Kids in virtual reality


The “Semaine du Numérique” (Digital Week) has just ended in Quebec City. I hope that, like us, you were able to attend some of the great activities.

ALTKEY contributed to this week by inviting the public to discover and try virtual reality in a workshop that was presented at the Gabrielle-Roy Library on Saturday, April 1.

The workshop was split in two parts. First, there were explanations of the differences between the various technologies (virtual reality [VR], augmented reality [AR] and mixed reality [MR]). Then, using a virtual reality helmet (the HTC Vive), visitors were invited to experiment various interactive activities.

The workshop was reserved to anyone over 13 years old. Even with this warning, several children were present at the workshop. They were accompanied by their parents. And so, with the agreement of the latter, they were able to participate in the activities.

Why virtual reality helmets are usually not recommended for children under the age of 13? The main reasons are:

  • We don’t know the effects on long-term vision. It’s not advisable to watch a screen up close to your eyes. In a virtual reality the screen of the headset is close to the eyes but, the focus is done far away which is less damaging than simply looking at a screen up close.  
  • We don’t know if there’s an effect on the development of the brain.  
  • VR can give nausea.  
  • When you’re in a virtual world, you no longer see the real physical environment, it’s easy to collide with the real objects around you. (The HTC Vive has a visual feedback to warn you before you hit your surrounding, but most children are less attentive than adults).  
  • Finally, when jumping in virtual reality your brain must adjust to the virtual environment. The same thing process happens when you remove the helmet, your brain must readjust to the real world.

All of these reasons are well known, but there’s no real danger to children if they are not exposed to VR for long periods of time.

But, during our workshop at the library, we discovered an additional reason why virtual reality is not suitable for young children.

It’s a very simple reason, children are smaller. Activities and games are not created to take into account the smaller size of the children.

One of the most popular applications on HTC Vive is "The LAB". It’s a free app produced by Valve which present several experiences in virtual reality.

Since a picture is worth a thousand words, look at the following images. You can see the sight of an adult compared to that of a child within some of the activities from “The LAB". You will easily see the problems.

Adult Point of View

The adult can see inside the drawer.

Child Point of View

The children can not see in the drawer. We had to place the children on chairs in order for them to see in the drawer. ;-)

Adult Point of View

In this game we are placed behind a small wall. Adults can shoot arrows over the wall without problem.

Child Point of View

For the children it is difficult to do archery, the small wall obstructs the view.

In conclusion, if you decide to go against every recommendation and design a virtual reality application with children as your target audience, you should take into account their small size and reduced movements amplitude.

One solution could be to include a calibration phase in your app. Ask the user to stand with their arms straight (along the body or a T position) take the measurements of their head and their hands. Then, it’s up to you to adapt the environment according to the measures you’ve obtained. ;-)

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One of the small character from ALTKEY enjoying a VR headset.
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