Once a fantasy of the 1935 science fiction story Pygmalion's Spectacles, written by Stanley G. Weinbaum, virtual reality is quickly becoming a prominent force in many areas of our modern life including healthcare, entertainment, and education. Additionally, the effectiveness of virtual reality as a means of treatment for mental health conditions is becoming more and more well-established, particularly with regard to anxiety disorders (Asiain et al., 2022). Moreover, growing evidence also points to the effectiveness of VR technology for treating mental conditions during the COVID-19 pandemic, which exposed a lot of the problems with the current systems and means of treating ill mental health (Hatta et al., 2022).
Furthermore, in a human landscape that has sadly been fractured and spoiled by terrible ills such as racism, sexism and economic inequality for far too long, it is the apparent ability of VR applications to foster a greater sense of empathy and inclusiveness among our children and young people that holds perhaps our greatest hope for the future (Harrington & O’Connell, 2016), especially in an increasingly globalized world that asks for a more tolerant and compassionate worldview from us all. Virtual reality will very likely prove to be pivotal in creating a more empathetic and inclusive society for all, as well as a healthier psychological culture that encourages a greater sense of openness and ability to talk with others about our own mental health without feeling shame or guilt.
Virtual reality is making us rethink and further explore our ability to connect with others, and the increasing influence of its applications in everyday life is timely more than anything else.
The virtual reality era is upon us. It is up to us to make the most of it, especially for our children and young people who will inherit the future that comes from our efforts to further embed this technology into our society. Just as it is our young people who will more likely feel the benefits of climate change activism should our efforts on that front be successful, it is they who also stand to reap the rewards of a more empathetic and inclusive social environment that recognises the struggles and common humanity of us all and not simply a select few.
Asiain, J., Braun, M., & Roussos, A. J. (2022). Virtual reality as a psychotherapeutic tool: current uses and limitations. British Journal of Guidance & Counselling, 50(1), 1-28.
Harrington, B., & O’Connell, M. (2016). Video games as virtual teachers: Prosocial video game use by children and adolescents from different socioeconomic groups is associated with increased empathy and prosocial behaviour. Computers in Human Behavior, 63, 650-658.
Hatta, M. H., Sidi, H., Siew Koon, C., Che Roos, N. A., Sharip, S., Abdul Samad, F. D., ... & Mohamed Saini, S. (2022). Virtual Reality (VR) Technology for Treatment of Mental Health Problems during COVID-19: A Systematic Review. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 19(9), 5389.