A strange and unexpected consequence of virtual reality devices becoming more widely accessible is that users can now see other users suffer from real medical emergencies in the digital world, but not be able to do anything about it.
That's what YouTuber Rogue Shadow VR claims happened to him and other users in the virtual reality social app VRChat this week.
As Rogue explains in his video, he and other VRChat users were goofing off in one of the app's virtual environments when suddenly one of the avatars in the room, a black and red robot, fell to the floor and began twitching. At first, it's unclear if it was just a bug or someone goofing off, which is what many VRChat users like to do.
Soon, however, it becomes clear that something is off. The user doesn't respond to questions from other users, continues flailing, and you can hear him struggling to breathe. In his video, Rogue said that this user, who he talked to after the incident, used some kind of full body tracking tech, which is why you can see their avatar lying on the floor.
"There was nothing we could do," Rogue said in his video. "We didn't even know what part of the planet this person lived on, and all we could do was just observe."
The response from users in the room is not what you'd expect. As we've recently reported, like many corners of the internet, VRChat is an interesting place but also kind of a shithole, where users harass each other and scream about incoherent, often racist memes. It is entirely possible that Rogue's video is staged (I've reached out for comment and will update this story if I hear back) or that the person that appears to be suffering from the seizure is just trying to prank other users. But overall the users in the room responded compassionately.
A handful of users thought it was funny and kept goofing off, but the majority seemed genuinely concerned for this person's well-being. They ask if he's okay, they ask players with flashing avatars to step back, and when the person is finally able to respond they give them good advice: call for help immediately and take a break.
According to Rogue, the person who suffered the seizure told him that it was a tonic-clonic seizure, which causes convulsions and loss of consciousness, but it's not clear what caused it. According to the Epilepsy Foundation, a non-profit advocacy group, "For about 3% of people with epilepsy, exposure to flashing lights at certain intensities or to certain visual patterns can trigger seizures."
If you have this condition, known as photosensitive epilepsy, stepping into VRChat with an Oculus Rift on seems like a risk. VR is a visually overwhelming, disorienting experience under the best conditions, and VRChat users can create their own environments and avatars, so you never know what you're going to see.