Headset Safety: 5 Steps to Learning Your Boundaries Before Performing in Virtual Reality
BroadVersity's top five steps to ensure safety while in a virtual reality headset
While safety should always be a consideration for people putting on a show, when you’re venturing into a new world—new reality— as it were, it becomes more important than ever. Commercials for the new Oculus make it look so easy! Kids use it, how hard could it really be?
*DISCLAIMER* We are not medical professionals and highly suggest you seek out someone with an M.D. after their name if you’re having serious reactions to VR or any other physically/mentally strenuous activity.
There is a learning curve. So, what major factors should we consider when on-boarding a new team member to work in the metaverse?
Timetimetime. Prepare to deal with a certain level of disorientation that comes from wearing a VR headset. Just like any new skill, it takes honing. Start with 5 to 10 minutes, work yourself up to more, little by little to avoid burn-out. And hey, soon enough you’ll be an expert, ready to pop this onto that glorious special skills section of your resume.
Just like your vocal warm-ups, this should be a part of your daily schedule. Add 5 minutes each day of use. Water breaks are just as important here as with singing. Give yourself time, sip your water, then get back to it. And for those who are the journaling type—keep track of your progress! Note how you felt Monday and how different you feel by Friday. Psst, also be sure to note when you find yourself getting lost in the virtual world and forgetting the real world. While we may want that kind of immersion with our characters in a theatrical production, it isn’t the end goal here.
But, communication is. Be vocal. Tell your director and/or team members when you need a break. We’re all learning this new space together and need to make room for adjustment (and those ever-important water breaks, let’s be real—none of us drink enough water anyway, right?).
2. Motion Sickness
Just like in the real world, this doesn’t happen to everyone, but it does happen. The movement of the virtual worlds inside your headset can be quick and jarring for someone who isn’t familiar with the setting. The “time” mentioned above will play a big part in adjusting to this but knowing yourself is just as important. Do you do well on rollercoasters? How about flying or being in the backseat of a car? Know your real-world limitations and adjust your virtual world accordingly. This rings especially true for dancers. You won’t have the same sight lines you’ve been used to in the real world.
You also want to be sure that you’ve set and played with the locomotion settings of your specific device. Locomotion is explained in more detail here, but the long and short concept here allows you to move throughout the virtual world without getting up or walking forward in the real world. Beyond the headset settings, each game/platform/theater of the future may have its own locomotion techniques and settings, familiarizing yourself with these will be a two-step in the right direction.
The “Doppler” eye settings may be even more important than locomotion. It adjusts the distance between your eyes. Road to VR has a great explanation for measurement and settings when it comes to IPD (interpupillary distance) that you can find here.
For true newbies to existing, let alone performing, in virtual reality—consider starting seated instead of standing. You’ll need to adjust in the game or world experience, but this should help.
Check out these suggestions on how to overcome motion sickness in VR. They’ve got some valuable insight, from eating ginger before you play, to pointing a fan at your face for cool air!
This one takes on both a virtual and physical meaning. Physical comes first—your actual boundary, in your home. What does the space you’re working in look like, and how far can you walk before you run smack dab into a wall? Properly setting up the digital boundary within your headset is hugely important.
There are instructions built into the headset, of course, and it will naturally guide you, but if you want another view, here’s a solid tutorial on setting that up. When it comes to setting your boundary/guardian, the headset you have/game or world you’re playing in will have a built-in idea of the kind of space you need. But, consider this—we’re adapting it for performance, so you need a bit more. Just like in the real world where space is relative, imagine yourself having big, sweeping, theatrical motions.
What does that mean here? Give yourself extra space for an iconic Rockette eye-kick without making it a wall, or person, kick. Honestly, you’ll be surprised how small space feels once you’re in VR. If you’re a theater person used to grand arm motions, you may find it more difficult than the average player to confine yourself— so don’t. Take up as much space as you need.
But what about virtual boundaries in the metaverse? Personal space is still a thing, and yeah, it’s major awkward vibes when someone invades your space, even if that space is being held by your avatar.
Meta (Parent company of Facebook) has recently implemented what they call “personal boundaries” with the idea of preventing harassment in the metaverse. Basically, you have a bubble of personal space within which your avatar exists, and no one can get too close to you. There’s a wealth of information on the web about what sparked this change, including recent allegations of sexual harassment in the Metaverse. Regardless, the ability to set your own boundary can be very empowering. This is as recent as February 2022, but naturally this is an ever-changing universe that we will no doubt watch, adapt and evolve as we learn more about alternate realities and how people choose to exist in them. That all said, what about performing? It’s a new world, and in all likelihood directors and performers will need to commune together over what does and doesn't make sense for each show. Naturally, if two characters HAVE to touch, it's in the script, it just makes sense…then boundaries won’t work for those avatars, or at least not in that moment.
Make this a part of your onboarding process when putting on a new show (don't worry, we’ll get into that, too!).
No, not yours—the headset! Logically we know they don’t weigh thaaaat much, but after a bit the strain on your head and neck becomes evident. This, too, takes time! We’re starting to sound repetitive, aren’t we? But there’s so much truth to it. Start by trying it on, see how it feels. Everyone has different physicality in the real world and what kind of strain your body can take will vary from that of your cast members and friends. Take a look at your strap settings, really get to know what each does. For the Oculus Quest, as an example, you can purchase a variety of straps for different activities. But, just like different performers come up with techniques to make aspects of their life on stage more sustainable, so much we adapt here. One of our co-founders, Pamela Winslow Kashani—a lifelong performer and now metaverse acting guru as well, got creative with it. She noticed that when she had to perform the weight of the headset plus the weight of her hair was causing more strain than her neck could take for the duration of a show. She opts to put her hair in two ponytails as a counterweight, relieving some of that. But find what works for you.
You’ve got to start slow and be careful, avoid jerking motions. Even if your character in a traditional stage production might whip around to look at someone entering the room, be mindful here. You’re wearing a device on your head!
This may sound obvious, but there’s more to it when performing than when you’re just playing Beat Saber (seriously, check it out—it’s music based and feels like dancing!).
Yeah, you gotta know the general settings. Where is your mic, how does the strap work to keep your headset on while dancing, finding your boundary. We’ve gone over all that.
But what about noise? You’ll want to test the sound in the room you’re using prior to performance, or even rehearsal. Get together with a friend in the metaverse. Check the sound, what can they hear? Of course, we want them to hear YOU, but we don’t want them to hear the world around you.
FIND YOUR LIGHT! Yeah, you’ve heard this one before on stage. That concept holds importance in virtual reality, too. You must have proper light for the sensors and motion trackers in your headset to pick up what you’re doing.
That said, you want to avoid direct sunlight on any headset, it has been document that it can cause hardware malfunctions. (Here are some tips on that, directly from Oculus/Meta, worth a quick read!)
Lastly here, your controller straps. They may not feel necessary during set up. Everything is relaxed and easy going, but what about during Rose’s Turn when you throw your hands in the air for that grand 11 o’clock moment?! Yeah, those controllers are gonna go FLYING if they’re not securely attached to you.
Whew, that was a lot, but it’s only the beginning.
The moral of the story here is easing yourself in. No one starts out on pointe. You get those baby ballet slippers when you’re a wee tot and work your way through class after class, lessons for years, and finally premiere as a prime ballerina on your tippy tippy-toes. We’ll get there!
Drop us a comment to let us know how you’re adapting and how we can help.