Behind the Buzz: Virtual Reality


Claudia Wong

Behind the Buzz: virtual reality

Imagine playing your favourite role playing video game, where you control the actions of your character- think playing Pokemon. You are actually in the shoes of the character. You look up and the sky is clear. You look into the distance and the leaves are crisp in detail. You even notice your shadow behind you. Except this isn’t real, this is virtual reality implemented into your video game.

Virtual reality (VR) has been one of the most talked about buzzword in technology over the past few years. Essentially, it is the use of a virtual reality headset to simulate an immersive and interactive 3D environment that can include sounds or other sensations. Not only is there the limitless potential for VR to grow in video games, but also in many other fields, such as clinical therapy. Researchers are starting to test exposure therapy with VR, where the patient can revisit the environment that caused their mental disorder or visit an environment which might help them with a disorder like addiction. In research, VR therapy techniques have been effective for people with physical and psychological disabilities. VR has even started to reach the, er… more intimate side of our lives.

Some of the earliest conceptions of VR were panoramic paintings or, later, stereoscopic photos and viewers. Later in 2014, Oculus VR, a pioneering technology company focusing on VR hardware and software, was acquired by Facebook. This was a huge moment in VR history as it signaled to the rest of the technology industry that VR would be the next big thing.

But with any advancement, there is typically some backlash. Three main concerns surround VR: safety, privacy and ethical issues. In terms of safety, consumer health concerns arise, with symptoms such as motion sickness having been reported. There’s also the risk of a user becoming so absorbed in their virtual environment that he or she forgets to pay attention to their actual environment and accidentally falls face first!

Then there’s the privacy concern. Could VR be used for further mass surveillance or tracking? Finally, the application and use of VR raises many ethical and philosophical questions. In the opening lyric for Father John Misty’s Total Entertainment Forever, FJM explores a reality where we are entertained to death and sings, “bedding Taylor Swift every night inside the Oculus Rift.”

While provocative and baiting, the lyric sparks ideas of possible ethical issues with VR. How will VR psychologically affect the user and impact society in the long term? Will public figures, such as Taylor Swift, have any rights when it comes to virtual projections of their image? Or what happens if a user commits a crime within VR, also known as virtual criminality?

While VR hasn’t reached every household yet, VR demos are already being sampled by the public. And at last year’s Geeky Summit, there was a VR booth for attendees to try. Even as concerns are raised, the potential for VR is growing every year.

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