Gaming trend of the futureWhat should parents bear in mind when playing virtual reality games?

Immersing yourself in virtual reality (VR) is no longer just for tech enthusiasts with a lot of money. VR goggles are now also available at affordable prices. And the range of virtual reality games is constantly growing. At the moment, VR glasses are not yet widespread in German households. However, this could change in the near future. We summarize the most important information about VR. And we inform parents whose children are already using VR today.

What is virtual reality?

The term virtual reality refers to immersion in a computer-generated environment. As a rule, this virtually generated reality is viewed using VR glasses. As the display is located directly in front of the eyes, the physical space is no longer visible to the player. VR glasses are equipped with sensors that detect the movement of the head. If the person playing turns their head to the left, their gaze in virtual reality also wanders in this direction. This gives the person playing the game the feeling of actually being in this artificial environment. VR goggles usually also include controllers that are held in the hand. These are also equipped with sensors. This allows virtual hands and arms to be displayed that move in exactly the same way as the person playing with their real hands and arms.

What distinguishes VR from regular gaming?

VR gaming differs from conventional gaming in two main aspects: Immersion and embodiment.

The word immersion describes the feeling of being completely immersed in a world. People can experience immersion not only in VR gaming. An exciting book, a gripping TV series or a captivating video game can also be immersive. However, VR games have a particularly strong effect because our real surroundings are completely blocked out. As VR players, we cannot simply take our eyes off the screen from time to time. What's more, players usually also wear headphones so that they can immerse themselves acoustically in the virtual world.

Embodiment describes the feeling of perceiving a virtual body as your own body. In most VR games, you look at the virtual world from a first-person perspective. Many games also depict virtual hands and arms that you control with the movements of your real hands and arms. This representation is modeled on our perception in everyday life: We look at the world through our eyes and see our hands interacting with our environment in front of us. This similarity gives players the feeling that they are actually inside the virtual body. This effect has also been widely researched independently of virtual reality. For example, people who wear prostheses perceive them as a fully-fledged part of their body.

How widespread is VR gaming in Germany?

In November 2023, the German Games Industry Association asked how many people in Germany already own a VR headset. There are already 3.7 million VR headsets in German households. And a further 4.7 million people are planning to purchase VR glasses.
Compared to the other ways of consuming video games, VR is still more of a niche product. In Germany, 13 million people play on PCs, 19 million on consoles and 23 million on smartphones (source: Annual Report of the German Games Industry 2023).

What VR games are available for children?

The market for VR games is now very diverse. There are VR games in almost every known video game genre. These include racing games, role-playing games and games of skill, for example. This list of VR games contains over 4,000 entries at the time of writing and gives an impression of the wide range of VR games.

Players can sit behind the wheel of a Formula 1 car in a racing game, be chased through an abandoned estate by a murderer in a horror game or take part in a virtual boxing workout in a fitness game. These examples show that it is not possible to say in general terms whether VR games are suitable for children or not. There are hardly any VR games aimed specifically at children. If you search the internet for suitable VR games for children, you will usually find recommendations for games that have child-friendly graphics and are free of problematic content such as violence. Or games that present familiar game principles in VR, such as a chess simulation. However, it is important to note that just because a game does not contain any violence and looks suitable for children, this does not automatically mean that the game is also suitable for children. Parents should check with the Entertainment Software Self-Regulation Body (USK) about the age rating of the game. At the NRW game guide parents can find educational assessments of video games. Ideally, parents should first try out a game themselves to assess whether it is suitable for their child.

Is VR gaming problematic for children?

VR goggles are currently designed primarily for adult users. This means that some VR goggles are difficult for younger children to wear because they are too big for them. For example, according to the manufacturer, the VR goggles Meta Quest 3 are only allowed from the age of 10. Between the ages of 10 and 12, parents can create an account for their child that they manage. From the age of 13, children can also use Meta Quest 3 independently. Sony states in the manual for Playstation VR2 that the VR goggles are not suitable for children under the age of 12.

As VR goggles have not yet become widespread and are rarely used by children, there is still a lack of experience. So far, it has not been established that VR gaming has any significant negative effects on children. However, it should be borne in mind that the phenomena of immersion and embodiment (see "What distinguishes VR from regular gaming?" above) are two factors that only occur in this form in VR gaming. There is not yet enough experience from practice or research to be able to predict the exact effects on children. However, there are at least no indications so far that children are overwhelmed by age-appropriate VR content or that they are unable to distinguish between reality and the virtual world.

In our podcast "How does virtual reality affect children?" we talk to Dr. Anna Felnhofer. She is a scientist and clinical psychologist at MedUni Vienna. She uses virtual reality in her therapeutic work with children. She tells us how children react to VR content in practice.

What should parents bear in mind when playing VR games?

  • Find out whether there is an age rating for your VR goggles from the manufacturer. You can find this information, for example, on the manufacturer's website or in the instructions supplied.
  • Observe the ratings of the Entertainment Software Self-Regulation Body (USK). These are clearly visible on the packaging of the games and are also displayed in most online stores. All tested games can also be found in the database on the USK website.
  • Make sure that your child has enough space when playing VR games and that there are no tripping hazards in the vicinity, for example. Depending on the game, the person playing may move around and not be able to see where there are obstacles.
  • Accompany your child while gaming and ask how your child is doing after the game. VR can cause nausea, dizziness or headaches in some people. If this is the case, the game should be stopped.
  • The manufacturers of VR goggles recommend taking regular breaks while playing. Make sure that your child does not play for too long at a time.
  • VR games also have the typical risks associated with video games. These include inappropriate content, interaction risks such as cybergrooming or cyberbullying and cost traps due to in-game purchases. In ourDigital games topic area and in our flyer "What is my child actually playing?" you will find information on these topics.