Virtual reality is the inevitable target that multiple industries will hit. Be it for gaming or for viewing TV/film, this is the platform of tomorrow. For that reason exactly is why Facebook bought the pioneer of virtual reality, Oculus VR, for $2 billion. The technology itself is young and rapidly improving, which from one perspective is really exciting, but from another can be the entry into a dangerous game. Now, I’m a young tech enthusiast and ever embracing new trends, but this is undoubtedly a jump to territory that is considerably unknown. Dangerous things could follow this innovative revolution, and I’m here to open your eyes to the dark effects that could swoop in and overtake our society… hypothetically of course.
A New Perspective on Reality
For a second, pretend “Minecraft” will come to the Oculus Rift headset (Notch is creeped out by Facebook yada yada yada.) You are building this world, you erect skyscrapers as tall as your RAM can load, you fortify castles, you secure your livestock, all this in a virtual world you create. This all sounds very fascinating, and it is, but what happens when one spends more than their fair share of time in this world? Currently you are looking at a flat screen that sits in front of you, and even then it’s pretty easy become immersed in your elaborate creations. The ability to turn your head an inch and see something new is already a mindblowing experience. It’s not reality, and you know it, but it’s a replication of the world in which you live. It’s possible to become so enveloped in this world to the point where your brain tricks you into thinking it’s reality. At the rate the tech is advancing, the frame rate latency is nearly one-to-one, blurring the lines between your world and another. There is bound to be some sort of distortion when you take off the headset after hours of play and you find yourself in a world filled with high resolution textures, a world where the physics are spot on and one where the lighting reflects so accurately… oh… life… This is life.
The fact that returning to reality is weird is a warning sign that developers and those at Oculus VR should address. To quote Christopher Nolan’s “Inception,” “Dreams feel real while we’re in them. It’s only when we wake up that we realize something was actually strange.” That’s what gaming in VR is, a lucid experience that puts you elsewhere for a span of time determined by the user. With dreams (good ones), it’s easy to want to go back, and virtual reality makes this very attainable. What happens with addiction? There are already people who die from lack of nutrition when playing “World of Warcraft” for too long, so what happens when people have full oriental reign of Azeroth? I’m not going to pretend this is a common issue and I’m sure 99.99 percent of gamers aren’t affected, but it’s something to consider.
The Social Impact
“I guess you will have to ask yourself, ‘Why do we care if we’re physically isolated if we’re mentally connected?’ If you can perfectly simulate reality, why do you need to actually go see people in real life?”
– Palmer Luckey
This quote comes from the CEO of Oculus VR Palmer Luckey, a man who is building the platform of tomorrow. Gaming enthusiasts aren’t primarily known for being an extremely social group, so this could be a dangerous future. Luckey also mentions that VR will replace traditional TV screens in about 10 to 20 years. I’m no fortune teller, neither do I work at Oculus VR, but it makes me wonder how will movie night look in 20 years.
Luckey’s vision for VR is to replace touch-based interactions. How wickedly cool, but taboo does that sound? With every new technological platform introduced, there’s one question that follows: How can I use it to watch porn? Seriously, it started with computers, made its way to smartphones and it even briefly had a cameo on Google Glass. It won’t be long before we see XXX on our wrists and “taking steps” with our fitness tracker. What’s going to happen when this technology allows us to simulate sex? It’s bizarre I know, but seriously, what happens when we are able to fine tune our sexual experiences? Luckey’s outlook becomes our reality. The frequency of sex is ever decreasing and this new technology can assure that pattern continues.
Compatibility with the Masses
While not as impactful on life as the past problems, virtual reality can definitely isolate a large number of the gaming audience. Platforms such as mobile and the Wii opened gaming up to young kids and the elderly. Why? Because they were accessible. With a phone or tablet all one has to do is touch, tilt or swipe, a natural concept that was easy to adopt. When a new way to play is introduced, it must have an easy way for newcomers to get their feet wet. The Wii is a great example of this. You held a Wiimote in your hand and swung to the wind. Little button presses were needed to have fun and achieve the end goal. These two platforms brought gaming to people who had been away from the hobby for years and to people who would never associate themselves with the gaming population.
Virtual reality, however, is a different tale. The platform is definitely one you have to see to believe, and I’m sure no matter what your age, status or interest, people of all kinds will be amazed when they try it, but this is something Oculus wants to be apart of our daily lives. I feel like it’s creating potholes in the road that the Wii and mobile have paved. This is technology that isn’t easy to understand for the average consumer. Just look at the Wii U and how people still aren’t certain of what it is. Those same people who didn’t realize Nintendo kick started a new generation of gaming are going to be the same people who reject the VR experience.
At its core, virtual reality is a fascinating technology that has been a dream for many sci-fi fans and tech fiends alike. It’s a technology I’m curious about and how it advances over the years, but we should keep in mind that this very technology has the power to change our society. My goal here was not to sound like a bigot and bash the technology or Oculus VR and Co., but to give consumers a scope of just how big this shift can be. VR is scary shit, but it’s also cool shit, and I’m cautiously excited to see where it takes us.
What’s your opinion on VR in gaming and other mediums? Think the technology can be dangerous or am I overreacting? Let us know in the comments below.
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