#VR Morality:

“Bioshock”, Objectivism and Immersion

BIOSHOCK. It was literally game changing, back in 2007. Game Informer magazine named creator Ken Levine “Storyteller of the Decade” in 2010. Storyteller not game designer. Something shifted for me as I plunged myself into the depths of Bioshock. I wasn’t just in a first person shooter game- I was inside an Objectivist Ayn Randian storyworld. The line between story and game was now beautifully blurred. A natural evolution that gave rise to fun things like LA Noire and Uncharted III but also more story-driven serious games like alternate reality game World Without Oil and Amnesty the Game which asked its participants to make moral and ethical judgments.

Levine called upon the Objectivist philosophy that now may actually be more than relevant to the VR World. Surely the exploration of this connection demands more than a mere blog post, but consider this. In VR we can magnify reality and place participants in an environment where objectivity can be altered by manipulating sense perception and emotion, and therefore influence consciousness. This is not to say that this hasn’t happened before. Any ministry of propaganda has that as its mission. But this, this is different. This is highly experiential and profoundly personal. And, it is no longer the stuff of science fiction. We rely on our senses first for our objectivity before the mind kicks in on multiple levels to respond or react to the circumstances. If we as storytellers are now able to “fool” the sensory response of the body through sight, sound, and haptic response we’ve covered 3 out of the five senses. And, who says we might not even be able to induce the imagination to create smell and taste?

Certainly, I don’t mean to be any sort of killjoy but I have always contemplated the power and responsibility of great storytelling to inspire, entertain, teach and yes even change the world. What storyteller doesn’t want his or her work to be…well, transformative? VR certainly is not new but it seems to have reached some sort of “escape velocity” where great tools are now the foundation for artistry. Placing someone inside a story naturally produces a desire for interaction with the environment as well as an organic response and, consciousness. This points to an emerging and powerful convergence of best practices of game development and traditional narrative and a transformation in storytelling and the audience.

What can/will VR do for consciousness and the ability to gain objective knowledge? How will the “art” that we create in VR be transformative? What is our moral responsibility?

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