Virtual Reality: The Death of Human Interaction

Sony just recently announced Project Morpheus, a virtual reality device  being developed for the PlayStation 4 that aims to change the way we play video games in the future. The device can be worn like a pair of goggles and uses inertial sensors and the PlayStation’s camera to track the user’s head movements, so that when the user rotates their head, the image they see within the virtual reality device rotates in a similar likeness to give the impression that the user is inside the video game. The developers said they were inspired by Oculus Rift, another virtual reality device set to be released for the PC later this year, and hoped that the application of these technologies would go beyond video games.

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 “Morpheus enables developers to create experiences that deliver a sense of presence—where players feel as though they are physically inside the virtual world of a game,”  -Sony

Virtual reality is definitely the stuff of the future, but we really need to question its effects on human interaction. What would being able to put on a set of goggles and jump into a perfect fantasy world, that presents with wearer with nothing but enjoyable situations, do to the way humans go about their real lives and the way we interact with others?

Excessive internet usage, has already been linked with the onset of depression and anxiety. The primary reason for which, is that users use the internet as an escape tool to ignore the source of their anxiety and depression, allowing it to grow in the backs of their minds, never being addressed. This creates an addiction because avoiding the underlying causes for concern and escaping into the internet, further decreases the individual’s quality of life, forcing them to return to the internet to fulfill the desires they cannot fulfill in their unstructured and broken life.

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Internet addiction can start as early as childhood, when children discover how they can ignore the challenges of school and socializing, skills that they then fail to build for later period in life.

This is a serious problem that faces our evermore demanding society. With children and teens feeling the pressures of social media and school, adults who are overworked and underpaid, and seniors who are crippled by their age and health problems, an easy way out is something that would appeal to a lot of people. And that easy way out at the moment is just a screen that they observe. Taking solace in an observable, interactive, and physical screen that sits in front of them, is how millions, if not billions, of people escape from the troubles of their day-to-day lives and get to enjoy themselves for the short time being.

But let’s step it up a notch and ask what would happen if individuals would interact with a screen that wasn’t bordered by reality? If addiction to the screens we have today already poses such cause for concern, imagine the problem wewould face if while using them we couldn’t tell that they were screens? What if we didn’t have visuals and sounds that are not coming from the screen to remind us that we’re not witnessing reality?

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As beautiful and immersive as it may seem, it is still unmistakeably clear to our eyes that reality borders these screens. Imagine if we couldn’t see that.

These are problems that we would face with virtual reality. It is the ultimate form of immersion and the best escape from reality. The only thing the wearer would have to do is feed themselves occassionally, use the restroom, and sleep. But I can bet it wouldn’t take long before developers found a way to integrate those functions into virtual reality.

And so what is the result? We can’t say for sure, but based on the causes of internet addiction today, and the afflictions they impose on the addicts today can give us a hint of what we can expect. Today, those disconnected from other people for long periods of time may find face to face interaction difficult because they have so little of that experience. It is not unreasonable that a similar condition could arise among those who use virtual reality regularly, where they have been away from reality for so long that interacting with it becomes difficult. Imagine living in a world where things go your way all the time and then being exposed to a world where they don’t? It wouldn’t even be a matter of liking virtual reality so much as it is a matter of being unable to cope with reality, that would keep individuals using it.

It would be like growing up spoiled and then being told that you can in fact expect everything to go your way all the time.

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In your secluded virtual world you can be as selfish as you want, always get your way, while still being considerate of others.

But the goggles have to come off sometime, if only to achieve the bare minimum of what is necessary to jump back into their virtual world. Working just enough to have money for food and a small room for a bed and bathroom that you can sustain you while you waste away the rest of your hours in paradise. Working might not even become necessary in the future if we as a society become sustainable enough to provide that bare minimum. If we mass produce that bare minimum as a capsule that handles our intake and outtake, and robots that keep our environment safe, then we get something like the picture below.matrix_083

In the movie trilogy The Matrix we were enslaved by robots in capsules while we went ahead with our fictitious lives. In the movie, we struggled to get free from them. However it seems that in reality, our most coveted end goal of technology would be to find a way to keep us in the capsules.

Paranoia in the Age of Information: The Destruction of Trust Through Spying and The News

A troubled man sits down with a psychiatrist. He complains about how he has developed anxiety and paranoia because he believes that he cannot trust anything said to him by the news or the government. He says that he believes that all his communications with his closest friends are being spied on, that corporations are collecting and using his personal data, and that the government is out to get him because of what he wrote on the internet. What does the shrink say?

"Don't be paranoid"

“Don’t be paranoid”

A few years ago he might have said that the patient is paranoid in his beliefs and may be suffering from schizophrenia, as there is no way this could all be true. The general public would also have thought the patient to be mentally ill and would satirize him. But what would the shrink and the public say today? When the Snowden leaks have revealed that nearly all communications are being collected by their government and large corporations and individuals are being targeted by statements they make online? When the CEO of the platform of the most widely used social media site says that the age of privacy is over? And when Google creates user profiles based on search patterns that it then hands over to government agencies without your permission? What would the shrink say then?

Slide from an NSA presentation called "Google Cloud Exploitation" where the public internet meets the Google Cloud and where there user data ultimately is held

Slide from an NSA presentation called “Google Cloud Exploitation” where the public internet meets the Google Cloud and where there personalized profiles are held

Conspiracy theories and the paranoid have been around forever, but they have never been as influential as they have been in the age of information and the advent of the internet. The ability for the ordinary person to access such vast amounts of information and present their conclusions to the rest of the world has only recently become a possibility. The public no longer relies on large news corporations and the government for their information. The public has pushed aside those sources in favour of independent journalism from sources that do not have the funding(and the bias that comes with it) to make large scale reports.

This shift in news source has affected both the method by which we receive our news as well as the type of news that we receive. Unlike corporate news sources, independent sources are innumerable, producing a countless number of stories that few people ever read. The way we come by the few stories that surface above the others is often through other people via social media and/or internet forums. This means that even if a source is unbiased, because of how small it is, it will only receive exposure and have its stories read if it supports the beliefs of the person choosing to share the article. This then causes only the sensationalistic and dramatic articles to be brought towards the public eye. And so we are faced with a new bias, one where only the most controversial issues gain exposure.

Does this sound familiar?  It should, as it is the main fault with freedom of speech. In a room full of people, each with their own issues, all trying to get everyone’s attention, who is the one that succeeds? The one with the most important issue? Or the one that is the loudest and most controversial? What if the most loudest and controversial one is your friend? And if our news, however independent and unbiased may be, is shared with us through our friends that wish to spread their own beliefs, is really unbiased and trustworthy news? Is trustworthy news still trustworthy if you only deliver the truth favourable to your position? The answer is no, a partial truth is as bad as a lie. The unfortunate truth of the matter is that since small independent journalism does not have the funds to spread its information to the masses it relies on being spread by people who’s beliefs coincide with the report being given.

How much noise you can make is more important in spreading stories than the content of the stories themselves. Small, independent stories are only spread by people with aligning beliefs.

How much noise you can make is more important in spreading stories than the content of the stories themselves. Small, independent stories, however factual and unbiased they may be, rely on being spread by people with aligning beliefs.

However, let us consider the alternative, where information is filtered by large news corporations and the government and the “non-constructive” and “unimportant” comments are not presented to the public. We get a similar problem as before, however here our news isn’t being shared by our friends, but by large, privately funded news corporations. Unlike our friends, these corporations have the responsibility of reporting on stories beyond those that they may support, or at least give the illusion of doing so. However, they are biased in that they need to meet the requirements of their funders. And so what you get is a source of information that delivers a wide variety of truthful news reports but becomes a bit murky when delving into issues against their funders’ interests.

And so how does this all tie in together? We are witnessing the total destruction of trust within all angles of our society. Where nothing is as we thought it to be or can expect it to be. We have been lied to by our governments and have had our privacy breached. We cannot trust the news we see, corporate or independent. A reliable, accurate, and current source requires a great deal of funding. But by its very nature, funding brings bias into play and questions the source’s ability to report on matters that could harm its funders. On the other hand, a source without funding or commercial interest cannot be relied upon to consistently provide accurate and current news and relies on people with aligning beliefs to do the spreading, which brings in its own bias. And so the greatest source of paranoia is one based in fact. We live in an age where we are spied on and lied to.

How and Why E-Sports is Quickly Replacing Real Sports in the Developed World

What was once a hobby that belonged to very few and isolated people, has now become the most popular and highest grossing form of digital entertainment in the developed world. With more and more children and adolescents foregoing a ball in place of their favourite video games, and with a changing society that is becoming more and more tolerant of this behaviour, it seems reasonable to question what place video games will have in our society within the next decade or two. Video games have already beaten out both the music and movie industry, Call of Duty: Ghosts alone outsold two highest grossing films of 2013, on its first day released!

COD01Call of Duty remains the the highest grossing video game in the industry with the release of Call of Duty: Ghosts

A few decades back, it probably would have been hilarious to suggest that a video game could outsell the highest grossing movie of the year, not to mention the top two highest grossing movies of the year… not to mention outselling them in its first day. And the increasing popularity hasn’t showed any signs of slowing down. We then have to ask, “Where will video games go next?”. Many would suggest that E-sports, that is electronic-sports (video games), is the next big revolution in the entertainment industry. That’s right, there is actually a market (a big one) for people watching other people play video games, and it is showing no sign of decline.

 

With the rise in video game popularity and sales, comes the rise of tournaments surrounding them. Although video game tournaments have been around for a while, it wasn’t until the beginning of the 21st century, when tournament organizers such as Major League Gaming, World Cyber Games, and Intel Extreme Masters started coordinating international events with large prize pools, when e-sport viewership really started to explode. The increase in viewers brought with it the funding of many sponsors, including those outside the video game industry, such as Doritos, and Monster. This funding from sponsors allows for better events that help promote the legitimacy of the ‘sport’ which in turn, further increases its viewership.

So how many viewers are these video game events getting? For games such as DotA 2 and League of Legends, you would have to use the word “million” to start to describe their viewers. The League of Legends Season 3 World Championship had 32 million viewers! To put it into perspective. The average NFL game in 2012 had 16.6 million viewers. It is still a long way from last year’s super bowl with 111.3 million viewers, but NFL ratings have gone down by 5% from the 2011 season to the 2012 season, while e-sport viewership keeps on climbing.

2971493_5Benaroya Hall, Home of the Seattle Symphony, also home to The International 3, the largest DotA 2 tournament of 2013 and a prize pool of over $2 million

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More than 32 million people watched the League of Legends Season 3 World Championships, almost twice the amount that watch an average NFL game

So why are e-sports so successful? It has a lot to do with our societies changing views around computers. Computers were once seen as tools of the elite, or the nerds. Today they are used by everyone, for everything. Whether it be setting up events, sharing photos, keeping in touch, or having fun, everyone has a reason to use a computer. Since computers are so ingrained in our society and in everything we do, it follows, that people start turning to computers when they want to have fun. With almost no physical activity required and little social interaction, anyone can hop online and join a game at 2 AM and have fun. This allows anyone to enjoy video games regardless of physical or mental disabilities, or time constraints. To our changing society, this is just another way computers have benefited our lives.

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The stigma associated with playing video games fades in our modern technological society, and being incapable of caring for yourself is no longer a prerequisite for enjoying a video game.

But what is the downturn to all this? Parents give their children video games so they don’t have to drive them to soccer practice once a week or to their friends house so they can engage in creative activities. Children grow up in front of TVs and video games and they don’t develop social skills, which causes them to avoid social encounters by pursuing hobbies such as… video games. But can these secluded individuals truly avoid all human contact? Wouldn’t they eventually feel the need to interact with others? And where else could they do so than at a venue revolving around the only hobby they have?

E-sports is growing, perhaps for tragic reasons, but nonetheless, growing. Something completely unheard of a few decades ago is set to become bigger than the real sports we enjoy today. It just goes to show how technology is changing our society. What unheard of activity will shake the entertainment industry next?