Real Side Effects from the Virtual World

Meet Micah Zayner, a VR artist who has clocked some of the most, if not the most, hours in virtual reality. From 5 full days a week in VR as well as often working up to 16 hours in VR on the weekends, he’s experienced some very real side effects from spending so much time in a virtual environment.

Ever heard of stories where the protagonist begins to mix what is real and what is not? Or what is dream and what is reality? Apparently after immersing in VR as Zayner has, the boundaries between VR, dream, and reality begin to blur.

After weeks of creating art in VR, Zayner says he began to have incredibly realistic and detailed dreams, or, what is known as lucid dreaming.

“I’d wake up with my heart…” he gestures to his chest and uses his hands to indicate a rapid beating, “… pounding,” he says.

“It was the first time I made eye contact with a person in my dreams. After this experience, I had to take two months off of VR. This was after 5 full days a week in VR as well as 8 hours on Saturday and Sunday,” says Zayner.

Sometimes when recalling memories, he also can’t remember if they were in VR, or well, reality.

Zayner explains that this is all a result of the brain trying to make sense of how to interpret VR and in this process, it brings the virtual closer to dream as well as dream closer to reality.

Even more fascinating, is when Zayner explains that as we use VR, we create neural connections that have never before existed. Is there a possibility that over generations, this may evolve into a new way of thinking?

I would not have expected VR to have such a close tie to the way we dream, but explained in this way, it makes sense. In VR, Motion, patterns and vision don’t follow the rules of day to day physics. In conjunction with the lack of a physical body when looking down and also the slightly blurred graphics, it’s no wonder these traits seep into the perhaps closer reality of a dream world.

At the moment, it’s beyond my means to purchase my own VR headset and desktop computer, but after some research, I found that there are other ways to have a similar experience. For a few days I made sure to check in and look at my hands while asking the question, “Am I dreaming?” The goal is for this to become an automatic gesture, and then while dreaming, you perform a similar check in.

I almost didn’t expect this to work as someone who rarely remembers any dreams at all. A few days in when I first became aware that I was dreaming, I woke up with surprise. A few times after this experience, I was able to continue to lucid dream without waking up.

It’s a very unusual feeling and while it’s not 100% a tech related experience, I find it relevant to share as an example of how tech may over time have interesting effects on our psychology.

I’d like to say that lucid dreaming in a way offers an experience of the imagination. For example, what it’s like to actually be in a place we imagine. Through my writing I like to encourage readers to ask questions, to think of things in different ways, and to approach issues from different angles. ┬áLucid dreaming as a side effect of constant use of VR seems to re-wire the brain to some extent and I’m curious to learn more about this over the long term.

Have you had any interesting side effects after a prolonged  period of time spent in VR?


By @scifi.anne.marie / @am.infinite




One comment on “Real Side Effects from the Virtual World”
  1. VR has absolutely given me more lucid and vivid dreams! It’s even had me questioning my reality and feeling like I was *having* a lucid dream, well into my waking hours. But, weirdly enough, that wasn’t the case, despite years of vr experience, until *after* I purchased the Oculus Touch controllers , motion tracked hand analogues for VR input.

    Once I had hands in VR, I was suddenly so immersed in my hours long VR experiences that I found myself feeling as if my ‘real hands’ we’re ‘fake’ once I removed the headset. Many other vr users have described a similar sense of disassociation, as well as an increase in the prevalence of lucid / vivid dreams. But, the key thing is, the experience of disassociation from your hand presence disappates, by all accounts, within a week or so. The same goes for my lucid dreams- the vividness of my dream state returned to normal after a few weeks of immersive Vr use.

    I believe this is because when you are first beginning to use and become used to VR, you are frequently checking whether or not you are “in reality”, same as your exercise in checking your hands. As soon as the user becomes used to it, they stop checking as much, and lose lucidity in their dreams . So, while I’ve no doubt the generations of the future will grow up associating the state of being in VR to being in a dream, and may indeed be better equipped to enter a lucid state, it will probably still come down to making and maintaining a habit of checking whether or not you’re awake.

    Which you should keep up! I’ve always had trouble with that.

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