Virtual reality (VR) is nothing new, although in recent years, it has undergone several significant advancements and is now used in everything from entertainment and social virtual worlds to job training and even therapy. Because of the progress made in VR, some experiences could change or impact the way we express ourselves online in a positive way.
Virtual social worlds have been around already for a while. Still, the more “realistic” those worlds become–especially in allowing us to portray ourselves–the easier it becomes for us to focus on generalized self-expression and accessibility.
We’re living in an era of self-expression and growth. For many people, it’s the first time in their lives that they feel comfortable talking to others about who they really are and how they really feel. However, that doesn’t mean roadblocks don’t exist.
Virtual reality can help to tear down some of those roadblocks, providing greater accessibility to people with disabilities or those who experience gender identity struggles. With that in mind, let’s dig deeper into VR’s role in self-expression and how it may be able to help those who might have previously felt they didn’t have a way to express themselves.
Making the Most of the Metaverse
Today, the most common way VR is utilized is for entertainment purposes. However, in recent years, there has been a sort of crossover in terms of entertainment and social settings. Nowadays, people can explore the metaverse using VR technology, opening them up to new worlds, new people, and new ways of looking at themselves.
The metaverse is an immersive virtual space that allows users to experience a completely different life than the one they might deal with every day in the real world. One of the first popular examples of the metaverse was Second Life, launched in 2003. While the video game platform is still going strong, it’s now just one of many virtual settings that allow people to express themselves online by creating avatars, characters, and ideal versions of themselves. Some of today’s most popular worlds in the metaverse include:
The accessibility features in the metaverse also could have immense potential for individuals with disabilities. For instance, the ability for subtitles to be generated in real-time would be useful for individuals who are deaf. At the same time, those who are blind could make use of innovations such as 3-D echolocation. Perhaps most significantly, the ability to design one’s own avatar to explore these digital worlds will allow individuals with disabilities to portray themselves as they want to be seen.
Others in marginalized groups can also express themselves freely in the metaverse, including members of the LGBTQIA+ community or those questioning their gender identity. It’s a fantastic way to explore new worlds and discover who you really are without the fear of getting judged.
Virtual Reality in a Therapy Setting
Aside from entertainment, VR has gained a lot of ground in the world of mental health. So far, it’s been used to help with everything from anxiety and depression to PTSD. It can also be a great solution for anyone struggling with self-expression or anyone who might otherwise have difficulties expressing themselves.
Therapists can use virtual reality to help their patients in a remote setting. Telehealth has seen a huge increase in popularity – largely due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But, it’s continued to remain popular because of its effectiveness and accessibility. It might feel like the only option for mental health treatment for some, especially if they deal with disabilities or have a hard time leaving their homes.
Whether performed in a remote setting or in a therapist’s office, the mental health benefits of VR are essentially limitless, depending on how each individual starts to see themselves and the world around them within the virtual realm. Some of the biggest benefits, especially when it comes to building a sense of self, include:
It offers greater control;
It reduces the cost and time of therapy;
The treatment is more personalized;
It can create a more comfortable setting for the patient to open up.
Some research has also shown that VR, in general, can actually help to rewire the brain and create new pathways to improve resilience and recovery. When someone is struggling with their mental well-being, and it’s causing them to see themselves in a negative light, that can make a huge difference. It’s not just a “quick fix” when it comes to helping them with immediate anxiety. It’s a long-term solution that can change their outlook on life and themselves.
Finally, VR therapy is something most people are willing to stick with. While it isn’t exactly a “gamification” of mental health treatment, there’s no denying it’s a unique and immersive approach that might be easier for some people to digest than traditional forms of talk therapy.
The Future of Virtual Reality
Virtual reality has come a long way in the last decade alone. It would be impossible to predict how it might continue to grow, but it’s also impossible to suggest that it won’t. Already, it’s becoming more realistic than ever by creating feelings of touch. VR doesn’t yet allow you to use all of your senses, but that might change very soon.
A new VR headset created by researchers from Carnegie Mellon University has the ability to create sensations for a user’s mouth and hands using ultrasound technology.
What’s the point of something like that? While it might be a nice and fun feature for those who use VR for gaming purposes, the meaning goes much deeper for those struggling with identity or anyone who might otherwise feel “limited” in some ways.
The point of creating more immersive VR experiences is to make them more lifelike. Obviously, we’re always going to understand the difference between actual reality and its virtual counterpart. But, if VR can provide an escape for those with disabilities or those who are trying to discover and explore their identities, it should be as real as possible. While this new headset is a start, we can undoubtedly expect to see equipment like this becoming even more fine-tuned in the future.
There are many benefits of using virtual reality for self-expression. Whether someone wants to discover themselves in a virtual world or work with a mental health professional by jumping into an immersive experience from the comfort of home, it could be a key technological component to transforming our sense of self and self-expression.