New research has revealed that most British adults would prefer that virtual reality come with realistic restrictions on crimes.

Wiggin LLIP, a law firm which concentrates on media, technology and brands law, commissioned the market research consultancy ComRes to poll British adults on the topic of virtual reality. The data, which is weighted to be represent the British public at large, shows that 63% of those surveyed supported restrictions in virtual reality toward actions illegal in real life. Over half (58%) thought virtual reality should have age restrictions, while 41% said that they would be concerned about committing a crime in VR. Only 19% said that users should be allowed to do as they wish in VR, regardless of real world legality

“These results are entirely at odds with the huge popularity of violent gaming,” said Alexander Ross, a partner at Wiggin and head of the Commercial Music and Digital Publishing groups. “Many computer games contain violence of some kind and many make a feature of extreme violence. It is unlikely that large numbers of gamers lie awake at night worrying about the avatars they have terminated that day. It may be that the total immersion that VR technology provides blurs the boundaries with real life to such an extent that the regulation which currently governs more traditional media will be seen as wholly inadequate.”

Other concerns revealed by the research include:

  • not being aware of what is happening in the real world while using VR (69%)
  • a reduced sense of right and wrong while in a VR experience (59%)
  • becoming addicted to VR experiences (58%)
  • or the experience of VR affecting behavior even after use (55%)

“Like the internet, Virtual Reality does not respect nationality, and so we are using laws with legal boundaries to govern a technology with none,” added Ross. “We probably need to agree a common set of standards (outcomes that are universally accepted or rejected) and use that to drive our laws. Unfortunately, this is a process fraught with difficulties and delay, as anyone who has followed the debates around international climate change treaties will attest.”

With investments in VR in 2016 clocking in at $2.3 billion, it is highly likely that any major regulatory push on VR content will be met with aggressive lobbying from and resistance by the nascent VR industry. Alternatively, VR games that push the envelope of acceptability are likely to be banned or hit with the dreaded AO rating or its equivalent.