🕔 5 min read
The world is a pretty weird place right now; the arctic shelf is falling apart, Elon Musk is trying to take over our brains and Trump is a thing. Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to escape into another universe? This was the topic of conversation at New Scientist ‘The Gamers Club’ event last week.
In front of a live audience a bunch video game geniuses, experts in their fields, thrashed out the topic ‘What if virtual worlds become better than reality?’ and I was there and it was sick. This is a really big topic, but as I like to keep reads short, we’re just going to tip our toes in the icy lake that is the infinite future with virtual reality.
When talking about escaping, first we have to ask, why do you have this strange urge to transcend this comfy spinning rock we live on? This doesn’t need much consideration let’s be honest, through storytelling and imaginative play, humans have been doing this since day one. But now a more serious avoidance of immediate reality is running wild across the globe; from the opioid epidemic in the suburban USA, to the Hikikomori teens of Japan, escapism is being fuelled by new and emerging technology.
Whether you see this as good or bad, escapism or some form of amplified way of living, VR platforms are fuelling up to take us transport us elsewhere.
So what will these VR worlds look like?
Here are my 5 big questions to be defined. Ponder them over, consider the options, get a little curious.
1. How will we use VR worlds?
The big one troubling people (me) is how will we use these virtual reality worlds? Will we plug in all day and live in our headsets, leaving robots to sustain the psychical world like 2009 film Surrogates? Or will they be past times, like how we use Facebook or gaming consoles now?
2. Who will own these worlds?
Whilst the likes of Oculus, Sony and HTC have been racing to create the best headsets (hardware) the likes of Facebook and Google have been waging war to own the platforms.
Facebook’s jazzy demo of ‘Facebook Space’ back in April showed ol’ Zucks and his pals logging into virtual meetings, taking virtual selfies with their avatars and exploring new worlds as a team. Given the population of Facebook is bigger than that of China, they run a pretty solid chance of being our fave platform.
Google, however, is taking a different route. Expanding their VR offering from gaming and starting to create shareable moments from inside the daydream platform. Plus with the latest YouTube update, we can hang out in Daydream and watch movies together. It’s not quite the Netflix and chill experience yet but hey.
3. Are we alone or together?
But both these ventures are based on the notion that we actually want to be together, with real people in the VR worlds of the future. Given we kinda don’t want to be with real people too much IRL this may not be the route we go down.
It could be actually our favourite worlds are populated not by others hosted as avatars but filled with hot, smart and nice intelligent artificial personalities which are far more fun to be around. Just think, a private VR world filled with virtual Ryan Goslings…
4. Will they be regulated or a free-for-all?
If you imagine all the dark shit on the internet, then imagine it made real in a virtual world experience, doesn’t sound that nice really does it. In order to in any way persuade us to download completely into virtual realms, there likely will need to be some form of policing; if not it’s probably going to look like GTA when all the 14-year-olds realised you could murder prostitutes. Maybe we will have some form of VR ethics commission to protect our cognitive freedom, but who will set the rules?
5. Will they be anything like our current world?
Badass tech woman and writer for the game ‘Destiny’, Lucy Prebble summed this up pretty well. In her opinion alternate reality isn’t about relocating reality elsewhere, it’s about something completely new. Whilst current developers try and make things true to our real world, this is only wave 1. Wave 2 will be expanding from what we know on this earth into truly different, theatre like, heightened, a hallucinogenic world which defies all barriers of physics and possibility. It could be all experience a simulation of what it’s like to be a cell or an atom – the options are literally endless. After all, we wouldn’t want to plug in to simply make a shit cup of tea somewhere else would we?
We still have a long way to go in defining virtual worlds. Whether they become the next great creative masterpiece, or a runaway dark market place is essentially in our hands. In the way open source and the power of clicks has shaped the internet, we are at a crucial point to collaborate and guide developers in making VR we want.