Are VR and Virtual Worlds a Good Thing?
Virtual Experience is rapidly arriving
It seems pretty obvious to me that we are at the beginning of a time where virtual reality experience will become a significant part of human experience.
Will Virtual Experience be a good thing for us?
There is certainly going to be a lot of variety. Some of it will be downright porn. Some will be boring, silly or truly awful.
But virtual experience has the potential to become a really important aspect of the development of human potential. It will enable us to do things we cannot do in physical reality, and to interact directly with people from around the world that we would never otherwise meet.
Some of the ways the virtual experience can enhance humanity can include
- Global collaboration and cooperation
- Visual and performance arts
- Interactive story-telling
- New models for human prosperity
It is beyond the purpose of this article to touch on all the ways that we will use virtual experiences or the benefits and issues thereof.
Instead, the purpose here is to propose some concepts and methods by which we can:
- Empower people to use virtual reality well
- Develop our capacity to make the greatest and most positive use of virtual experience
- Ensure that virtual experience becomes a valuable part of the development of the future of society and indeed of civilization
If this is a new story, who are the protagonists?
In this context, there are three “protagonists” in the development of virtual worlds:
- Organizations and Institutions
Each of these needs assistance, encouragement, best practices, tools, and capacity-building.
How can we build value in virtual experiences?
Since virtual experience is new territory for us, it will best be served by being approached as an ongoing learning exercise. We will need humility in the face of the uncertainty and rapid change of an emergent culture.
As individuals, educational venues like virtual universities, virtual conference centers and virtual organizations, we can step up from the very beginning to begin delivering value to these three protagonists.
Initially, this can begin with conversations, brainstorming, in-world and other live conversations, workshops, and materials developed for and shared with each of the three protagonists.
How can we share this learning?
There are many ways we can let people know about what we are building, such as:
- Published articles
- Social media
- Podcasts and interviews
- Meetups and conferences
- Seminars and classes
- Educational materials and courses
Topics and courses for this mutual education and ideation could include:
- How to Meet and Work Together in Virtual Worlds
- New Models of Collaboration, Co-creation and Cooperation
- Decentralization of Governance: the New Roles of Individuals, Communities and Institutions
- Community, Society, and the Future of Humanity
- Creating New Educational Paradigms
In-world venues for working together can include:
- Team Meetings
- Seminars and Workshops
- Public and private talks
- Town Meetings
These can be recorded if desired and made available for others as podcasts, videos, or in-world playback.
Types of content and training that can be developed
- Getting Started guides
- Materials for newcomers and visitors to create and have great virtual experiences
- Networking, encouraging, helping and accompanying each other
- Finding resources and service providers
- Managing your online identity safely and securely
- Building strong and unified communities
- Creating value for your community members
- Growing a stable community
- Understanding the optimum relationships between individuals, communities, and institutions
For Institutions and Organizations
- Promoting best practices for organizations and institutions
- Learning about legal organization, tax issues, and securities issues when fundraising
- Providing business models, case studies, best practices, and lessons learned from successes and difficulties
- Sharing tools, methodologies, documentation, resources, 3rd party services
Where can this go?
Through building these positive aspects of virtual experience, we can promote unity, justice, creativity and peace. These really are enabled in virtual worlds, where we can experiment and learn fast, and then bring these lessons to bear in the physical world as well. I am seeing the culture of virtual worlds coming together like this.
Where can I get involved?
There are now many existing and newly emerging virtual worlds. Some can use VR headsets, but most do not require them and can be run on your computer screen. The following list is far from complete.
Second Life is by far the most thoroughly developed virtual world. First online in 2002, SL has had about a million users who have built virtually all the content and venues. It has a thriving social life and a large and active economy. It is probably the best place to get a feel of what has been possible, and to meet all sorts of people with all kinds of ideas about using virtual experiences.
OpenSim is an opensource world largely based on Second Life, and runs on the servers of various individuals, with the experiences linkable with each other to a certain extent. It is a much smaller community, but has exemplified what individuals and groups can do with virtual worlds without a “company” behind it.
Sansar is the new virtual reality platform from Linden Lab, the company behind Second Life. It uses a much more advanced technology model which enables very high quality rendering done fast enough to be able to wear VR Headsets without getting motion sick. It is beautiful. It is new. It has a low cost of entry (other than the cost of a sufficiently capable VR-ready PC and a VR headset, which is not small change). Each experience is independent, separate from other ones unless you jump to another one (the experiences are not geographically adjacent). However, the Sansar Atlas ties the public experiences into a loose federation of separate experiences. The quality is very high, so you can build experiences that would be hard to replicate elsewhere except in custom technology platforms.
High Fidelity is not a virtual world unto itself. It is an opensource platform you can use to create virtual worlds on your own server(s). The quality is quite good.
Decentraland is a new virtual world where you can actually permanently own virtual land, independent of any company’s servers. It runs on the Ethereum blockchain, which is a distributed ledger running across the Internet, not on private “company” servers, making immune from outside interference. It held it first land sales in 2017, and is coming online in 2018. Many people are already building communities and content for it. It uses a lower resolution rendering methodology that can run in PC web browsers, or as in less expensive VR headsets. It is an intensively social experience. The first part of the world that has been created, Genesis City, has thousands of land owners and over 50 themed “districts” in a 3km x 3km area. Land is contiguous, so you can explore and find other experiences and people readily.
Sumerian is Amazon’s new VR platform, in a private beta as of the writing of this article. It will probably be separate experiences, like Sansar or High Fidelity, and might also support lower end VR headsets.
Facebook Facebook is building VR. They did after all buy Oculus. Theirs will probably be highly social.
New virtual reality platforms and worlds are popping up almost daily. It’s time to get serious (but not TOO serious) about making this work for our benefit.
Virtual worlds and virtual experience are interesting and potentially wonderful. The path forward will surely have its share of potholes. May you navigate them wisely and may we make this a great journey!
Photo by Bradley Hook from Pexels