Sometimes it takes research to prove what was already suspected, like how utterly uncomfortable it would be to work in the metaverse.
An international team of researchers conducted a study [PDF] to just such an end, putting participants in VR headsets and taking an inventory of their self-reported physical and mental states throughout a five day, eight-hour-a-day period spent in headsets and a virtual “office”.
Unlike a real job, participants were allowed to set their own work agendas and didn’t perform standardized tasks yet even still had trouble undertaking these.
Usability, frustration, anxiety, visual fatigue, motion sickness and additional criteria were measured, and the results didn’t surprise anyone: “The study reveals that, as expected, VR results in significantly worse ratings across most measures,” the study concludes.
To be fair, the Meta Quest 2 headsets are far from ideal metaverse workwear. Instead of delivering the best possible experience, the team said they wanted to create a virtual environment that mimicked a physical keyboard/monitor setup.
“We are well aware that with the current state of VR technology, working in VR will be demanding on the user … Still, we see it as a worthwhile endeavor to quantify the effects of working in VR,” the researchers said.
In particular, the study found increased frustration and anxiety, lower perceived productivity and a decrease in feelings of wellbeing. As for physical symptoms, two participants of the admittedly small study group (16 people) had to quit the study after the first day due to nausea, migraines and anxiety. Nearly half of participants that stuck with the study reported eye strain as a result of wearing a VR headset for eight hours.
Participants also reported lower usability scores and decreased typing speed while in VR. That’s a particularly interesting bit of data because of how the study was conducted: The same keyboard/trackpad combo was used in VR and during a week when participants worked without the headsets. Likewise, the virtual monitor displayed in the experimental workspace was the same size as the physical one located in the test subject’s real-world desks.
“It is clear that there is still a long way to go for the development of more comfortable hardware,” the researchers wrote.
If Meta’s experimental headsets are anything to go on, comfort and VR have considerable distance to travel before finding common ground. The test models CEO Mark Zuckerberg showed off this week had improvements in brightness and resolution, but had to sacrifice wearability and greatly reduce field of vision to achieve those ends. ®