VR, or Virtual Reality for the unfamiliar, has become much more commonplace in many households over the last couple of years, and that’s largely thanks to Facebook’s efforts in the area.
In fact, Facebook is apparently taking VR and the so-called metaverse so seriously that they have changed the company name to Meta. We can’t quite take that name seriously, so forgive us if we refer to them simply as Facebook throughout the article.
The current Facebook VR headset is the Oculus Quest 2, now known as the Meta Quest 2. Even after the headset’s recent substantial price hike, it’s still the most affordable mainstream VR headset currently on the market.
What that means in the real world is that the Quest 2 is also one of the most common headsets. In particular, it presents itself as a lovely holiday gift for adults and children alike.
Without going too far into everything that the Quest 2 ecosystem has to offer, one of the most appealing apps for many users is called VRChat.
VRChat is a large topic in its own right, but the big question we want to answer today is: “Is VRChat safe for 13-year-olds?”
Maybe you’re a parent, maybe you’re a 13-year-old yourself who’s just curious. Or maybe you’re a relative who’s been thinking of buying one of these headsets for a youngin in your life. Regardless, we’ve got you covered.
First, we’ll talk about what VRChat is and why people might be concerned about safety, then we’ll discuss some of the age recommendations/requirements associated with this app and with VR in general.
What is VRChat?
Ok, so VRChat is basically a freemium social platform for VR devices. In fact, VRChat is available to anyone with any kind of VR headset, so it’s not specific to the Quest ecosystem.
The platform is managed by a small company, and the user base is incredibly diverse. For a new Quest 2 owner, the most appealing aspect of VRChat is that it’s free. The second-most appealing aspect is that it allows users to connect with tons of other random users around the world.
For the older young adults out there, it’s really not all that different from something like Club Penguin, except that you have a sense of inhabiting these virtual environments and you also have to deal with audio from other users.
We’ll talk more about the realities of VRChat a bit later, but for now, we just need to communicate that VRChat is free and open, which is both a good and bad thing when you’re considering the safety of a 13-year-old user.
But first, let’s talk about VR safety.
VR Minimum Age Requirement
13 is the minimum age requirement for the Quest 2 VR headset, and it’s also considered to be a general age requirement for any VR device.
As anyone who’s already tried it will know, VR is intense. Even a simple virtual environment with no horror or danger elements can be a lot to handle, especially for someone who isn’t acclimated to VR.
So does this age requirement mean that VR, in general, is safe for every 13-year-old? No, absolutely not.
We still don’t understand the full extent to which VR affects the body, and younger children are potentially at greater risk when using VR.
It’s important to consider the individual health concerns of the 13-year-old in question. Specifically, if the tween is vulnerable to epilectic seizures, VR, and VRChat, probably aren’t going to be safe forms of entertainment.
Let’s move on to VRChat’s age requirement.
VRChat Minimum Age Requirement
Well, this is simple enough. VRChat requires users to be at least 13 years of age to use the software. That’s partially to do with general VR usage, but it also has to do with the types of content users might be exposed to on the platform.
And that brings us to the realities of VRChat. Strap in, folks.
Safe in Practice?
There’s been a lot of coverage on VRChat over the last few years. Here’s a piece we really like. And a recurring theme of this coverage is that VRChat, though a relatively small social platform compared to the likes of Instagram and TikTok, is still too large to summarize easily. It’s not just one thing, and it doesn’t only attract one type of user.
Quite a few people own VR headsets at this point, and the free-ness of VRChat brings a lot of them onto the platform out of curiosity.
So what is VRChat actually like to use? Well …
One of the easiest areas of VRChat to access is the public rooms. Pretty self-explanatory, right? These are virtual spaces where basically anyone can just show up and do whatever they want.
Each user has their own avatar, a 3D model that mimics their real-life movements to a certain degree. These avatars can be completely innocuous, and they can also be more than a little explicit.
There are also some obvious risks associated with the freedom the platform allows. Now, to be fair, we have to say that VRChat, as a platform, does have rules that all users must agree to before actually using the app.
However, you probably won’t be too surprised to hear that not everyone actually adheres to those rules.
In public rooms, users might encounter other users using racial slurs or making sexually explicit comments. It’s also possible to encounter nude avatars.
We’re not saying that any of these things are likely to happen, but they’re definitely possible, and at least in our view, VRChat, in its default state, isn’t the safest place for children.
That said, VRChat offers a lot of other locations and things to do besides what’s offered by the public rooms.
For example, users can visit any number of spaces that have been created by other users, and they can visit those spaces alone or invite only a handful of users they already know.
In this way, VRChat is similar to a number of other social media sites. There’s a lot on offer, but the real value is in finding smaller, niche communities, or simply using the app as a means to spend time with friends.
So is VRChat safe for 13-year-olds? Yes and no, and it depends heavily on the teen in question and how their parents/guardians feel about the whole situation.
But we hope that this article will help you make an informed decision about whether or not your 13-year-old should be allowed to explore this corner of the virtual world.