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What Parents Need to Know About VR

Written by Max Jay, Senior Manager, Communications
May 19, 2022

In the past five years VR has gone from a fantasy to something that millions of families share in their own home. Like with any new technology, parents and caregivers will want to know more about how they can keep VR appropriate for their kids. ESRB is here to help!

What is VR?

Let’s start with the basics. For many, VR can conjure images of the Holodeck from Star Trek. While that sounds great, we’re not quite there yet. VR currently comes in a few forms, all of which are centered around a headset that is strapped to the users’ face. There are two main types of headsets: Tethered and untethered.

Tethered headsets include devices like the PlayStation VR – better known as PSVR (and the upcoming PSVR2) – and the now discontinued Oculus Rift. These devices must be plugged into an external source, which runs the actual video game. For example, the PSVR needs to be plugged into a PlayStation 4 or PlayStation 5, while the Oculus Rift needed a high-end PC.

The Meta Quest is currently the most popular example of an untethered headset. Unlike its tethered cousins, the Quest and Quest 2 are totally self-contained and runs games and apps directly from the device. It’s worth noting that most untethered headsets now have the ability to plug into a computer, opening the door to more games with a higher visual quality (depending upon how beefy your PC is).

Is VR Appropriate for Kids?

Deciding if a VR game or experience is appropriate for your kids is very similar to how you may decide about traditional video games. The big difference here is perspective. Even compared to first person video games, VR can be more immersive due to the user being physically put into the environment, including the ability to interact with aspects of the game using their own movements.

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Your tried-and-true strategies for picking appropriate games will likely remain unchanged. It’s always a good idea to start by checking the ratings, and the good news is ESRB assigns age and content ratings to many VR games. This includes everything available for download on the PlayStation Store and for the Meta Quest.

Beyond that, it’ll be especially helpful to check gameplay videos on websites like YouTube or Twitch. Doing so will help you better understand how the experience presents to a user and make sure the content and perspective is appropriate for your kids.

All that being said, it’s important to remember that VR headsets are recommended for kids 13 and up, which may change how you approach keeping these experiences appropriate.

Online Play in VR

Many games allow users to cooperate, compete, and communicate via online play, and VR is no different. There are some popular games, like Rec Room (Everyone 10+), that allow users to create in-game avatars and interact with others in virtual spaces. This adds another dimension to online play; in addition to voice and/or text players now have a visual, in-game representation of their own body. Note that this is not an exact one-to-one look-alike, but it definitely adds another layer of interactivity to online video games.

Your tried-and-true strategies for picking appropriate games will likely remain unchanged.

Online play can add a wonderful, innovative layer to games, where users can “exist” in the same space and share experiences, no matter where in the world they live. But it’s still important to keep in mind that not everyone wants to communicate in the same way. Most people play online to have a good time with their friends, but make sure your kids know how to mute, block, and/or report another player if they are behaving inappropriately.

Keeping VR Experiences Safe and Fun

Virtually all video game consoles have parental controls to help parents and caregivers manage what their kids play, with whom, for how long, and whether money can be spent on new games or in-game purchases. VR is not much different. For example, PSVR (PlayStation VR) has parental controls linked to your PlayStation console, allowing you to manage those experiences just like your kid’s traditional video games on the platform. Meta – the creator of the Quest and Quest 2 – has recently announced more comprehensive Meta Quest parental controls.

ESRB offers free step-by-step parental controls guides to help make it easier for parents and caregivers to approach using these tools. You can find those at ParentalTools.org. For more tips about how you can manage your kids’ video game experiences visit our Family Gaming Guide.

VR Tips

With any new technology there are new intricacies to learn. Here are some additional tips to help you and your family have a great time with your new VR headset:

  • Cost May Vary – Some VR headsets cost $299 and others go up to about $1,000. In fact, VR hits just about every price-point in between! Make sure you know what you’re getting, and if you’re looking into a tethered headset double check that you have a PC that is powerful enough or a compatible console.
  • Make Some Space – You may recall the many TVs lost to Wiimote accidents; it’s funny to watch, but not so funny if it happens in your home. Make sure you set up a dedicated space for VR to prevent any collateral damage! VR controllers also come with straps to attach to your wrists, so that may be a new Household Rule to establish.
  • Take Breaks – I’m not prone to motion sickness, but there have been times when playing in VR when I find that I get a bit queasy and need to take a break. Meanwhile, my wife gets motion sick walking from the kitchen to the couch, and she’s had wonderful, stable VR experiences. It’s different for everyone, but it’s a good idea to take breaks, drink water, and monitor your reaction to VR experiences, especially as when you’re just getting used to the technology. To better approach this, some storefronts – like the Oculus Store – have “comfort ratings”.
  • Have Fun! – Video games are a great way to share some quality time with your family. Even in VR, there are myriad games – like Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes (Everyone 10+) – that can be played together. Not only will you have a good time, but you’ll better understand why your kids love video games and how you can create an appropriate environment to play.
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