Earlier this week, Recode’s Mark Bergen became a football quarterback and The Verge’s Lauren Goode flew through a building.
These things didn’t really happen, but they sure felt real — and that was the point. Mark and Lauren were visiting Stanford University to better understand virtual reality. You can see what they saw on our Facebook page; they also played hockey, swam a coral reef sans scuba gear and walked a plank over a perilous pit.
On the latest episode of Too Embarrassed to Ask, Mark and Lauren spoke with Stanford professor Jeremy Bailenson, the director of the Virtual Human Interaction Lab, about why VR feels different from watching a movie or playing a video game.
"More so than any other game technology we have now, the brain treats a virtual reality experience more like an actual experience," Bailenson said. "So what I always urge game designers to consider is, when you’re putting players through these experiences, consider that they are actual experiences, not media experiences."
In the lab, Bailenson and his team have studied how putting people through VR experiences affects their empathy, sensitivity to pain and decision-making ability. They have found that the act of pretending to do something with the aid of a virtual reality headset — and, often, sensors that track one’s hands and feet — is a powerful way to educate and even create realistic memories.
"The way one would predict the brain to respond with an actual event, we’ve demonstrated when someone experiences a VR event and later on recalls [it]," Bailenson said.
On the new podcast, he acknowledged that this means VR could have a dark side. Although the Stanford lab only works on positive "self-transformational" experiences, one could also design virtual reality software that transforms a person in negative ways.
Thank you to everyone who sent in their questions about virtual reality. You can tweet your questions, comments and complaints about any tech topic to @Recode with the hashtag #TooEmbarrassed. And be sure to follow @LaurenGoode, @KaraSwisher and @Recode to get alerted when we're looking for questions about a specific topic.
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This article originally appeared on Recode.net.