How To Escape From Reality – Diving Headfirst Into A Virtual World

In 24 hours, if I wanted to, I could escape from the world. I would make memories in a distant place. Memories stored alongside my real-life memories. Kayaking through giant oceans of water, meeting new strangers, adopting pets, and living peacefully among virtual trees. One day, if I were fortunate enough to become an old man, it’s likely that when remembering the past I would blur the line between my escape and my life, since these virtual memories are stored alongside real ones, undifferentiated in the memory banks of our mind.

“VR can be stored in the brain’s memory center in ways that are strikingly similar to real-world physical experiences,” said Stanford’s Bailenson, author of the forthcoming book “Experience on Demand,” about his two decades of research on the psychological effects of virtual reality. “When VR is done well, the brain believes it is real.”

-Professor Jeremy Bailenson, founding director of Stanford University’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab

According to UC Berkeley optometry professor Martin Banks, “Looking at tablets, phones and the like, there’s pretty good evidence that doing near work can cause lengthening of the eye and increase risk for myopia,” Banks said. “We’re all worried that virtual reality might make things worse.” Professor Banks studies visual perception in virtual environments. So, even if someday I decide that I am done with VR, it has long-term impacts that literally blind its users for life.

Heading over to Steam, a popular marketplace for video games, I went into the reviews for some of the more popular VR games. One user, ish9, left a review for a game titled Half-Life: Alyx. This user has spent one thousand, three hundred and seventeen hours inside of a virtual reality headset playing the game. That’s the equivalent to 82 days, excluding 8 hours of sleep per day. Their review? “Excellent addition to the HL Franchise”. 82 days of ducking, puzzle-solving, shooting, and running all while standing in the living room.

Why VR?

Virtual reality is not some far-off, futuristic thing. Recently, I went to get ice cream after a nice evening. Inside almost empty shop, a young man was strapped-in to a VR Headset manufactured by a subsidiary of Meta (formerly FaceBook) known as Reality Labs. Exclaiming to his friend how realistic the graffiti effects were in his game, he had no idea a crowd of eight had formed around him, waiting in line.

VR, at this time, is expensive and challenging for most users to figure out. These problems are likely to be resolved over the next few years as recent increases in funding are allocated to the problems. I strongly believe, and so do the venture capital arms of silicon valley and Meta, that virtual reality access will become cheaper and better developed as time goes on.

Everything you see on screen is not really there, but scientists and engineers are actively working on tricking your mind even further by increasing display resolution, update rates, and new virtual reality technologies.

Virtual reality, while easy to laugh about, is a significant improvement to modern technological problems if you are trying to simulate real life or try to convince a user that they are immersed inside of something. Watching a movie sometimes may feel real but it cannot compare to the real-time head tracking of virtual reality.

Google’s Daydream View, another Virtual Reality technology, warns its users: “if the content is frightening, violent, or anxiety provoking, it can cause your body to react physically, including increasing your heart rate and blood pressure. It can also, in some individuals, cause psychological reactions, including anxiety, fear, or even Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.”. PTSD isn’t known to be caused by 2d technology, but Google has enough data that they think it’s worth warning users that they might develop the disorder from virtual reality.

Why The Heads Up?

To me, it’s important to inform readers what technology is coming down the pipeline. It comes fast! The modern internet is 32 years old, the first iPhone just turned 15, and VR headsets are only 5-ish years old. But, a new VR “experience” opens up near me every few months and with one opening up on Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley, alongside the ice-cream-shop guy, I figured I’d give a heads up. All that to say a man born in 1959 would have been alive during ultra realistic virtual reality AND before the United States’ flag had 50 stars.

Virtual reality, along with almost all other technology, will continue to get cheaper. Storage space, processor speeds; they all get better and cheaper year over year as a result of many forces. As a result, it’s important to stay informed when virtual reality headsets hit the market with increasing fervor.

We are living through historic times. Being aware of what technology is capable of is critical in navigating our increasingly-strange world.

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