TOADY 2016: The case for Batman VR


Melanie Hempe, RN, Founder, Families Managing Media

Each year, the Toy Industry Association gathers to present its TOTY (Toy Of The Year) Awards. In honor of the industry that has led the way in commercializing childhood, CCFC will present its TOADY (Toys Oppressive And Destructive to Young Children) Award for the Worst Toy of the Year. From thousands of toys that stifle creativity, lionize brands, and promote screen-based entertainment at the expense of children’s play, CCFC and our partners have selected six exceptional finalists for 2016. Below, Families Managing Media makes the case for Mattel's Batman VR Viewer.

Trusted Reviews is calling 2016 “The Year of Virtual Reality.” But the question is: Should it be? Yes, VR is the newest technology in the toy market. VR toys are at the top of many kids’ wish lists. But what should you know before placing that PlayStation VR, HTC Vive, or Oculus Rift in your online shopping cart? What about the less expensive options, such as the Batman Virtual Reality Pack?

Last year, I attended the Digital Media and Developing Minds medical conference in Irvine, California where doctors from around the world gathered to share their research on how screen use is changing the development of children and teens. At this conference, co-sponsored by the National Academy of Sciences and Children & Screens: Institute of Digital Media and Child Development, I had the opportunity to try out a new virtual reality game.

Strapping the device onto my face was a bit strange. A claustrophobic feeling came over me. This was dark and uncomfortable, nothing like the exciting toy it was presented to be. Once the game started, I quickly became nauseated and unstable. To be sure, my first experiment with virtual reality glasses was short lived!

As I began to process this experience and think about how it would translate in a child’s world, I had to rely on my nursing experience, as well as my knowledge of brain science and medical research, to get solid footing. Here are some of my concerns:

Undeveloped brains: Children’s brains are underdeveloped and have a hard time distinguishing between reality and virtual reality. Likewise, they are unable to manage impulses, risks, and use common sense when it comes to judgment and logic. The most important play for children is real play, because they utilize their imaginations and five senses, while learning to interact with others.

Holding screens too close to eyes: Research tell us that kids already spend an average of 7.5 hours per day on a screen. “The added exposure to blue light kids receive from computers and digital devices and how close these electronic screens are to a child's eyes for hours each day have many eye care providers worried about potential eye damage over time,” according to Gary Heiting, Doctor of Optometry, writing in Considering a virtual reality screen is roughly 2 inches away from a child's face, there is great concern over the effect this is having on the brain, as well as the potential eye strain.

Aside from eye damage, the brain effects of intense screen stimulation will likely be greatly magnified at such close range according to Victoria Dunckley, MD, child psychiatrist and child screen-time expert. “Intense sensory input from video games—including bright artificial light, vivid colors, and rapid movement—coupled with a highly immersive yet artificial experience takes a toll on processing, depleting mental reserves and causing ‘brain drain.’  Transitioning back to the real world creates work for the brain, too. Moreover, we know that the more immersive the experience is, the more likely it will trigger hyperarousal and what we call electronic screen syndrome—a ‘short circuiting’ of the brain’s frontal lobe resulting in impaired mood, focus, and behavior—while posing a higher risk for addictive use at the same time.  We can expect all these side effects to be magnified by games that use VR.

The risk of prolonged stress reactions, disturbed sleep, out-of-sync circadian rhythms and desensitized reward pathways is high enough with regular gaming; VR will take that risk to a whole new level. Do you think Mark Zuckerberg and his pediatrician wife will be letting their daughter wear the Oculus Rift? I doubt it.”

Accidents: Colliding with the real world during the VR experience is perhaps the most significant concern with VR toys. When one has the VR glasses on, there is a sensation that one is in another world and the brain doesn’t know that this is entirely fabricated. If a user is “virtually” running in the game, his or her body feels as if it is actually running. It is likely the user will start moving with little awareness and easily crash into a nearby table, fall down the stairs or off the bunk bed. In a video we viewed at the medical meeting, the children were running into furniture, breaking lamps, and walking (or should I say falling) around like they were impaired with alcohol or experiencing vertigo.

Adult content: While some VR games may be safer if the parent commits to sit with the child on the couch–holding him down when he is attempting to fly like Superman or jump off a virtual building–the potential for adult, dark or violent content to become part of the VR experience is quite likely and serious.

Lingering symptoms: The truth is, the effects of this experience do not subside when the game is over. After the user disconnects from the VR game, the brain must begin the process of readjusting. Some after-effects include headaches, disorientation, and hand-eye coordination problems.

Potential for overuse: Just as video games are a very addictive form of entertainment, VR games have great potential to draw children in and set them up for yet another addictive entertainment screen habit.

Unknown effects: This new “play” technology is in the experimental stages. We have no long-term studies on the consequences on developing brains, but we do know the wonderful medical and social benefits of more traditional real play.

While VR may be the latest technology, this toy is not considered healthy play or helpful for childhood development. Families Managing Media has nominated the View-Master Batman: The Animated Series Virtual Reality Pack for the TOADY Award. A child needs to experience the benefits of real play and human interaction: real bikes, real art, real music, real creative problem solving with sandlot friends.  Boys and girls need face to face play and they need to practice the real skill of hanging upside down from a tree in the backyard; all these things trump the “screen-play” choice any day! You can confidently replace the VR games on the Holiday list this year with real non-screen games.

We are proud to partner with the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood to support healthy family attachment in today’s digital world!

Families Managing Media helps parents discover real solutions to screen conflicts in the home. Founded in 2012, by Melanie Hempe, RN, the 501 (c)3, based in North Carolina, presents at schools and community organizations nation-wide regarding the brain science behind screen addictions, both with video games and social media, and how to reset your home so you can reconnect with your family in a healthy way.

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Toady Awards

Virtual Reality devices have no place as children's toys. These emit electromagnetic radiation, classified by the World Health Organization as a "possible carcinogen" (2B) to humans. The potential harm that these devices could cause to eyes and brains is all the more dangerous because of the radiation. Children, whose bodies are still developing are more vulnerable to this type of radiation. Manufacturers of similar VR headsets state that these are only to be used by children from age 13, but we fear that younger children will be playing with these.

There are Worse Things

Having Batman on it doesn't mean it's for children. This isn't a toy for children, and unless it's being marketed as such shouldn't be on this list because then you could vote for countless video games, adult collector's toys and so on. I would much rather have seen the Monster High reboot where individuality and the celebration of differences have been removed, where characters with glasses have been removed, and where gender stereotyping is worse: good girls need to be "girly." Or, if one wants to bring up super heroes, DC Super Hero Girls as it gives the continuing impression that female characters are for girls only, not boys, and though it has a message of female empowerment is another series that is marketed toward young girls yet is yet another series focussed on an unrealistic view of high school with a continued focus on fashion savvy teenagers, and has at least two serial killers, who are extremely sexualized outside of this series as heroes.