Common Virtual Reality Induced Diseases

Medicine of technology-related diseases


Virtual reality (VR) is an inevitable part of technological progress since the 80s of the 20th century. Its application ranges from global entertainment to training simulations. While the first old-timers represented simple recordings of actual events, projected into the mind of the recipient through a pair of 3D goggles and sensory gloves, the technological evolution gave us a variety of devices such as external brain stimulators, VR cameras, implants, and even nanobots. In any case, a larger and larger percentage of humanity, employing VR in everyday life has developed some kind of addiction and, more or less, is susceptible to a variety of VR-induced diseases. The present article summarizes several of the most common VR-related syndromes and their impact on society.

The technological advance of VR devices

To understand the potential health issues, emerging from the continuous use of VR devices, we first need to summarize the technological advance of virtual reality. Since they strive for maximum reality in cinema, video games and training simulators were of primary importance to software developers, VR devices were always the subject of extensive development and evolved from simple electronic 3D goggles to sophisticated brain implants. Several major types of VR devices are listed below based on two types of classification.

Based on the mechanism of action

First, we need to clarify what true VR is anyway. Early efforts were made in a historical period when it was known that the human brain is a highly sophisticated neuron system and its functions are accomplished by electrochemical communication, but this knowledge was far from enough to construct a true VR device. Therefore, the earliest complete VR (but not true VR) exploited the down-top technology. In other words, enormous coffin-like machines provided simultaneous stimulation of all possible body receptors, from tactile stimuli and temperature to 3D visual pictures [1]. These, of course, were a big hit and commercial success, but due to low mobility, high cost, and frequent malfunctions (including serious peripheral injuries) soon stepped out of the production lines.

The big breakthrough came to market when what was suspected, that you do not need to lower the temperature to feel cold if you tricked the brain that it is cold, was finally deciphered by neurophysiologists. Soon, the first up-down-based VR devices came into production, connected to the brain via a sophisticated external plug [2, 3]. Software-controlled electrical impulses just modified the brain function without affecting the rest of the body and drove thousands of clients into routine VR sleep. The biggest drawback came from the need for the plugin. It was fine in virtual reality, but in real life, it was not fancy to have a hole in your head.

It was then that the External Transmitting VR Devices were developed and came into production. It is not plausible to think, that a simple diadem with several electrodes would be able to manipulate the brain by electrical impulses, so it should be noted that every possible VR device into production needs an initial brain chip implantation, currently a routine surgical procedure with under 1 in 1013 surgeries went wrong. Then, the external VR device controls the brain chip, which controls the brain. More recently, externally applied nanites, either injected or like eye drops [4] are substituting the surgical implants. The potential risks are still to be determined.

Based on the extension of reality

As with many other high technologies, in VR it is not the hardware but the software which is the price defining factor. Virtual reality is also one of the biggest concerns of the legislative institutions, currently third only to space travel and colonization of new planets by the number of regulations.

The first VR recordings were just that, recordings of actual events, experienced by someone else and projected in first-person mode to the client [5]. Do you want funny facts? Metallica’s best-selling album Unload was downloaded legally over 150 million times and additionally illegally about 200 million times. Their lowest selling VR album of the “Master of Galaxies” series sold a little shy of 500 million copies. Approximately 2.5 million divorces entered court due to men selling VR recordings of them, making sex with their wives. Forty thousand people were identified and suited for homicide based on illegal VR recordings of killings, found on the black market. And finally, a signed copy of “My first steps on Mars” VR recording by Marshal St John Jr.[1] was sold for 2.5 million intergalactic euros. Funnily enough, a copy of Sasha Blue’s “My first alien sex experience” VR recording reached 25 million intergalactic euros during the same bidding.

It was a big market indeed, but soon people were bored of re-experiencing someone other’s reality, and the VR software market needed to invent something more. The next step and comparatively cheap and completely legal technology extracts personal memories and re-projects them to the same client [4], which the majority of VR consumers prefer. Considered low-risk experience, currently, 85.865% of the adult human population throughout the Galactic Union has used this at least once and 1.291% of them were victims of memories theft.

The real thing, however, and the most popular is the client-driven simulated reality. In other words, this is the true VR which, much like a computer game, allows clients to play in a virtual world in either single or multiplayer mode. A record 43.981% of the then-current adult human population was connected simultaneously to Konami’s Virtual Wild West last Monday and about the same percent, 44.323% are customers of Digital Playgrounds’ Virtual Dating Paradise. In the most extreme case ever reported, during one of several Artificial Mind rules[2] over human-populated planets, a total of 99.932% of the human population on that particular planet was grown in nutritional fluid and kept under virtual stasis in a massively multiplayer virtual role-playing game in a world, based on the Old Earth during the 90s [3].

Some least popular and currently illegal VR include the Online Connected Android Surrogate[3] system, developed by VSI [6]. In this case, the client controls an android double and experiences first-person everything that the android does. Currently, this technology is forbidden.

Virtual reality-related pathologies

In the most recent issue of Classification of Technology-Related Diseases, the VR-related health issues were further subdivided into three types – Equipment failure-related, Physiological and Psychological syndromes. Although hundreds of thousands of lawsuits proceed in courts yearly due to claimed VR device failure-caused injuries, contemporary tech-med books consider these of no significance to public health, or in other words, least possible to occur. The physiological and psychological health issues, however, are gaining more and more attention and qualified second to space-travel-related pathologies in the long lists of grant claims by tech-med research centers. The unbiased numbers tell us, that approximately 100-150 people die each year due to VR-related issues and more than 15 000 go into VR rehab centers. A highly accepted VR-dependency chart subdivided VR users into group A, non-dependent (less than 1 hour VR experience per day), group B, low-dependent (less than 4 hours of VR), group C, middle-dependent (up to 6 hours), group D1, highly-dependent (more than 6 hours) and group D2, the lost reality group (more than 8 hours of VR per day). The following chart clearly shows that the percentage of people with VR-related diseases is growing exponentially with the length of daily VR experience. Actually, except for the members of several religious cults, forbidding VR, nearly every adult human being had experienced VR at least once and 100% of these, using VR at least for one hour per week had experienced some VR-related indisposition.

Figure 1. Grouping of the human population according to the level of dependence on VR (in hours-per-day into VR) and percentage of people with documented VR-related disease into each group.

Physiological diseases

Sudden alternate death syndrome (VR-SADS)

Although extremely rare, the cases of actual death, provoked by VR experience are not impossible. They were largely associated with a poor health condition, resulting in heart failure due to an overly exciting experience. People in perfect condition of the cardiovascular system, however, could also fall victim to the SADS. The death that occurred in the simulated reality could be so stressful, that it causes heart failure. SADS, however, should not be confused with the most common in the past VR-induced braindead, caused by equipment failure. The latter is generally associated with older VR device models.

Chronic adrenaline overproduction syndrome (VR-CAOS)

As most of the VR experiences are associated with events of excitement or stress, generally people with excessive usage of simulated reality often do experience higher adrenaline blood levels. The constant exposure to VR, at some point, would lead to constantly high adrenaline levels, which result in insomnia, high blood pressure, irritability, etc. It was previously hypothesized, but not confirmed, that VR may lead also to adrenaline overproduction by the adrenal glands even if the patient stops using VR. Currently, there are less than 10 clinical cases in the literature, and it is highly disputable whether these are actual VR-related diseases, or other medical conditions, that coincided with VR dependence.

Simulated reality deep somnia (VR-SRDS)

A rare, but still not uncommon medical condition, SRDS remains largely elusive to the techno-medical society. It was hypothesized, that it may be a psychological condition, in which certain people just do prefer VR and choose to stay there, which is of course not credible, as the termination of VR transmission just could not be compensated by the brain imagination. The fact is, however, that a significant number of people, without any obvious reason, just fall into a deep somnia while being under VR experience and unfortunately, not a single one of them was successfully brought back. Currently, there are three sanatoriums for SRDS patients, the largest of which currently hosts 3452 patients.

Constant sense disturbance (VR-CSD)

This should not be mistaken with the common 5 minutes adaptation periods after cutting off VR transmission, although the symptoms are similar. Problems with balance, loss of orientation, high sensibility to light and noise, itching over the whole body is what almost everybody has experienced after VR, but for a short period. Patients with CSD do experience this constantly, over periods of years and many of them also develop associated psychological pathologies such as depression, schizophrenia, etc.

Psychological diseases

Psychological pathologies, associated with VR are about 10 fold more common than pure physiological conditions. It is not unexpected, that their variety is much higher, also because many psychiatrists give different names to the same condition, just to have something they claim they describe for the first time and boost their carrier. According to a general agreement, however, there are a Big Five of VR-related psychological disorders, classified according to their occurrence (1 in 10 VR clients has a certain degree of any of these) and economical significance (well, they cause losses to the industry because of temporal or permanent disabilities).

In summary, these are 1) Absence-from-reality syndrome; 2) Mistaken reality syndrome; 3) VR-related sexual dysfunction; 4) Technophilia and 5) General Overestimation syndrome. The first two refer to cases, in which the patient does not show interest in the actual reality (1) or mixes the actual reality with VR (2). The next syndromes result in permanent sexual dysfunction due to the fact, that some people have never experienced a sexual act outside VR (3) or had used VR sex so often, that is not interested in actual sexual intercourse (4). Finally, in the General Overestimation syndrome patients start to believe they can perform actions they actually cannot. In a widely cited case from the last century, a patient just drowned in a pool, because he swam a lot under VR, but never did this in a real water basin, so he believed he can actually swim.


1. Brett Leonard. 1995. Virtuosity. Paramount Pictures.

2. David Cronenberg. 1999. eXistenZ. Miramax Films.

3. The Wachowskis. 1999. The Matrix. Warner Bros.

4. Ben C. Lucas. 2017. OtherLife. See Pictures.

5. Kathryn Bigelow. 1995. Strange Days. 20th Century Fox.

6. Jonathan Mostow. 2009. Surrogates. Walt Disney Studios.

[1] American astronaut, actually the second man to step on Mars.

[2] Also known as Machine terror.

[3] Must not be mistaken with android theme park such as Westworld.

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