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Virtual worlds - how will they affect our health and wellbeing?

3 Jul 2024

Virtual worlds - how will they affect our health and wellbeing?

PPMI has just kicked off a new study ‘Virtual worlds - how will they affect our health and wellbeing?’ for DG CNECT of the European Commission.

According to the Communication on the EU initiative on Web 4.0 and virtual worlds, virtual worlds are persistent, immersive environments, based on technologies including 3D and extended reality (XR), which make it possible to blend physical and digital worlds in real-time, for a variety of purposes such as designing, making simulations, collaborating, learning, socialising, carrying out transactions or providing entertainment. They offer unprecedented opportunities across societal, industrial and business domains. 

Today, we have reached a level of technological advancement that makes immersive VWs increasingly feasible. A breakthrough in VR technology could make immersive VWs more accessible, affordable, and comfortable, leading to a surge in adoption and integration with daily life.

In the near future, VWs will present a potent economic force, projected to reach a staggering EUR 800 billion global market size by 2030. They will also have profound impact on consumers and the workforce. According to Gartner, by 2026, 25% of people will spend at least one hour a day in the metaverse. With regard to the labour force, by 2025, the XR market could create around 860 000 new jobs.

However, due to the rapidly evolving nature of these technologies, an understanding of their impacts remains limited, particularly in health, learning, cognitive development and inclusivity, as well as regarding their long-term use.  In this context, the study will help to explore the potential impact of virtual worlds on the health and well-being of people, especially vulnerable groups such as children and people with disabilities.

The study will assess the strengths and weaknesses of existing research on the use of virtual worlds in consumer, professional and industrial settings, and on vulnerable groups. An important part of the study will be the presentation of several pilot cases from the EU and international contexts that illustrate how virtual worlds can contribute to improving people's mental and physical health. Based on this analysis, the team will develop recommendations to European policy makers and researchers on how to identify and address the potential adverse health and well-being effects of virtual world technologies.