Why Women Must Help Shape the Future of Virtual Reality

Virtual reality has gotten a lot of buzz lately, and it’s not just because of Oculus Rift’s partnership with Facebook.  It’s because it’s such a new technology platform, and women have the opportunity to get involved on the ground floor of a revolutionary industry that’s shaking up everything from education to healthcare. It’s important, though, for women to realize they have a vested interest in getting involved with virtual reality technology and development in order to ensure the industry doesn’t move forward without consideration to the female world.

I.) VR Headsets Must Be More Inclusively Designed

Have you heard?  VR technology can make women feel nauseated.  Apparently it’s tied to brain chemistry. Researcher Thomas Stoffregen found “in a laboratory study [that] women were four times more likely than men to become motion sick from a digital stimulus.”  If virtual reality becomes more integral to workplace environments, it could have seriously detrimental effects for women’s ability to advance in their careers–obviously a social equality concern not to be taken lightly, which is why it is crucial that women speak up and demand that VR headset manufacturers fix the motion sickness problem sooner rather than later.  

Also, VR headsets should be designed to fit women’s heads better than they do, currently.  Women’s heads are not necessarily smaller than men’s heads, but they often are.  Again, this can be seen as a consumer issue, but it could also be a marketable distinction that female entrepreneurs could capitalize upon in the name of equality and social justice.  Imagine a brand of VR headsets and other related hardware specifically designed for women: now that’s a highly marketable idea!  Kimberly Voll, a software engineering professor at Simon Fraser University, argues that we can’t trust our brains; she is among those at the forefront of cognitive gaming experts working to ensure that VR is a comfortable, safe experience for all users–regardless of motion sickness or migraine proclivity.  

II.)  VR Can Revolutionize Healthcare Education & Rehabilitation

Health care training and education has evolved to the point that much more of it can take place online, now, than ever before.  This is due to two factors: one, the availability of online courses has proliferated; and two, there have been significant advancements in the type of training that is available online.  Considering the ongoing shortage of qualified nurses and doctors, nationwide, as well as the advancement opportunities for nurses who want to earn their MSN or Doctor of Nursing in order to be able to teach, it is in our best interest to ensure educational programs based in virtual and simulated reality realms are as comprehensive and user-friendly as possible.  

One way to ensure this is for current nurses and healthcare educators to learn about virtual reality and get involved in the market for education-based software and VR medical education environments.  There also great potential for VR technology to play a role in telemedicine advancements, which currently allows doctors and nurse practitioners to advise patients remotely via video conferencing or phone.  There has already been rapid growth in the telemedicine market, which was already estimated to be worth nearly 18 billion in 2014.  Because of this, there’s great potential for medical professionals to learn more about technologies currently available and work to ensure that future developments in this market are user-friendly and equally adaptable to the needs of doctors, nurses, and patients.

III.) We Need More Women to Learn Computer Programming & Software Engineering

If you’re not already convinced to learn more about VR programming, by now, perhaps the proliferation of coding camps around the country are tempting you to try your hand at a new skill.  However, rather than learning various types of code in an isolated vacuum, it’s really in your best interest to learn more extensively about the various types of programs to which you can apply that coding knowledge.  

Enter the world of software engineering: it’s now possible to earn a Bachelor of Science (BS) in Software Engineering online via colleges like Arizona State University, for example.  These kinds of programs combine project-based learning with learning-by-doing, teaching professional and teamwork skills and innovative computing applications that can help better society.  You’ll be able to apply these skills to video game and web applications as well as data and network systems administration.  

Without going into too much detail about the overwhelming need for qualified professional tech workers, women, especially, are needed in even greater numbers: “56 percent of women in computing jobs will leave their positions at the ‘mid-level’ point.”  This is due to a number of factors including a lack of effort, on companies’ parts, to retain female tech workers after they’ve entered the field.  Therefore, it would benefit the tech industry to not only encourage more women to take up computer programming and software engineering, but also to adopt measures to help retain and promote said women once they do enter the field.  The more women get involved with VR-related companies, from the production floor to HR departments, the more we will be able to promote gender inclusiveness at tech companies.

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What other VR-related fields do you think could benefit from greater influence from women?  Share your thoughts in the comments below!

Disclaimer: This post was written by a Feministing Community user and does not necessarily reflect the views of any Feministing columnist, editor, or executive director.

Boise, Idaho

I write. I also play the piano and sing along, go for hikes in & out of town, and I'm the host of "The Poetry Show!" every Sunday on Radio Boise, KRBX 89.9 / 93.5 FM. Follow me on Twitter @TPS_on_KRBX.

Daphne Stanford is a writer of many things: poetry, creative nonfiction, and songs for vox & piano.

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