In the long term, virtual worlds may have most of what is good about the non virtual world. Given all the ways in which virtual worlds may surpass the non virtual world, life in virtual worlds will often be the right life to choose.”David Chalmers, Reality+
About a week ago, I wrote “Metaverse Mumblings” where I lamented (somewhat jokingly as is my usual manner) that we will need to view this technology with concern. Of course, it’s still early days and it reminds me of the hype that usually goes with all new technology that is touted as a “game changer” served up to us by major corporations as being an ‘equaliser’ or a ‘connector’ but in actual fact, once big money is to be made, corporations swoop on it, exploit it – well, us for our data.
On the outset, I’ll say that like any new technology, you don’t have to jump onboard.
You can sit back and wait it out, you can educate yourself and decide if you’d like to contribute and participate. Knowing me, this is what I’ll do. In fact, I already have. I have played VR games as we have a PlayStation VR headset and a selection of VR games (albeit not social) and I have attended a couple of metaverse conference gatherings which frankly, although initially curious, equally frustrated me too.
(It may have been because I was driving my avatar through my keyboard and desktop computer as opposed to using the specific headset which I don’t own).
Nevertheless, I got the idea.
Aside…On Being Killed
(Having said that the VR world can be surprisingly real and I will NEVER forget being in one game where I was tied to a chair (virtual me) managed to reach for a gun (virtual me) that was nearby but the villain got to the gun before I did and SHOT ME (virtual me). I KEELED over in my chair (real chair), and let out an abrupt breath (real me) and a loud exclamation “OH!” (real me) – as if I was gutted and looked down (virtual and real me) expecting to see a hole in my chest. I was more in shock of my behaviour because I knew I was in a ‘virtual world’ but what was playing in front of me seemed real.
I had reacted to that gun shot as if I had been shot in real life. Or did I?
A long while – for many weeks and months – after that, I kept replaying that scene in my mind.
- If I was shot in real life, is that how I would have reacted?
Does virtual life give us a ‘future’ view of our behaviours BEFORE we have even tried them out in real life?
Does virtual life reflect our behaviours to us to teach us something about ourselves?
Does it open that quadrant of the Johari window where it shines a light on our ‘Blind Spots’ and our ‘Unknown Selves’, the area of things not known to ourselves and others? (I wonder if there is any academic research into this link already?)
Are Virtual Worlds A Temptation?
It got me thinking however, that over time, as this technology becomes more mainstream and as they (the big corporations) build new and exciting worlds for people to be in, would this mean that our real life would seem boring in comparison? That virtual worlds will be temptations for us to leave our real life behind – and will this be a bad thing necessarily?
What will it mean for people who would prefer their virtual life over their real life?
Is it wrong if the virtual life we designed is one that we made ourselves (a place where we feel safe and comforted?)
If I think about my future, I think of me ageing. I’d like to think that I’d be active well into my 70s and 80s. But what if I’m not? What if, as a senior citizen, unable to move around as freely (for whatever reason – physical limitations, lack of transport, climate change, street safety, whatever), wouldn’t I prefer to don that helmet and take me away to some alternative universe where I just don’t have to deal with real life and world and people? I can escape.
VR, the new drug.
For example, I like to travel. What if I created a virtual world where I can walk the historical medieval towns of Europe and meet others doing the same? What if I preferred to be in virtual world than my real life world because I had the choice to not want to talk to people, do the housework, and the other mundane stuff we do in real life?
In The Dream of Virtual Reality – by L. M. Sacasas (substack.com), the author says that to overcome this, we need to have a “proper amor mundi, a proper love of this world. But, we cannot love what we do not know. And we will not care for what we do not love.”
Is this true?
Shouldn’t I love the real world – warts and all. Good and bad emotions. Ups and downs because well, that’s LIFE?
Mark Carrigan wrote a brilliant piece called The Social Ontology of the Metaverse recently where he quoted Marc Andreessen who used the term, “Reality Privilege” and said the following:
“A small percent of people live in a real-world environment that is rich, even overflowing, with glorious substance, beautiful settings, plentiful stimulation, and many fascinating people to talk to, and to work with, and to date. These are also *all* of the people who get to ask probing questions like yours. Everyone else, the vast majority of humanity, lacks Reality Privilege — their online world is, or will be, immeasurably richer and more fulfilling than most of the physical and social environment around them in the quote-unquote real world.
The Reality Privileged, of course, call this conclusion dystopian, and demand that we prioritize improvements in reality over improvements in virtuality. To which I say: reality has had 5,000 years to get good, and is clearly still woefully lacking for most people; I don’t think we should wait another 5,000 years to see if it eventually closes the gap. We should build — and we are building — online worlds that make life and work and love wonderful for everyone, no matter what level of reality deprivation they find themselves in.”
So maybe I have answered my own question. I shouldn’t be judging those who decide to live more in the virtual than real world but a stronger part of me wishes we could do better with the reality we live in now. We must do better.