of the section and journal to which they are submitted, as defined in their mission statements. Frontiers reserves the right to guide an out-of-scope manuscript to a more suitable section or journal at any stage of peer review.