Developer Blames VR Headset for Degraded Eyesight

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Danny Bittman is a software developer who specializes in VR projects, with more than an estimated 10,000 hours logged in headsets over the past few years. He’s also convinced that virtual reality headsets are to blame for unusual vision problems he’s having.

There have been rumors that 3D or virtual reality headsets could be bad for your eyesight ever since these technologies began to go mainstream a decade ago. Developers and the gaming public are generally aware that satisfactory VR gaming requires much faster frame rates than traditional PC or console gaming, and that you need to rest your eyes periodically when playing in VR. Bittman’s experience suggests a need to carefully revisit our ideas of what’s healthy and what isn’t.

Bittman has been diagnosed with a vergence accommodation problem known as convergence excess. The vergence accommodation problem is a real issue in VR, and it’s part of why people can’t wear VR headsets for all that long. In real life, when you try to focus on something in the distance, you point your eyeballs at it and your lenses change shape accordingly to bring it into focus. In the real world, your eyeballs and lenses work with each other, and this happens flawlessly. In VR, there’s a significant difference between your focal depth and your viewing distance, as shown in the image below:

Developer Blames VR Headset for Degraded Eyesight 1

Image by Hoffman Et Al, Journal of Vision, 2000, via Wired

Bittman has made a number of disparate posts on the subject — I can’t link a single Twitter thread, but here’s one example:

According to Bittman, he played up to six hours of VR a day, though he also took breaks every 30 minutes. Sheer playing time, however, is not the only problem here. Bittman also refers to gaming at low frame rates in VR, and the fact that devs are willing to deal with this as part of the cost of getting a game up and running. He’s concerned that his own willingness to tolerate low frame rates and janky, stuttering playback contributed directly to his eyesight problems today.

I would echo Bittman’s tone about taking your eye health very seriously, regardless of whether you use VR or not. Rates of myopia (nearsightedness) in children have skyrocketed over the past few decades. Your eye health can change as you get older, and “older,” in this case, doesn’t have to mean “old.” Taking screen breaks and making certain to focus your eyes on targets closer than 2-3 feet away is important. A lot of adults get this kind of practice daily from commuting, but there’s a fair number of people now working from home. If you’ve noticed your eye strain ticking up, it might be a good idea to step out the front door and look down the road for a few minutes each day.

Bittman intends to continue working in VR, which he loves, but plans to be far more mindful of his environment and the frame rates he tests when developing a title. His case may be unusual, but the idea of taking frequent VR breaks and exercising one’s eyes is solid advice regardless.

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