Dec 21st, 2017, 04:21 PM

The New Wave of Virtual Reality

By Amanda Taylor
Image Credit: Flickr-Hans-Jörg Aleff
The possibilities of VR are endless, but should we be experiencing the world through a machine?

As someone who is weary of rapid technology change for the sake of “progress”, I found myself in a weird space when presented with the opportunity to try virtual reality for the first time.

On a Friday shopping night, I stumbled upon the SPECTACULAR SPECTACULAR roller coaster when stepping off the escalator on the second floor of Galeries Lafayette. I was invited to partake in a virtual reality game set up right in the middle of the shopping floor. A free experience. So I waited at the end of a long line for my turn at this virtual game.

Over the past few years I’d heard the talk of virtual reality in the near future, but here I was up close and personal with it. The set-up itself featured six vibrating and rotating chairs along with fans, all designed to simulate winds and turns for the ride connected to the headset. An employee placed the virtual goggles on my head and I was off for a two-and-a-half-minute trip into an enchanted world.

Preview VR Spectacular Spectacular

The game was designed to imitate a roller coaster ride that traveled through a world of bright colors, oversized popcorn and giant rubber duckies. Experiencing the game, I was captivated by my ability to move my head in all four directions all while the images and sounds accommodated my movements. It truly felt like I was inside a video game. At this level of gaming my first experience with VR was enjoyable and did leave me wanting to spend a little more time in the virtual world. VR is unquestionably a gaming technology first and foremost, so the possibility of more detailed and fine VR worlds appears as an exciting thought. China has already set up a billion-dollar virtual reality theme park.

However, on the walk home I pondered: games are just the first level for introducing this type of technology. Technology is constantly on a path of evolving, so there is no doubt this form will do the same. What are the implications for this?

Image Credit: Flickr- Trianons Oficial 

My concern lies within the decades to come. Admittedly there are pros for the possibilities of VR. Many fields, such as law enforcement, medicine, military and aviation could potentially benefit from training individuals in ways that would usually put them at risk. Physically disabled people would have the ability participate in a stimulated world inhibited. There are even talks that VR could transform mental health treatments and be used as a form of therapy.

As cool as all of this seems, the reality is (pun intended) that just because you can doesn’t mean you should. Yes, we are capable of producing these technologies but it seems our technological train ride is going further and further with no checkpoints to discuss the ethical questions behind it all. These technologies hold the high potential to deteriorate human connections. Video games are being recognized as an addiction by the World Health Organization. Studies have already shown that social media leads its users to be less social in real life. As there is already an apparent struggle to unplug from the web and this type of technology, virtual reality would just be the next step in sucking our minds even more into a vacuum.

Image Credit: Flickr- Maurizio Pesce

The future of entertainment has virtual reality written all over it. We are constantly being marketed by the pleasure industries. If there is a new way to simultaneously have all our senses stimulated, people could find their wildest desires met. We would be facing new levels of escape. The possibilities for creating worlds in VR are endless. It is here that the potential lies for many people to become addicted to interacting in these virtual worlds.

As we do have some ways to go before VR is personally accessible to the average citizen, the pace of technology does not make reaching this point unfathomable. It is this point we should remain aware of in the midst of our celebrating technological process. Society could find itself preoccupied in simulated worlds funded by elites to keep the masses distracted into realities that they create.

The assumption for these type of technologies is that those who do not have access or cannot afford it will be left out, further separating social classes in Information Age based societies. However, I believe it will be marketed and accessible for average people in order to keep populations distracted. Those who hold the wealth of the world will be left free to enjoy and exploit it as they wish, while everyone else is chasing their desires away inside a box. I can’t help to be reminded of the eerie warning given in the Bruce Willis' movie Surrogates:  “We’re not meant to experience the world through a machine.”