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Michael Zucchi

 B.E. (Comp. Sys. Eng.)

  also known as zed
  & handle of notzed

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Tuesday, 04 February 2014, 14:00

Is VR really a good idea?

It looks like the technology is just about there to create affordable and usable 'virtual reality' hardware for the general public: but as with many other technological advances one has to ask whether the technology is ahead of society's ability to cope.

TV is already a pretty good conversation killer and mobile phones have become little cones of isolation even when "socialising" with friends or family, so how will it play out if you're whole field of view (and hearing?) is encased in a helmet?

I can see a lot of agro from brothers and sisters fighting over the one head-mounted display that these things will only be able to support for the time being. And some angry mums when little Johnny or dear little Alice wont come out of his or her bedroom for dinner because he can't even hear the calls (and god knows what they're up to in there). And some pretty boring get togethers with mates around the TV getting sea-sick looking at a view from the one player's eyes.

Another more disturbing factor that will play into it is the continual fine tuning of the skinner box trade - games which are pretty much just poker machines / gambling devices for extracting money from the vulnerable. Since those are making such a fuck-ton of money at the moment they are only going to get worse. If people can already get lost in a tiny screen on a phone how will they cope when they're shut-off completely from the outside world? The scope for manipulation of vulnerable or susceptible people is enourmous. It's easy to blame people as being weak-minded but it's not entirely their fault: they are being manipulated without even knowing it, but intentionally by maniplators who know what they're doing.

Or propaganda / religious / idealogical indoctrination, both scurges of right-thinking citizens everywhere. Cut off from immediate self-correcting factors like someone telling you what a dickhead you are.

As an aside I wonder when hollywood became such an obvious propaganda front for the neocon/zionist agenda? One of the recent transformers movies was on the other night on TV and I couldn't get over just how blatantly propagandist it was at every level: an [unemployed] 'nerd' who saves the day, with a super-model girlfriend, with happy middle-class parents, with nothing but leisure to keep them occupied, government secret organisations [being a good thing, by] protecting the [whole] world from bad stuff [that usually happens in the middle east], to advanced alien race only wanting to deal with the USA [who are obviuosly the good guys], even to some [crazy] conspiracy nut not only being believed by everyone but also being incredibly wealthy. I guess we had some of that shit in the 80s and 90s but at least we had some stuff to counter it too (and a bit of fucking humour) and now it's just so overt it's bordering on sick. Although it's been an undercurrent for some time I suppose it was around the turn of the century it really took off so brazenly by taking advantage of public maleability at the time. And the really sick part is they get upset when people don't want to pay to be advertised at and brainwashed (or maybe the sick part is people want to go to the effort to get it in the first place). But I digress ...

Back to the VR stuff: potential health issues. Spending many hours staring at a screen with a fixed focal distance can't be good for your eyes. Modern lifestyles are already sedentry enough and the lack of external vision enforces this even further as you don't have a choice but to sit while doing it unless you live in a rubber room. And if socially retarded people (like me) can already get caught up in reading books or hacking code well into the next morning what's going to happen when you can't tell if it is night or even know where you are? I wonder how long until someone dies using one? Or loses their job/fails at school because they'd rather spend time outside of IRL, because lets face it, IRL pretty much sucks for most people at least some of the time. Although it's not like both of these don't already happen with existing technology.

And imagine not being able to skip adverts or mute them - or even look away from them? That's nightmare material.

There are some potentially interesting non-game uses that spring to mind which seem to contradict some of these points such as remote communication or stuff for mobility impaired (whether through age or disablement). And others such as training. But most of these will be short-term or irregular.

But overall i'm just not sure on the whole idea for entertainment itself. It could be totally bloody awesome or it could be the beggining of the end for western civilisation (civilisations never last forever ...). Ok probably not the latter but there are big issues beyond the technology capability itself and those explored by some laughably fantastical stories by Neal Stephenson.

It'll certainly be interesting for a while anyway - a new area of technlogy to explore. Don't get me wrong there are some really exciting possibilities for games and other uses that i'm looking forward to trying out one day. But in the end there may need to be mandatory breaks, minimum age restrictions, ambient input (e.g. external cameras or see-through screens/windows) or other tweaks just to protect people from themselves.

I guess we'll see in about a decade, assuming the experiments in the next few years become commercially successful.

Tagged games, philosophy.
Motivation | The weirdness of mass-market economics, m$l vs psn.
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