I was thinking today I would murder my boss today, or that guy at the pub that insulted me. This would all be in the virtual reality, of course, it’s just a game, it’s just for fun, and it won’t affect me. Or will it? The possible futures starkly portrayed in the movie Gamer, The Lawnmower Man, along with many others, show what could happen.
Games have gone from simple blocks on digital screens to almost life-like creations in the space of a few decades. Now with these life-like creations converted into brain fooling virtual worlds, how will this affect our minds in the long term? The human race as whole has a history of violence and gamers are no exception. The basis of almost every game is to kill something. MMORPGs all involve killing everything in your local vicinity. The most popular eSports are people killing each other. You can see from a glance on Twitch.TV or Steam at the huge popularity of Hunger Games based survival games and military shooters. People that play these games are especially passionate and defensive about their game of choice, some to the point of fanaticism.
I asked on several forums what people found attractive in player versus player games and there was quite a varied response.
From extremes, “To be able to kill people without consequences.” and “Hell, getting that feeling when you get shot at or hear shots at you. I love the adrenaline.”
To be sports-like, “Because PVP is competition. Just like a football or basketball game is.”
The philosophical, “As a human we are born aggressive, otherwise the world wouldn’t have more bullets than people.”
And the common excuse for stress relief, “I like to take out my anger out in game rather than someone in reality.”
This isn’t one of those articles about how games incite people to violence. I don’t believe that’s true and it has been proven so.
But what will a life-like virtual reality kill feel like in the future? Would it be any different from a real life one other than no real world consequence? Virtual reality is already used in the conditioning of soldiers. Soldiers I’ve spoken to can’t stand games like Call of Duty or Battlefield, not the ones that have seen live action and killed people. Only a small minority would want to relive those kinds of experiences.
Immersion is a big part of first person shooters, so how fast will lines become blurred between the real and the virtual? Will you lose your compassion and empathy? This could be true for people that seek out situations in games where murder and torture are common. I’ve often read stories about players in the survival game Dayz captured and force fed rotten food or even bleach. How will this play out in hyper-realistic virtual reality? How would a victim of this feel afterwards when unplugged? Could it even go to the point where it could be judged as a crime if someone experienced trauma because of the experience? Will we see the rise of virtual reality police in the future? I can see this happening as we’ve already seen the law forced to evolve to prosecute people for written words on social media.
There are great physical and mental benefits to playing certain games. The benefits VR will have for the disabled, education sector and other commercial applications in medicine will be ground-breaking.
But as we move forward into this new world, I do think we need to get smarter on what we create and define as entertainment as we force fed yearly spam from profit-hungry executives at the top developers.
A huge hype storm is being generated around virtual reality to a point of frenzy. I think health effects, physical and psychological, are being overlooked and avoided by the developers and in general by gaming journalists.
A lot of more questions need to be asked before we put those goggles on which may evolve our race into something darker and hungrier in the future.