We live in a world where some of the most popular new things are being built around so-called Augmented Reality (AR) or Virtual Reality (VR). The huge hit Pokemon Go is an Augmented Reality game that overlays a fantasy world over the top of real world surrounding; a place where Pokemon Gyms pop up filled with imaginary monsters to be battled with and captured. On the horizon is the next step, which will divorce us completely from the real world and place us within totally imaginary worlds – virtual worlds – as Facebook and others work to develop the concept of Virtual Reality.
One is forced to wonder what is wrong with living in real reality. Perhaps the reality that we normally live within is just not exciting enough for us. It certainly can be as dangerous and any game; just watch the evening news to see the reports of the latest robberies, car-jackings and shootings in your area. I attribute some amount of the growth in these electronics-based reality alternatives to the decline in reading among the younger generations especially. People in earlier generations found their “virtual reality” in their minds when they read a good novel and they didn’t even have to have a smartphone or a pair of goggles. When one became enthralled in a good book, the story played out in our “mind’s eye” and not on some screen.
Perhaps, then, these modern electronic escapes into AR or VR are somehow the equivalent to an interactive, real-time novel that is playing out in front of our eyes and which requires that we not only visualize what is happening , but join in on the story. Indeed, what we do in AR or VR space becomes a major part of the story. The human mind has the amazing ability to make that leap into virtual space and react to what it is “seeing”. I’ve had a few VR experiences and can attest to that myself. I can also attest to the VR problems of experiencing vertigo and nausea, at times, when visiting VR spaces.
Aside from the current gaming phenomenon, AR has had a few relatively unsuccessful starts over the years. The most recent and well know is probably Google Glasses, those nerdly-looking specs that provided additional information about things at which the wearer might be looking. That seemed to mirror the point of view of the original robot from the movie Terminator. It was probably a bit annoying over time and likely had less real value that initially thought.
The current state and usefulness of AR and VR technology aside; one must ask why our own reality is not good enough to keep us entertained and happy? What is it about your own life that you find so boring that you must venture out in search of Pokemon monsters to capture or wander about in some VR world? The creators of Pokemon Go state that they wanted to get gamers off the sofa and out in crowds where they could meet and interact with others. I suppose there is some of that, but it is hard to meet others when you are heads-down starting at your smartphone.
Perhaps if the game (and phone) sensed when other players were around and showed them on the near-by players’ screens they might look up and actually say hello. Maybe the game could even encourage cooperation among nearby players, so that ad hoc teams are formed on the fly. I’m relatively sure that the near-by players’ profiles could be easily shared with “teammates”. Who knows, some players might even look up long enough to say “Hi” or get to know other players. They’d bounce back and forth between real and virtual reality and even that little bit of real life is better than none at all. Perhaps Pokemon Go dates could be arranged, first in AR space and then in real life. I’m sure that the game could be extended to include extra points or skills or credit for couples on Pokemon Go dates. What a concept!
The ultimate state of living in Virtual Reality was well imagined in the movie series The Matrix and follow-ons. In that imaginary world most of the “real people” existed in a trance like state while their lives played out in a Virtual Reality world that was really a huge computer program. That program was infected with the Mr. Smith virus, which did battle in the virtual world with the escaped real people who were trying to rescue the world from the controlling computer and its robots. For any who have had very realistic dreams (or nightmares) it is not all that hard to imagine living in such a dream-state virtual reality.
I can foresee useful avenues for entertainment and learning using AR and VR, but I also think that one has to get the “R” part down first, before venturing into augmented or virtual space. People need to be able to deal with the reality of the life that they are living and not just trying to escape that life by jumping into a fantasy world. One must learn how to accept and cope and deal with real life in real situations, before taking on virtual challenges. Once you have mastered how to live in your real life, then you will be ready to take on the entertainment or learning of a new, virtual world. So, dip your toe into the realm of augmented or virtual reality, but do so from a firm foundation in the real world.
Here’s looking at you …I think.