Hygiene & Showcasing VR

Hygiene & Showcasing VR

Hi! My name is Daniela and I’m part of the team making Ganbatte, at Mimicry. This week I felt like writing about something that I care very deeply about, VR hygiene. I’ve been working with virtual reality since 2014. From early demos with classmates at University labs to showcasing my games professionally, my concerns regarding the way I demo things and experience demos have evolved.

VR showcasing is much more different than other types of demos when it comes to hygiene. For starters, there’s a headset that will touch a large number of people’s faces.

some ways in which disease germs are spread VR headsets

Tokyo Game Show 2016 (TGS 2016) was the first large-scale event that I can remember where the expo-hygiene issue had a spotlight. This was the first event where all of the photos of the public demos showed people wearing tissue facemasks with the headsets.

The prevalence of those masks in the event’s media made us, at Mimicry, realise that TGS 2016 marked the point from which demos in the spirit of it’s all “family and friends” and “we’re all comfortable with each other’s germs and sweat” were no longer acceptable for the VR industry.

Some weeks ago, I was showcasing Ganbatte at the largest videogames tradeshow in Portugal and realized (to my surprise) that we were the only VR booth that was actually implementing some sort of cleaning protocol! More than one year after TGS 2016.

TGS 2016 marked the point from which demos in the spirit of it’s all “family and friends” and “we’re all comfortable with each other’s germs and sweat” were no longer acceptable for the VR industry.

I chatted with some other indie developers, and to my surprise, one group had those face masks and decided not to use it because:

  1. No one else was using them.
  2. They thought it was another barrier for people to try their game.

I’m not a germaphobe, but I think developers, publishers and other people in charge of VR demo stations have a responsibility here.

An adenovirus party

Going back to the fall of 2016. Soon after TGS 2016, I started having some eye symptoms. My eyes were very red, there were some dots that looked like dents on my cornea, my vision was very blurry, it hurt and light made it worse. After a “lovely” Saturday at the ER, I was given a Thygeson’s superficial punctate keratitis (TSPK) diagnosis. So no viral activity, no bacterial activity, just annoyance and pain that were probably caused by the aftermath of some long gone past viral activity. It wasn’t contagious, I got prescribed medication and I received a green light to go on using HMD’s. At that time, I was researching everything about keratitis and found out this article on The Verge (https://www.theverge.com/2016/10/26/13420318/virtual-reality-headset-ocular-herpes-health-scare) about the low probability of catching something via headset sharing.

The article’s generalising reasoning didn’t leave me very re-assured.

After the treatment, used as a circus attraction by some ophthalmology interns (apparently this keratitis is rare), and being a full week without symptoms, the pain returned. This time it was much worse. I went to another specialist and it seemed that I got an adenovirus party going on. Something that is contagious, especially by sharing a VR headset! Time will cure it, but it will return (just like the more amiable TSPK).

From the moment of my first symptoms, there was no more headset sharing at the office (at the time there wasn’t much headset sharing happening in any case because I had my own headset). The following winter I held the perks of having my private Vive and Rift (yay!). The symptoms vanished, but the rituals that come from being concerned about not spreading germs stayed. The good news, no one at the office caught keratitis, so far.

Tips on hygienic VR demos

I don’t like to think that I caught viral keratitis from an HMD (or from the hospital that I went to the first time!), and the idea that I can pass it on to others scares me. I love VR and I want to give people great VR experiences, not viruses, bacteria and germs!

I love VR and I want to give people great VR experiences, not viruses, bacteria and germs!

Therefore, without further ado, here are some tips put together by a dev team (us!) that loves great VR experiences but also cares about hygiene and your health:

  1. Follow the recommended age limits and directions from your hardware manufacturers.
  1. Get some easily cleanable headset covers. We understand that disposable face masks can be annoying for some, not environment-friendly, and expensive in the long run. This is the reason we invested in easily cleanable VR Covers (this is an affiliate link, we’re very happy with the quality of their products).
  1. 70% alcohol and paper tissues are your best friends. 70% is a magic number that allows for deeper cleaning. The ratio of alcohol/water means that takes a little bit more to evaporate and thus its disinfecting properties are amplified (Good explanation on Quora).
  1. Wipe the points of contact on the headset with a tissue soaked in alcohol. Don’t use this to clean the lenses, though!
  1. If need be, use a microfiber cloth to clean the lenses. 
  1. For the love of everything that is good: Don’t forget the motion controllers. Wipe them with alcohol.
  1. Use hand sanitizer, or just some alcohol to clean your hands.
  1. Kids are usually very easy to give a hand sanitizer wipe before they start their demo! I like to take the time to educate them for the importance of clean hands to prevent colds.
  1. Sweat makes headsets break! It’s overall a good thing to keep in mind that demo equipment will break and plan accordingly. Consider getting an HTC Vive Business edition if you demo regularly (HTC reportedly will help you repair or get a new headset in case of sweat damage).

Some relevant discussion about sweat damage: https://www.reddit.com/r/Vive/comments/5tkktp/how_common_is_the_sweat_damage_for_people_who_use/

Sweat makes headsets break!

  1. In order to minimize sweat, consider making a demo build that is both short and sweet (ideally 5mn or less).
  1. If your next player is sweating a lot even before putting the headset on, be tactful. Sweating is normal, probably they know they’re sweating and they wouldn’t mind blotting it out. Casually offering them a paper tissue or a makeup removal wipe works well. Once again: sweating is normal. If they don’t take the cue, either ignore it or comment something like “it’s really hot in here” get a wipe and blot yourself out.
  1. Bonus points: Have makeup removal wipes nearby. Some people will appreciate it.

The aftermath

If your demo equipment doubles as development equipment, you’ll notice that if you follow the previous steps, going back to development will be a lot easier. The headset and motion controllers won’t feel gross, and you’ve minimized the risk of getting sick. Just swap the facial interface for your development one and enjoy getting back to making amazing things!

The headset and motion controllers won’t feel gross, and you’ve minimized the risk of getting sick.

Closing thoughts

Thanks for putting up with me nagging about things that everyone knows, but sometimes we wish to forget. I believe it’s important to state the obvious more frequently! Improper hand washing kills. Hospitals around the world spend millions training their staff and implementing rigorous procedures to minimize infections. As VR developers and exhibitors, we shouldn’t forget these issues either. I don’t claim Mimicry VR hygiene procedures at public demos to be without flaws, but we try our best and we keep on learning.

If you’re demoing VR content and aren’t implementing any cleaning measures, I challenge you to reconsider. And in case you have any other tips that can improve sanitization around VR demo stations, I would love to hear from you in the comments, or on Twitter!

Whether it’s motion sickness or a virus; let’s bring the magic of VR to the public without making them sick.

Happy demoing,



PS.- Disclaimer: I’m not a doctor, and my suggestions shouldn’t be mistaken for medical advice. If you are experiencing any eye symptoms, please seek professional help.


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