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Is Virtual Reality Our Next Reality? by Dr. Frank Gaskill

I remember when I was playing my Atari 2600 in the late 1970’s, and my dad said to me, “I can’t even imagine the games you will play when you are my age.” I am now his age. And I can hardly imagine the games my own children will be playing when they are my age. But I fear those will not be games but actual realities.

In the 1970’s I also watched the movie Westworld. A world of animatronic reality in which people fulfilled their fantasies in a virtual world. But that virtual world ultimately murdered them. Westworld has been reimagined on HBO and suggests another futuristic terror based on virtual reality. Virtual reality merges with reality and begs the question, “At what point does the human experience change from playing a game to becoming real life?”

While we may be on the verge of a potential VR gaming revolution, the possibilities of VR have been well represented over the past 30 years. Various cinematic depictions of the tech have included Tron, Stephen King’s The Lawnmower Man, and various action thrillers like Virtuosity, Strange Days, Johnny Mnemonic, and The Matrix. If there’s a common theme unifying all of these VR stories, it’s that the technology opens doors to new degrees of immersion and ways to interface with the world; however, this usually comes with disastrous consequences.

As with Westworld or the iconic Terminator series, the fear and attraction to the automation promised by an android society is alluring. In the book, Ready Player One, the future of virtual reality promises humanity a better existence. This virtual society allows individuals to escape the pain of their post-apocalyptic future. Their virtual world is far better than reality. Is this what our future holds? Will technology take us further away from natural interactions? Similar sentiments were shared when television, videogames, internet, cell phone, and tablets were developed, and we all seem fine. Well…sort of. But are we?

It’s difficult to determine what kind of society we will become based on the technology we develop. The future is always difficult to tell. But if we take the lead from Science Fiction, which has often predicted our future experiences, we will continue to pursue virtual reality. At the forefront of VR will likely be, unfortunately, pornography. A falsely, sexualized alternative to human connectivity will likely trap a generation of individuals in a false reality of intimacy. The concern is that the virtual reality of the coming future will become perceptibly better than reality through immediate gratification and sensory stimulation better than that of the reality experience.

I encourage us all to consider how humanity is becoming consumed by the virtual community and enter into a dialogue with children which may help them critically consider the consequences of the shift in society. But the more important question you may ask your child is, “Will you take the Red Pill or the Blue Pill?”

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