October 23, 2017

Virtual Insanity: Is Virtual Reality Our Next Reality?

  • by Dr. Jonathan Anslow
  • January 4, 2017
  • 0

I remember I used to play the Atari 2600 back in the day.  In the late 70’s those blocky graphics coupled with all of those bloops and bleeps would somehow hold my attention for hours.  At times I used to wonder what kinds of games I’d be playing in the 2000’s because, well, the new millennium just sounded so dang futuristic and far away. Surely we’d have flying cars, hoverboards, and find ourselves completely immersed in game worlds by then.   

Well here it is the 2000’s, well 2016 to be precise, and virtual reality (VR) gaming appears to be on the rise.  As realistic as games are these days, I can hardly imagine the games my own children will be playing when they are my age. The way tech is evolving, I fear those experiences will not be what we conventionally refer to as “games” but will in fact represent actual realities. 

In the early 1970’s Michael Crichton wrote and dircted Westworld, a movie depicting a world of animatronic reality in which people fulfilled their fantasies in a virtual world. Sounds fairly pleasant, right?  Well it is, actually, until the robots get all murderous on you!  Virtual reality insidiously blends with reality and begs the question, “At what point does the human experience change from playing a game to becoming real life?”  

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While we may be on the verge of a potential VR gaming revolution, the possibilities of VR have been well represented in cinema over the past 30 years. Westworld, mentioned above, has been reimagined as a series on HBO and is the most recent show to highlight futuristic terror based on virtual reality. Various cinematic depictions of this concept have included Tron, Stephen King’s The Lawnmower Man, and various action thrillers like Virtuosity, Strange Days, Johnny Mnemonic, and The Matrix. If there’s a common theme unifying all of these VR stories, it’s that the technology opens doors to new degrees of immersion and ways to interface with the world; however, this usually comes with disastrous consequences.

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As with Westworld or the iconic Terminator series, the fear and attraction to the automation promised by an android society is alluring. In the book, Ready Player One, the future of virtual reality promises humanity a better existence. This virtual society allows individuals to escape the pain and desolation of their post-apocalyptic future. Their virtual world represents a far better existence than reality. Is this what our future holds? Will technology take us further away from natural, face-to-face interactions? Similar sentiments were shared when television, videogames, internet, cell phone, and tablets were developed, and we all seem fine. Well…sort of, but are we really?

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It’s difficult to determine what kind of society we will become based on the technology we develop. “Always in motion is the future,” as Yoda would say.  If we look to Science Fiction, which has often predicted our future experiences with some degree of accuracy, we will continue to pursue the perceived benefits of virtual reality. This is not necessarily a bad prospect when you consider such useful applications like facing certain phobias or simulating dangerous experiences for training purposes.  

Unfortunately, as we’ve seen with the internet, VR development will most likely embrace pornography in a big way. A falsely, sexualized alternative to human connectivity may emerge  to trap a generation of individuals into a false sense of intimacy. The concern is that the virtual reality of the coming future will become perceptibly better than actual reality through immediate gratification and advanced biometric sensory stimulation that far exceeds any pleasure derived from our normal experience.  This form of pleasure enhancement has the potential to develop tech-based addiction, an ever-increasing concern of parents and mental health professionals. As such, I encourage everyone to consider how humanity is slowly being consumed by the virtual community.  Engage in a dialogue with your children to help them think critically about this development and consider the potentially dire consequences. This intervention amounts to asking them a fundamental question, “Will you take the Red Pill or the Blue Pill?”

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