A Parent’s Guide to Virtual Reality: Metaverse Madness

What parents need to know about this virtual world

Words by
Joseph Pratt

MAY 26, 2022

A Parent’s Guide to Virtual Reality: Metaverse Madness

What parents need to know about this virtual world

At a Glance

As a parent, you have probably heard of ‘The Metaverse’. You may know that Facebook changed its name to Meta or caught a glimpse of the possibilities by reading or viewing Ready Player One

This article will explain what the Metaverse is, the dangers it could present to families, and how parents can establish boundaries now.

Defining the Metaverse

Right now, the Metaverse is just an idea. Wired magazine compared trying to define the Metaverse now with defining the internet in the 1970s. [10]  

Back then, people talked about a new network that could connect all the computers in the world, but nobody knew what the finished product would ultimately be.

Similarly, nobody knows what the Metaverse will look like, but we can catch a glimpse of what it could look like on some VR platforms. 

The vision of the Metaverse is to create a virtual universe, just as real as our physical world.

Hypothetically, users will be able to interact with friends, conduct real business, buy and sell virtual clothes, sell and acquire real estate, view virtual artwork, play games, and essentially create a second life. [3]

This Metaverse is going to be far more pervasive and powerful than anything else. If one central company gains control of this, they will become more powerful than any government and be a god on Earth.

—Tim Sweeney, CEO of Epic Games

What excites people about a Metaverse?

Imagine a world where you can do anything, be anything—water ski behind a fifty foot robot, play poker with a group of bulldogs, or explore the Great Wall of China as an alien with six eyes. 

What would you see, do, and be if the only limits were your imagination? This alternate reality with no bounds is the incredible appeal of the Metaverse. 

But it isn’t all entertainment. The Metaverse could allow users to engage in educational experiences they would be unable to do otherwise. 

A group of aspiring medical students could watch or even perform a virtual autopsy; 6th graders could learn about Newton’s laws of motion in a space shuttle; and high school students could participate in virtual historical event renderings like the signing of the Declaration of Independence.

If designed correctly, the Metaverse could help people experience other cultures and gain deeper levels of understanding.

It could open the door for more effective work-from-home opportunities, not to mention more robust, at-home doctor appointments or easier visits to the DMV. 

kids playing with an oculus headset

Where did the Metaverse idea originate?

Science fiction writers have been instrumental in developing this concept.

The term ‘Metaverse’ was first used in Neal Stephenson’s 1992 novel Snow Crash.

In 2011, Ernest Cline helped popularize the idea when he wrote Ready Player One, a dystopian novel about a virtual universe into which people escape using a VR headset and wired gloves. 

Games with a Metaverse

Some online games have already created their own early versions of the Metaverse.

Games such as Fortnite, Second Life, Minecraft, and Roblox provide platforms for users to build, explore, and create new lives. [6]

In these games, users create avatars and interact with virtual spaces, objects, and other people.

Kids Already Play
Metaverse-Like Games

Fortnite, Second Life, Minecraft,
and Roblox.

The future of the Metaverse is currently centered in virtual reality (VR) technology. Tech giants (like Google, Facebook, and Apple) are investing vast amounts of money into developing VR headsets that connect to computers or video game consoles.

Research shows that VR can be the most potent tool, impacting the perceptions and actions of real people in the real world.

—Stephanie Moffet

Their vision of the Metaverse is a virtual universe where users are completely immersed in a 3D experience—a place to experience worlds from the inside out instead of simply viewing a static screen. [2]

The aim of these tech companies is to keep users inside these alternate realities for as long as possible. More time in the Metaverse means more profit for tech companies.

teen girl playing with oculus headset

What is Meta?

Facebook is particularly interested in developing their own Metaverse.

Founder Mark Zuckerberg believes in this vision so strongly that he changed Facebook’s name to Meta Platforms, or Meta for short, [2] to reflect their commitment.

In this video, Zuckerberg explains what his vision of the Metaverse is.

Mark Zuckerberg claims we will all ‘live’ in the metaverse in the future.

—Mark Zuckerberg, Meta CEO

Parents and caregivers can best protect kids when we consider the consequences of living in a virtual world.

Would this hinder our children from seeking or making healthy in-person connections?

How Can Playing Horizon Worlds be Dangerous?

For now, Meta is focused on building Horizon Worlds, their newest virtual world platform accessed through Oculus. They promote it as a “social experience where you can create in extraordinary ways.” [4]

With an Oculus headset, users can build virtual worlds, explore others’ creations, and interact with people around the world.

These capabilities seem amazing at first glance, but they actually pose a threat to child health and wellbeing.

Along with these larger issues, Horizon Worlds will be monetizing its virtual worlds by encouraging all users to buy virtual assets and experiences—another example of how our kids could be used as products. [11]

Understanding how these platforms will monetize our children’s time on their platform can help us make decisions about the access we feel comfortable with.

horizon worlds game from meta

Is the Metaverse Safe for Kids?

The Metaverse is likely to have unintended consequences for all users with social media and smartphones.

Given many tech companies’ track records of putting profit before people, [9] there will likely be many risks associated with the Metaverse.

There are minimal or no age restrictions on many VR platforms

This concern is amplified by the fact that Horizon Worlds, VRChat, and other Metaverse-like games are not safe for children.

A group of aspiring medical students could watch or even perform a virtual autopsy; 6th graders could learn about Newton’s laws of motion in a space shuttle; and high school students could participate in virtual historical event renderings like the signing of the Declaration of Independence.

We know predators gather in chat rooms and that children have been groomed and even abducted as a result.

Read more about how to protect your children from Oculus dangers.

Currently, game developers do a poor job protecting children under 13 with these games.

Almost any child with a Facebook account can play Horizon Worlds, [12] and children can easily access the game through their parents’ accounts if they are not password protected.

Potential dangers

Child predators, sexual content, and video game addictions are all reasons to keep kids away from these apps. [1]

While VR technologies are still relatively new, parents and experts have already raised serious concerns, and at least one child has been abducted by someone they met on VR.

Learn more about social media and online safety at Gabb Family Resources.

little girl and father playing with virtual reality

What Meta is doing to keep kids safe

In March of 2022, Meta announced they would be adding some parental controls to their Oculus headsets.

They said that by April, parents would have the ability to create unlock patterns for specific apps—preventing kids from playing games and accessing experiences inappropriate for their age. [8] 

They also said that in May, they would launch a Parental Dashboard allowing parents to monitor their kids’ Oculus phone use.

The dashboard would allow them to approve app download requests, to screen all device apps, to receive download notifications, to view their teen’s Oculus Friends, and finally to track how much time their teen spends in VR. [7]

Note: At the time of publication, none of these parental controls have been made available to the public.

Parental controls do not fully protect kids

Although parental controls are a step in the right direction, they do not fully protect kids against all the dangers associated with Horizon Worlds and other Metaverse-like products. 

Despite “age-appropriate” apps, children will inevitably be exposed to inappropriate content while predators can exploit them using platforms that allow chatting with strangers.

As reported by the BBC in February of 2022, children can easily access virtual strip clubs.

We can predict children will have access to these types of spaces as well as damaging radicalized forums that promote illegal behavior.

Potential Benefits and Costs of the Metaverse:

  • Educational opportunities (virtual field trips, remote class, etc.)
  • Increased work flexibility
  • Remote health care visits (including counseling sessions)
  • Leisure and entertainment
  • Online social connections
  • Addiction
  • Online predators
  • Violent content
  • Pornography
  • Decreased social connection in real life

For these reasons, experts recommend that parents who allow their kids to use these products stay involved in their children’s digital lives. [1]

Playing VR games together and screencasting the VR perspective to your TV are excellent practices when it comes to protecting kids.

Learn how to screencast VR to your TV here.

mom sitting on laptop while son uses virtual reality headset

What we can do to protect our families in the Metaverse

Educating ourselves is the first line of defense.

While we don’t yet know the scope of the Metaverse, we can understand creators’ motivations, including the potential to make enormous profits, potential risks of entering the Metaverse, and how those risks might affect our families.

To learn how to protect kids in the digital age and stay caught up on the latest expert advice, sign up for our email updates.

You can also find more articles about empowering your family to use tech safely at Gabb Family Resources.

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