Ever since Ready Player One released in theatres last year, the film adaptation of Ernest Cline’s novel of the same name, there’s no doubt that virtual reality (VR) has become hotter than ever. This is especially so with VR games. And who wouldn’t want to own their own VR system where they can go on fantastic simulated adventures of their choosing, adventures such as battling dragons and hordes of demon warriors, battling an alien squadron in space or fighting off zombies in a graveyard? I know I would like the thrill of those. I would like the thrill of those to the point of never wanting to take off the VR headset. Mobile device Addiction in our society has been bad enough. Two-dimensional video game addiction has been bad enough. I know I’ve been addicted to it. And I’ve been addicted to VR experiences using the Google Cardboard which is the cheapest and so lowest form of a VR headset on the market!There’s nothing wrong with VR experiences. VR is a new pop art, a new form of entertainment. 2019 is likelyto be the year of the VR game revolution. But if we’re not careful it will also be the new “drug” that we can too easily get addicted to, a drugthat won’t only cost us big bucks for the latest headset or system but also cost us literacy, creativityand even life.
Mobile Phone Addiction
It seems like wheneveryou walk out into public, every other person you come across is looking attheir Mobile phone. And that might not be an exaggeration. Alice Bonasio, in her article at The Next Web says, “Think about the last time you looked around and noticed . . . all the people around you checking their phones? The ones that weren’t were probably just done checking or just about to. We have become thoroughly dependent upon the stream of Digital information that plugs into our daily lives through those mobile devices.” When you think about it, more time is spent in the digital world than in the real oneand so more time is spent looking at a video or computer screen than looking at the real world around you. It’s similar to whatTV had already become back in the 1950s when it became popular on the market. There was a concern that kids and, in some cases, even adults wanted to do nothing but watch it when they weren’t in school or at work. But mobile device addiction is even a worse case because the average hand-held device is a smart phone which is basically a television, besides a computer and phone, that you can take anywhere and therefore watch anywhere. Society has become zombified, or entranced, with this gadget. And so the mobile phoneis the new drug addiction.
VR: The Next “Drug” Addiction
If television and mobile devices have been addictions, don’t be surprised that VR will be the next “drug” addiction. Think about it—VR is full immersion into a digital environment. Or at least it’s as fully immersive as you can get but will probably become truly fully immersive soon enough. It’s a simulated environment that can make a person feel like they are really and so physically in it. So like hallucinogenic drugs, it is, in a sense, mind altering: it makes you think you are in another place and situation other than your everyday life. This is an addiction that, like what television and hand-held devices have already done, cutsa user off from real life. This means if a person is so into the VR worldthat they connect with it everywhere he/she goes, it makes them miss out on what is going on around them in the real world. This kind of addiction will probably make people more illiterate than television already has. This would especially be the case with teens and children. Why would they want to read anything and imagine being in the world of a book when they can be in an imaginary world in a computer program, especially oneas realistic and interactive as a VR game? At TechCrunch.com, technology backer Marc Andreesen says that to most people VR is going to be far more interesting than AR (augmented reality), a form of digital mediathat already imposes over the more thought-provoking experience of reading and working with real-life objects.
The Next Form of Escapism
2019 may be the year that VR beginsto trigger these problems as much as it will bring a lot of good to users. After all, the last three years have been ones of turmoil for society especially here in the U.S. with a, basically, corrupt president who many (myself included) think should not have received the majority vote and with a plague of racially targeted shootings as well as random shooting sprees.Well, it’s extremelythreatening situations like these that would make anybody want to escape the real world’s problems. People often escape them by turning to art and entertainment. I know I do, that’s why I write science fiction and horror. (But then guess what real horror is? Didn’t I just mention three examples of it four sentences back?) Bonasio says that “. . . In times of crisis there’s always a surge in demand for novels, blockbuster movies, video games, and anything else that offers a way out from a reality that’s become too painful to face on a regular basis.” She says that VR will be the next form of such escapism that will be in that demand. Even though she doesn’t believe it will happen within this year, 2019 has already definitely seen its share of crisis. Only a little over a week ago a sniper fired his gun at random near U.C. Davis and the government shut-down continued into the new year. So VR as the new trend in escapism could easily occur this year. It may not be at the same total immersive level as that in Ready Player Onebut more people will turn to it which will eventually bring more of a demand for that total immersive level.
What VR Is Useful For and What It’s Not
VR, like the many other electronic mediums that have come before it, has its use both in education and entertainment. It enhances what we learn in books and the classroom. It enhances our participation in gameplay and creates a more realistic and convincing experience like all art should do, including pop art. It’s one more innovation in technology and art which both of these should always aim for innovation.
What VR isn’t useful for is dependency. To depend on it would mean to replace all other experiences with it, to ignore the real world’s problems and even its benefits and therefore to live in a fool’s illusion. In doing so wewould think we are living life but we wouldreally be living in our heads and not contributing to progress in the real world. We would not only so easily be ignoring ourfamily and friends as they really are rather than as digital masksof avatars, but we would also be neglecting our own talents, creativity and critical thinking skills in order to escapeinto an illusion. It could even get to the point that hallucinogenic drugs have gotten to. That point is not just addiction itself but the blurring of the line between reality and fantasy—a type of hallucination that has driven people to do some very dangerous things to either themselves or others.
Can We Enjoy VR Without Sacrificing Ourselves and Real Life?
So can we enjoy VR without having to sacrifice our own thinking, creativity and livesin the real world? Of course we can. To do that we look to history, particularly the history of other electronic media such as television and two dimensional video games. We look at how the addiction problems to that earlier media have been dealt with. They’ve been dealt with mainly by having limitedour engagement with those types of media to a certain time of day or to so many hours a week. We can do the same with VR entertainment. We need to alsoremember the value in other types of activity and see how we can both benefit from them as well as benefit others with them. And as writers and artists, we have to remember thatinspiration for myth and storytelling started at one time in the natural, and so real, world. And if we trace it’s history back far enough, the same goes for VR storytelling.
Do you think we’ll see a rise in VR games in this year of 2019? Are you ready to play these games with limitation so you can easily step back out into the real world when you have to?
Until next time . . .