I stumbled upon CVR Conf, a virtual reality expo for both the industry folks and the general public, at the Vancouver Convention center on a weekend. I’ve always wanted to learn more about virtual reality, and the student ticket happened to be ~1/4 of a regular ticket. I had a blast, went home and did some research. It seemed to me that CVR conf was a bit game-oriented, even though virtual reality can have so many more applications. It has the power to greatly improve some people’s lives.

I delivered this speech to Earth Aware Toastmaster club and also fulfill the CC2 (Competent Communication Module 1 -Organize Your Speech).

(Start of the speech)

Yesterday I went to the virtual reality expo at the Vancouver convention center. There were dozens and dozens of companies working on virtual reality showcasing their games.

Before the expo, I knew of virtual reality as a way to play game. You wear a heavy headset mounted that cover your eyes and ears. The screen in the headset will show you a 3D world, real or computer graphic. As you move your head around, the screen changes. You can interact with what you’re seeing in your headset with a controller. It’s suppose to trick your brain into thinking that you’re somewhere else, that what you’re seeing and hearing is real.

But virtual reality, from now referred to as VR, has matured a lot and grown beyond just the gamer community. Doctors are now using “virtual reality therapy”. How does it work?  

Let me tell you about the first game I played at the expo. I sat on a chair and was given a headset and two controllers. When the game started, I was sitting in a canoe, with paddle in each of my hand. I could look around, oh see that mountains with the snow caps, oh look the fish in the water, oh look at that bear eating a salmon. It’s like a movie, but it was more than just a movie because I could look anywhere. Sometimes a butterfly would land on my hand. It was very fun and relaxing.

In fact VR has been used to treat depression or other mental conditions. In Australia’s Alzheimer VIC, they use VR headset to immerse people in a forest where they can hear butterflies fluttering and watch the snow fall. VR has also been used in pain management. There has been experiments that show that people with chronic pain experience less pain when they’re immersed in VR.

Let me tell you about the next virtual reality game I played at the expo. There I was, in a dungeon. Through my VR headset, my controller look like a sword to me. I could swing the sword when I moved my arm. I could hold it up to look at the inscription on the sword. All the sudden, there’s scary music. Evil skeleton soldiers start coming out. I started fighting them with my sword. There was this boss skeleton. He was twice my height. Very scary. But I defeated it with my sword.

And then I took off my headset, feeling less afraid of dark places and scary monsters.

This kind of thing is what doctors are doing in their offices. It’s called exposure therapy as a way to treat mental condition such as phobia. It works by letting patients talk about their fears, and eventually being exposed to their fears in a safe and controlled way. For example, say you’re afraid of spider. Your doctor might show you a picture of a small spider, and then a video of a bigger spider, and maybe eventually letting you hold a big cuddly spider. But with virtual reality, your doctor can now let you see as many spiders as you want, crawling toward you, flying around in the room.

If you’re afraid of height, your doctor can teleport you into an elevator, or maybe the edge of a cliff, so you can look down into the valley and confront your fear. Virtual reality can create a realistic environment that is controllable and tailored to our needs. While you look at spiders through the virtual reality headset, the doctor can monitor your heartbeat, your breathing, and change the size of the spider at any time. You can be in a safe space while learning how to confront your fear. VR can help us conquer our fear.

The last but coolest thing about VR is this: In the last game I played, I was a tiger. With the VR headset, I could turn around to look for other animals, I could swing my arm like this to walk and run. I could jump by swinging both my arms. And wow, I really felt like I was jumping really high. I could almost feel the wind as I jumped on and off every rock. Have you ever wondered how it would be like to be a tiger? I’m sure I looked really weird whenever I jumped like this, but it was exhilarating!

The power of VR to allow people to embody someone, or something, has a huge potential in mental health. A lot of time, people feel depressed or unmotivated because they’re trapped in their own vision of themselves. But with VR, we can put a person in someone else’s shoes. Imagine you get nervous of public speaking, VR can put you on a stage in front of millions of people. You can look around, make a speech, and then the people will applaud. If someone struggles with low self-esteem, we can use VR to put them in the shoes of a powerful person, say looking at the world from a perspective of a CEO.

Just like many technology that originally starts off as game, VR has grown to have many applications. Some of them are about health care. For example, VR can reduce pain and depression. VR can help us cope with our fear. VR allow us to embody someone else and open up our perspective. However, just like every nice thing in life, we still need more research to understand how to use it for health care and it still has room for improvement. It’s also quite expensive. However, I hope that you’re now excited about VR and will go home to learn more about it, and soon enjoy the wonder of this technology.

(End of the speech)

Thank you for reading up to this point. The picture in the header background is two people playing a VR game in which they were birds flapping their wings and pecking at bugs. The guy on the right was hopping all over the place, totally immersed in the world. I didn’t get to try it because of the long waiting list, It was really fun to watch!