Top 10 controversial moments of VR

July 11, 2017

As with most things in life, especially technology, even when something seems awesome, there are always those that either take it a bit too far or those who twist it into a warped and potentially offensive direction. VR is definitely a prime target for this, with how it literally changes your perspective, allows you to perform the impossible, and experience the unimaginable. But at what point is too far, and at what cost? We’ve taken a look at ten of the most controversial VR moments and experiences from recent years to shine a light on the darker side of virtual reality. On a side note, we don’t condone anything that could be harmful to your health or those around you.

Russian artist arrested for refusing to take off VR headset in public

Ekaterina Nenasheva Arrest

Moscow-based artist Ekaterina Nenasheva found herself arrested, accused of being mentally ill, and brought to three separate institutions. Her crime? Wearing a VR headset in a public space. The incident has shined a spotlight on whether VR in public is a warrant for arrest, and has already divided opinions online.

‘The Last Moments’ – a VR film that allows the viewer to experience assisted suicide

Assisted suicide VR experience

Assisted suicide is one of the most debated and controversial topics of modern history, so this virtual reality film caused a stir when it was released in 2016. The viewer is put into the shoes of a patient undergoing assisted suicide at the Dignitas Switzerland assisted suicide facility, and allows for multiple choices that affect the films outcome.

’08:46′, the VR game that has you experience 9/11 first-hand

911 VR experience

Touted by some as respectable and others by being in bad-taste, this 9/11 simulation has you taking the role of one of three victims within the Twin Towers on the day they were struck by hijacked airplanes. Designed for educational purposes by a small group of French university students its release brought a good deal of attention, with some users stating that receiving money for such a recent tragedy is in poor taste.

Controversial head transplant surgeon unveils VR preparation system

Head transplant VR

Italian Dr. Sergio Canavero rose to notoriety in 2015 by claiming he would perform the world’s first head transplant in 2017, and revealed that he had also developed a VR system to be used by patients months before the operation to prepare them for it. The system was designed for paraplegic patients to prepare for ‘life in a new body’ and any unexpected psychological reactions from the experience.

Facebook and Oculus accused of stealing virtual reality technology

Oculus lawsuit

The ongoing lawsuit between Oculus and Zenimax claimed that the ex co-founder of the latter company John Carmack took intellectual property with him as he joined Oculus as their full-time chief technology officer. Facebook, having acquired Oculus in 2013, even had Mark Zuckerberg take to the stand to give a testimony where he gave a stinging clap-back by stating “like most people in the court, I’ve never even heard of Zenimax before”.

Virtual reality turns violent at the Whitney Biennial in 2017

Real Violence VR exhibition

A VR installation by artist Jordan Wolfson raised eyebrows with its age restriction and trigger warning, as well as taking viewers by surprise – it shows in gory detail a seemingly random attack on a man with a baseball bat on a Manhattan street. The scenes were reportedly so real that many were left questioning if what they had seen had really happened or not.

Knott’s Berry Farm cause outrage with their Halloween VR attraction in 2016

Fear VR - Knott's Berry Farm

Despite being wildly popular, the ‘FearVR’ attraction faced ire from mental health associations due to its storyline of being strapped to a chair and wheeled into a mental hospital, all with very negative connotations towards those with mental illness. The event was labeled “insensitive,” and drew enough negative attention to eventually be shut down.

‘The American Dream’ satirizes American gun culture

The American Dream VR

With gun culture in America a delicate topic, creating a game in VR that satirizes it was bound to bring its fair share of controversy. The game developers are in fact Australians who decided to give an outsiders take on the topic after a trip to the U.S. in 2014, and the game centers around everyday tasks, like eating food, that need to be completed using only a gun.

‘Virtual Reality Society’ of the UK addresses the ethical issue of VR

VR desensitized

The issue of virtual reality potentially desensitizing users to violence is a valid one that is brought up in this article, along with the dangers of “cyber-addiction”. As virtual reality becomes more mainstream and accumulates more users, those who become addicted and find themselves blurring reality from fiction will become more prevalent.

Image from 2016 Samsung event in Barcelona causes a stir online

Samsung VR Zuckerberg

Mark Zuckerberg is back on the list a second time, this time for an image of him walking through a crowd of people all wearing Samsung Gear VR headsets. Users online were quick to comment that Zuckerberg seemed to be walking through his subjects, reflecting the general public, who are all blinded by screens over their eyes – an allusion to his power of social media like Facebook and Instagram.

Know of a controversial VR app, game, or moment? Let us know via our Twitter!

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