The Virtual Trigger
Ever since I was young, video games have been a massive part of my life & the culture around me. From my first generation Sony Playstation and Nintendo Gameboy to my current Xbox One, I have seen an amazing progression of technology when it comes to the video game entertainment experience. My friends & I look back now on how bad the graphics were of old games but still find ourselves staying up until 2 o’clock in the morning playing Super Smash Brothers on Nintendo 64. The games of our past are still relevant because they hold a strong nostalgic and personal connection to us all. As a kid, when you were not outside playing sports, running around getting dirty, you were most likely inside interacting with a video game. Now 25, I am blown away by what the video game industry is accomplishing especially with the new push towards VR systems. Yet as blown away as I am with this new tech, it also brings up a number of worries that I can see altering the way people live life in reality.
When GoldenEye first came out for Nintendo 64, I remember my brother & I thinking that a game cannot get any better.
First person shooter really made you feel like you were in the action and sometimes would cause a physical response when your enemy would pop up around a corner too quickly or the death-match was getting close. Fast forwarding to now, Golden Eye was only the beginning. The VR gaming systems they are creating today are bringing the impossible to life. Fully emerging the user into new worlds, new spaces, new fears, they are creating a system that is making what some people never thought they could do possible.
Vice produced a great short documentary called ‘Stepping into the screen: The Boundaries of VR Frontier’. Jason Kingsley, CEO of Rebellion, says at the beginning of the short that “You are no longer watching a game, you are in the game”.
This mindset truly makes one completely forget about what is going on in the real world and transports them to a new one. A gaming system that has technology so good that it can trick the mind into thinking that this is the world they would rather be in. In many ways, video games have always driven people to think and act differently as they are incredible tools to enhance ones imagination and state of mind. Video games in their nature have characters that are smarter, faster, stronger; the dreams of most people in reality. Are these new VR systems the first steps towards surrogate system? Are we almost at the point of virtual crossover? These questions pose a very interesting yet scary future but it is up to the creators and the users to make the choice.
VR gaming systems are incredible technology and have the capability of doing amazing things. In the video, we see the host in an underwater simulator where a shark is attacking her cage. Instead of trying to scare her half to death, what if this system was used to help someone get over their fear of scuba diving or being submerged by water. I believe that these virtual systems have the power of tricking the human mind into impacting what their mindset is on certain things in physical reality.
The other day in class we were trying to think of different VR & AR systems that can be beneficial to society, I brought up the situation of Sheila Jackson from the show Shameless. An intense phobia of the outside world, Sheila cannot leave her house without having a severe panic attack. As a therapy, she uses a VR system to simulate her going to the grocery store and interacting with virtual people. Looking at a more real time situation, what if these newer system with their advanced graphic capabilities could help improve people’s phobias. From social anxiety to fear of heights, imagine if we could create these worlds to help benefit the human brain and further strengthen the human reality condition.
Coming back to the gaming realm of VR, what I find to be the most troubling about this new gaming world is that it can make what is impossible possible. Violent video games have been around every since the beginning of early systems. Whether it was blowing up space invaders or Duke Nukem going on a murderous rampage slaughtering aliens with his cigar blazing between his teeth, they are the greatest selling points for gaming companies.
My theory on this is that having access to these new worlds, allows people to let out their anger, their frustrations and their pains in the form of virtual violence. Grand Theft Auto is solely based off of the idea of being in a world with no rules where you can steal, fuck, murder, and do basically anything without any repercussions.
Translating this back to the real world, in the Vice documentary, they constantly bring up the fact that these new systems and game trick the mind and a response follows. As these virtual worlds begin to make the crossover into the visual reality, what is stopping users from trading that virtual trigger in for a real one. EveryTownResearch is an organization that put together the statistics for mass shootings in the USA in an effort to show the dramatic numbers in their fight for gun safety. From 2009–2016, 69% of perpetrators of mass shootings are between the age of 20–39. This age range correlates directly with the uprise of video games but also the introduction of first person shooters. Coincidence, maybe but hearing from the developers of games like this saying that they are tricking people minds does not make the possibility of being surrounded by virtual violence directly correlating with the innocent and senseless bloodshed spilt in our world.
Stepping away from the headsets themselves for a minute, Virtual worlds have been present for a long time. The introduction of the internet in itself a virtual world and paved the way for the creation and connection of people from all over the world in fantasy role playing games like World of Warcraft. Games like this created an environment for people to be completely emerged in a new society. With friends from all around the world, World of Warcraft is a place where you can start new. With nobody to judge you and virtually ‘a new face’, some people decide that that world is a kinder and better one then the real one. Connecting with my theory on games and violence, “Elliot Rodger, killed seven young men and women, including himself. He was hooked on violent video games from a young age from his own admission, hiding himself in World of Warcraft, where he felt comfortable and secure”. In severe cases like these, it frightens me that people would much rather live in a virtual world then the reality but it’s a human’s ability to coupe with both that can potentially limit situations like this from ever happening.
Everyday their is a war that kills thousands if not millions of people but as they fall to the ground, they are resurrected back to life by the push of a button. Online gaming is one of the most popular entertainment networks in the world and it is only growing with the introduction of new technology. As we see these controls change from handsets to virtual rifles, what is stopping trouble minded users to being “tricked” by the system and going out and getting a real one.
When I was in college, we had to work on a creative brief defending a gaming company who was being blamed for a mass shooting because the assailants were mimicking their video game. It was a difficult task but we managed to come up with a very creative campaign but for the first time it made me think of this situation. The situation of what would happen if people began combining their virtual worlds into reality. As we move forward into the future of technology and virtual reality, we must remain conscious about how this will effect people. This technology has some incredible power to amaze, wonder, and educate future generations into a bright world but it is up to us to stop it from influencing people to remained sheltered and afraid of the real world. Afraid enough for them to take serious action and result in something that damages our society and our world as a whole.
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Using FBI data and media reports, Everytown for Gun Safety developed an analysis of mass shootings that took place…everytownresearch.o