In VR, it’s okay to be a germaphobe

Making sure your VR demo doesn’t create patient zero.

This past week the VR world got scared by the claim that a game developer got Ocular Herpes after using a VR headset. This has since been debunked; you can’t get Ocular Herpes, which is caused by the Herpes Simplex Virus-1, from a shared headset (though, you might already have it and not know!). However, just because these headsets aren’t simplex-virus breeding grounds, doesn’t mean that you should go around slapping on a headset willy-nilly, nor should you allowing people to do so. Just like exhibiting any other demo, you should be practicing good hygiene when demoing with your VR headset. It’s one thing to touch a germy XBox controller, it’s another to put a germy headset on your face. Fortunately, keeping your demo clean is extremely easy to do and your demo’rs will be appreciative of the extra care you’re giving towards them.

Like I said in my article on tips and tricks for giving VR demo’s, keeping your headset clean is important for VR as a whole. Grimy, gross headsets are memorable, and we don’t want people remember that when they think of VR, we want them to think of the awesome experiences they’re having…

…or how silly they looked doing VR. Thats good too.

Invest in a good VR Cover

All of the major VR headsets now a days ship with a soft foam gasket that meets your head at the edges of the headset. They can be rather comfy, but being foam, they absorb water and liquids, just like a sponge. It only takes one person and a five minute run in Space Pirate Trainer to turn a perfectly good foam gasket into a moist mess of sadness and grossness.

This is where VRCovers come in. VR Covers are fabric, pleather or water-proof foam covers or replacements for the VR headset foam gaskets. They provide a barrier between a persons sweaty face juices and the delicate foam of your headset. Additionally, they prevent degradation of your foam headset, so you won’t have to buy a new one any time soon. They’re a lot of like the roof of your house — they keep water out and everything else inside dry and safe from damage.

I personally use the Waterproof Sports Vive cover when I demo with the Vive, and have a fabric Oculus Rift cover waiting in the wings incase I need to demo with the Rift. Specifically the waterproof cover (or sport ones, as listed) is great because you can wipe the headset AND the gasket down and it’ll dry quickly (more on this in a second). Seriously, VRCovers are a necessity for any person giving a VR demo. They’re cheap, there is absolutely no reason you should not be ordering one right now.

Seriously, go order one right now. I’ll wait.

My Vive with VRCovers “Waterproof for Exhibitions/Sport” HTC Vive Cover.

If you’re not able to get a VR Cover for some reason, or personally want to use something else, there is an alternative. Colloquially dubbed ‘face condoms’ these temporary, disposable VR facemasks can be reused by the user for a day and recycled/binned at the end of the day. In bulk, these are about the same price as a VR headset, but you can get the added benefit of Amazon Prime Two-day shipping!

Oculus Rift Disposable Cover (photo from Polygon)

Wipe your headset

Something that I don’t see done often is wiping down your VR headset. I think it’s just something that gets easily overlooked. Even if you have a VR cover, you will probably want to wipe the headset down with some sort of disinfectant wipe. Just like a normal controller or keyboard, your headset and motion controllers will get germy. You’ll have a lot of people using the headset, and thus lots of interactions, thus lots of germs.

People are putting their hands near their faces when putting on the headsets and adjusting things around their eyes. You really want to make sure that what they’re touching is clean, so that if they get sick from something, it didn’t come from your headset. You should be wiping your headset and motion controllers down after every user. There can be some exceptions made to families and if the person says don’t do it, it’s fine not to. I’ve had groups of families come in with kids who just want to try the demo and move along so they don’t hold up the line. If they don’t want you to wipe the headset down to save time, that fine. Definitely wipe it down well after these groups though.

Side note: Do not wipe the lenses, that can diminish their quality and make things look bad in VR.

For specific recommendations on what type of wipe to use, there really isn’t one specific brand. Some people say avoid using alcohol wipes just because of the damage it could do to the VR Cover or foam. I haven’t tested that yet, so if someone has any data on that, I’d love to hear it. Additionally, keep in mind that some people have sensitive skin or may not like the smell of cleaning products on their face. Ideally, I’d get an unscented non-alcohol (or non-damaging-to-cover) wipe.

You can use the same wipe multiple times, so you don’t need a lot. We got a pack of 250 wipes for ~$3.00 at CVS, and that was more than enough to go through ~400 people over 3 days. Some have eye irritation warnings, so I suggest that if you can find some that don’t have that, use them. If not, you’re probably fine anyways, just make sure that the headset is dry before having it put on. Again, it’s cheap and there’s no reason NOT to wipe your headset down. So, do it.

Finally, it also helps user comfort if they see you wiping the headset down. It shows that you care about them, and they’ll be much more comfortable during your demo. Have the wipes out and easily visible to see at your demoing station.

Keep an eye out

There’s one last thing you should be doing to make sure your headset stays clean and doesn’t create a patient zero of the next PAX Pox or Convention Creep. That is keep an eye on who’s going to be using your headset next. Of all the demo’s I’ve given, it hasn’t been a problem, but when you’re talking with people in the line, look at their face. Does their face have any open wounds, or do they look like they might have pink eye? I know that we established earlier that it’s really not easy to contract something by using a VR headset, but do you really want to risk it? Do you really want someone with Pink Eye, covering their eyes with something that everyone else is going to be covering their eyes with? Or have the possibility of blood being left on your headset that you’ll have to clean up properly? Or just as worse, germs from the headset, getting into the wound?

No, you don’t. Do your best to explain to people who have these things that VR demoing might not be the best thing for them and others right now. If they say that other VR demo’s let them use their headsets, politely say that you’re worried about the health of other people doing the demo and you’re not them. It’s hard to turn someone away from a demo, but for the health and safety of others, it’s sometimes necessary.

Thats about it. It’s not rocket science. It’s not even expensive and it’s not even that hard. It takes 10 seconds to wipe down the headset and you can do that while explaining the demo the next person in line. Following these three simple things can go a long way in not only making VR look good, but your company look good, your game look good and you look good. Even though the Ocular Herpes story was debunked, it still brought forward the fear of getting ill from VR. That isn’t the type of story we want to see out there about VR, especially during flu season. Finally, if you see a VR demo and it doesn’t follow some or all these things, talk to them about it. Let them know. They might not know the impact of what they’re doing (or not doing). Inform them. And you don’t have to do the demo if you don’t feel comfortable doing so.

Be a germaphobe. It’s okay.

You can follow me around on twitter @fr0z3nR for other game and VR development shenanigans.

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