Using Virtual Reality for Good

Technology is evolving more quickly than ever before. It took the internet decades to become mainstream, while it has taken a matter of years for generative AI to make its way to millions of households and offices. In that time, Virtual Reality (VR) has rapidly evolved from a mere futuristic concept to a powerful tool with real-world applications that extend far beyond entertainment.

While VR has certainly revolutionised the gaming and entertainment industries, its impact goes much deeper, touching various aspects of society and the human experience. We’ve taken a look at five incredible ways industries are using VR technology in situations that would otherwise be dangerous, impossible or cost-prohibitive.


What is Virtual Reality?

Virtual Reality, commonly known as VR, is a computer-generated simulation of an environment that can be interacted with in a seemingly real or physical way by a person using special electronic equipment, such as a headset with a screen or gloves fitted with sensors. You may have seen kids playing video games using a VR headset, or you may have even worn one to enhance a gallery exhibition or play a game yourself.

In VR, users are immersed in a three-dimensional environment that can simulate physical presence in real or imagined worlds. The technology often incorporates various sensory inputs, including visual, auditory, and sometimes haptic (touch) feedback, to enhance the illusion of reality and create a fully immersive experience.


1. Healthcare

PTSD Treatment

Treatment methods for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) have been revolutionised in recent years through the use of virtual reality. In combination with other more traditional treatment techniques, Virtual Reality Exposure Therapy (VRET) is being used to help treat people living with PTSD, especially those who have experienced trauma through military-related combat or severe motor vehicle accidents.

Through VR technology, patients are exposed to carefully curated situations in controlled environments to help in confronting situations that cause fear or anxiety. While these therapy methods are reasonably new, there is much anecdotal and evidence-based research to back this treatment. Watch for developments in this space!

Overcoming Fears

Similarly, VRET is being used for common debilitating fears. It wouldn’t be safe for a person suffering from a fear of heights (acrophobia) to be thrown onto a high ledge in order to face their fear. However, a VR headset can allow a person to be exposed to controlled and safe situations, practice calming techniques through gradual exposure, and confront and reduce their fear. VRET for overcoming a fear of heights is still in its early days, but there are already many success stories.


2. Training and Education

Does anyone remember the board game, Operation? Using a pair of tweezers to operate on a tiny human with only a vibrating buzzer as an indicator of accuracy – luckily, this is not how real surgeons train!

Surgical Training

New technologies in medicine are being developed all the time – in fact, VR was first used in healthcare in the 1990s! In the decades since then, VR technology has come a long way. Osso VR is one of the companies that is transforming and radicalising surgical training and assessment. They are enabling surgeons and medical students to practice any procedures on virtual bodies.

VR technology is literally helping to save lives.


3. Social Justice

Law Enforcement

VR technology is revolutionising law enforcement. Police officers have the opportunity to engage with lifelike scenarios in their safety training through virtual reality. VR is able to deliver realistic experiences for training, involving hazardous environments and high-risk situations.

Simulation training through platforms such as VirTra can provide visual, auditory and physical stimuli – from barking dogs to the recoil of a discharging weapon. Officers can safely train for de-escalating dangerous situations, such as domestic violence, hostage situations, and mental illness. These virtual scenarios are designed to be as complex as a real life scenario.

With officers learning to de-escalate dangerous situations with empathy and safety at the forefront, we can thank VR, as well as our frontline workers, for helping to make our lives safer.


4. Environmental Awareness

Virtual Reality technologies are being used alongside other techniques to motivate people to adopt sustainable practices. In fact, multiple research studies have proven this method to have a positive effect on boosting ecological awareness and behavioural change.

Explore the World

Environmental VR experiences are not a replacement for getting outdoors in the real world and basking in the glory of nature. Digital balance is essential, and nothing can replace the fresh air of a crisp morning, exploring a local trail walk, watching your children run amongst the autumn leaves, or lying on the warm sand at the beach on a summer’s day.

However, VR can open our world to natural locations that may otherwise be inaccessible. Economic barriers, accessibility for consumers with disability, or preservation of ecologically sensitive areas can all be barriers to natural locations. These technologies can expose us to the bigger picture, helping to overcome Shifting Baseline Syndrome, restricted by our lifespans in comparison to the lifetime of our environment. Virtual Reality experiences can open up the natural world without the hurdle of distance and without adverse effects on the natural environment. Explore endangered rainforests, polar ice caps or coral reefs!

Climate Change and Environmental Awareness

The applications in this industry are limitless. The Stanford Ocean Acidification Experience provides the effects of ocean acidification on reef biodiversity over a century. Before your eyes, experience coral’s loss of vitality and the increasing acidity affecting marine life. Be dropped directly into the plastic pollution crisis of the world’s oceans in Drop in the Ocean. Or follow Sir Ernest Shackleton as he crosses Antarctica and see the effects of climate change in Thin Ice VR.

The island country of Tuvalu, located about halfway between Australia and Hawaii, has turned to technology to survive, raising awareness of climate change. Devastatingly, Tuvalu is on the list of most at-risk islands when it comes to rising sea levels – two of their nine islands are already on the verge of disappearing. Tuvalu’s minister for justice, communication and foreign affairs announced a plan to create a digital replica of Tuvalu in the metaverse in order to preserve its beauty, history and culture. Hopefully, this announcement grabs the attention of world leaders and initiates action. Alternately, Tuvalu may be the first digital nation, but it may not be the last.

In the Classroom

If you or your school are lucky enough to have invested in VR headsets, these are some great experiences to share during your humanities and social sciences inquiries.


5. Human Experience

Virtual Reality technology can help develop empathy. This, at first, might seem a strange thing to consider. But, being able to walk in another’s shoes is now more possible than ever.

Influencing Changemakers

In 2016, The Guardian and The Mill collaborated to develop an innovative, first-of-its-kind documentary. 6×9: a virtual experience of solitary confinement provides a glimpse into the effects of solitary confinement. The nine-minute immersive experience incorporates the physical environment as well as the psychological effects, such as blurred vision and hallucinations. This VR piece has been used to ignite conversations around the topics of solitary confinement and human rights. The 6×9 film has been displayed in galleries around the US, including at the South by South Lawn festival at the White House, and can be experienced anywhere in the world via the downloadable app. The aim of VR pieces such as this one: to make real changes in the world, for the better.

Charities and Not-for-Profits

Charities and not-for-profit organisations are utilising VR technology to develop empathy and drive awareness. Take, for example, the work Alzheimer’s Research in the UK are doing with their campaign, A Walk Through Dementia. Offering the opportunity for people of all ages to experience what it is like to live with dementia, builds empathy and understanding of this disease and ultimately helps them to raise awareness and funds to support their cause.

Other charities are doing similar things. Check out the National Autistic Society’s Too Much Information campaign and WaterAid’s first virtual reality documentary, Aftershock, in which you can experience Nepal’s challenges in restoring water after devastating earthquakes.

Developing Empathy

You may not retain facts you read or hear long-term, but experiences will remain with you for awhile, sometimes forever, and this just might change people’s perspectives, opinions, and levels of empathy, making impactful changes to our world.

You can find even more examples of ways charities are using VR here.


Potential Dangers of VR Platforms

As with any online platform, it is essential for anybody using VR technology to remain aware and educated. Used without a focus on cyber safety and digital wellbeing, VR technology can be dangerous. Excessive use can be detrimental – causing fatigue and cybersickness, with symptoms including oculomotor issues, disorientation and nausea. People with malintent are on these platforms, and a person can fall victim to scams, bullying and even sexual assault. Select VR platforms carefully and consider why you are choosing to interact with VR platforms or devices.


Our Recommendations

If you or your child are using VR technology at home, at a friend’s house or at a gaming centre,

  • Check settings, age recommendations and health recommendations
  • Set up VR devices so they are being cast to a TV where you can see what your children are interacting with and participating in
  • Keep a digital balance, setting time limits for VR use and remaining aware of your feelings and emotions when you play
  • Start the conversation and have an open discussion before and after interacting with the technology

If you go searching, you’ll find endless ways VR technology is being used for good. It’s a great way to talk positively about technology development and inspire tech-loving young people to aspire to take on an impactful career one day.

Author: Jaclyn Tasker | Strategic Content Creator, Cyber Safety Project