48 hours in virtual reality is not as bad as you might think

To test the limits of virtual reality as an experience and see what effect VR can have on those who immerse themselves in it, a pair of VR explorers wore a range of headsets for almost 48 hours straight. That meant they slept in VR, ate in VR and even got a tattoo while in VR, to see how altering the reality we find ourselves in can change our experience of the world.

All virtual reality headset manufacturers recommend spending a no more than a few hours in VR at a time, and even then taking breaks is a good idea. What Dean Johnson and Sarah Jones did though goes well beyond that. But more than trying to set records, they also looked at how VR can alter various experiences. They found that in some cases, it does so dramatically.

Sleeping was a bizarre experience, according to Johnson, highlighting that when you wake up with a VR world around you, your brain doesn’t really question its surroundings (thanks Engadget). He described it much like waking up in a strange hotel room: you don’t necessarily recognize where you are straight away, but you assume all must be as it appears to be.

Other activities were a little more strenuous, however. Go-karting using a Samsung Gear VR’s pass-through camera was rather effective, despite its letterboxing and limited frame rate. Once again, Johnson found his brain adjusted to the experience and found driving at high speed perfectly possible, despite the slightly reduced viewpoint he had through the headset.

Wind walking on the wing of a biplane wasn’t quite as exciting though, we’re told. Johnson suggested that because half the excitement of such a ride is being able to see the world from such a vantage point, a limited viewpoint hampered the experience somewhat. He did say, however, that the VR perspective had a bizarre tendency to make the whole thing not feel real, despite the physical stimulation of the wind buffeting him.

Perhaps the most impressive use of virtual reality in this test was when Johnson got a tattoo. After a few minutes of getting the tattoo without the headset attached to gauge the pain level, he put on a Gear VR and began playing spaceship action title, Gunjack. Based on his own arbitrary pain scale, Johnson said playing the VR game reduced the pain by up to a third. His heart rate agreed with him, with a tracker noting that it dropped from 104 at the outset, to just 74 beats per minute during the VR game.

Johnson has spent a lot of time in VR already, having made headlines in 2016 for wearing a combination of different VR headsets for 24 hours as part of an experiment. This time around he doubled that and performed far more strenuous activities. It did have a lasting effect on him and his fellow VR explorer. Johnson experienced slightly more blurry vision without his glasses following the experiment and suffered bruising to his nose, while Jones faced some minor abrasions on her cheeks.

It seems clear that for now, while virtual reality can have an interesting impact on our lives, it’s not advisable to wear a headset for an extended period of time, because they just aren’t designed with it in mind.