The social impacts of virtual reality

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Everyone has dreamt of an alternate reality that appears far better than the one they were/are in, however it may not have to remain a dream for long. You may have heard of something called the Oculus Rift, a virtual reality headset. You might have even seen some footage from its use. This new form of immersive technology is without doubt incredibly impressive but could it completely alter the social needs of a generation?

The concept of escapism has been around since the 1940s and 1950s but not on the scale we have now. The dullness of some people’s everyday life, their reality, causes them to want an escape, whether it’s watching TV or playing a game. The word ‘escapism’ has negative connotations in our society. In his book, Escapism, Yi-Fu Tuan talks about the concept in great detail and as a reader noted, an escapism appears to be a natural mechanism, the mind must have need for it.” Everyone does it. Virtual reality simply offers another means of escaping and its complete immersive reality means it will do the job better than a TV or a phone.

Many people complain that others are too engrossed in their mobile phones or video games. ‘No one actually talks to each other anymore’ is a phrase that I’m sure you’ve heard before. Even with the technology we use today the user is still in this reality, just focusing on a screen. With the introduction of virtual reality, the user’s mind would be completely separated from this world. Actual social interactions have positive impacts on our mental health but if you grow up not knowing what these interactions are, why would you feel a need for one? The harsh truth is that you wouldn’t. You may feel a deep want for something more but you wouldn’t know what that was. Not to mention the fact that you’d look for it inside the virtual reality. A generation of completely virtual humans. This certainly seems scary and almost impossible but it already happens now.

In 2004, a 13 year old boy from China, sadly committed suicide after playing World of Warcraft for 36 hours straight. This is of course is an extreme example but it’s not the only one of its kind. Many theories were made as to why he took his life; one that seems particularly interesting was that he felt he had ‘transcended’ his physical form. He had found an alternate reality inside the game that gave him the happiness that his ‘real’ life didn’t and he just saw his body as ‘dead weight’.

Virtual reality could satisfy already existing social needs, rather than wipe them from our memory. In the 2011 book, Infinite Reality by Blascovich, a psychology professor at the University of California, states “a virtual second life can replace the ‘real life’ of some individuals, but this can be good or bad.” “Who is to say that a virtual life that is better than one’s physical life is a bad thing?” Virtual reality systems can offer an escape from an unfulfilling and dull life. People with disorders such as depression, OCD or social anxiety could benefit from the use of virtual reality as either a happy past time or a rehabilitation tool. If an individual is able to acquire happiness from a virtual reality system, who is to say they shouldn’t?

Virtual reality could easily destroy a person’s social needs and possibly personality but that’s only if it’s used in excess and in an ‘unhealthy’ manner. Much like swimming in the ocean has the potential to end a life, more often than not, it doesn’t. The introduction of virtual worlds into our daily life will change the way we do things but for at least some people, these changes would be beneficial.

Are you interested in designing a virtual reality? Where would you like to escape to? Leave us a comment below!

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