How Virtual Reality Can Help You in Actual Reality

Sep 28, 2017

If you’re a gamer, it’s likely you’ve been ragged on about it at one time or another. But you might be reaping real-world benefits that non-gamers aren’t.

Most of us experience workplace stress—some of us even deal with chronic stress, which can be extremely exhausting. Pair that exhaustion due to stress with exhaustion due to a typical day in the working world, and it can be tough to get through a week.

But, when you need a break from work, playing a video game on your phone for a few minutes could be just what you need to stay productive for the rest of the day.

Researchers, led by Michael Rupp of the University of Central Florida, asked 66 workers to take a five-minute break once they became mentally tired. Some of them sat quietly in a room without their phone or computer. Some of them participated in a guided relaxation activity. And some of them were asked to play a video game called Sushi Cat on a smartphone.

The workers who sat quietly reported feeling anxious about being away from work during their break. The ones who did the guided relaxation exercise said they felt less distressed because of it. But the ones who played Sushi Cat felt even better after taking the break. They felt more restored and energized having taken a few minutes to play a fun game.

Researchers suggested taking a short break to do something you enjoy—like playing a game—when you’re getting frustrated at work. If you can, plan short breaks into your work day. Taking the time to have a little fun can make you more productive than if you just try to power through the bad feelings.

The future is virtual

But the benefits of entering virtual worlds don’t stop at stress relief. Scientists are finding new uses for virtual reality all the time.

At the University of Iowa, students at the Center for Computer Aided Design are developing simulators that replicate the experience of driving and that predict soldier injuries and fatigue.

The center’s National Advanced Driving Simulator project was developed to closely replicate the experience of driving a car. It’s used to suss out how drivers interact with cars, with the aim of improving safety by testing vehicle safety systems, driver impairment and distraction and vehicle automation.

Researchers do this by observing participants using the simulator. NADS does research on car safety for both private and public partners to make the roads a safer place for drivers and pedestrians.

CCAD’s Virtual Soldier Research Program is meant to reduce the cost, personnel and risk-taking needed to test military equipment and vehicles. These simulators allow researchers to see how real-world soldiers would be impacted by equipment designs before they’re produced by using “virtual soldier,” called “Santos,” to test them.

Santos is modeled after actual soldiers and athletes.

“Instead of taking 10 years to produce a tank, or a huge appliance or a construction equipment, you want to reduce that time significantly, and the way you do this is you try things inside the computer before you cut metal,” said Karim Malek, director of the Virtual Soldier Research Program, in a video about Santos. “It enables people to test things before they’re designed badly.”

Soldiers in the field have to carry a lot. The simulator has been used to figure out how different pack weights can affect the effectiveness and stamina of soldiers in real life.

Testing costly or dangerous equipment in the virtual world can help protect civilians and soldiers in the real one.

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Katie Moritz is Rewire’s web editor and a Pisces who enjoys thrift stores, rock concerts and pho. She covered politics for a newspaper in Juneau, Alaska, before driving down to balmy Minnesota to help produce long-standing public affairs show “Almanac” at Twin Cities PBS. Now she works on this here website. Reach her via email at kmoritz@tpt.org. Follow her on Twitter @katecmoritz and on Instagram @yepilikeit.