Your body shakes and rumbles getting tossed inside the Humvee as you make your way through the streets of Afghanistan, driving along roads that are surrounded by nothing but dessert. Suddenly, a landmine erupts and your first reaction is to go relieve your comrades from the wreckage of the car in front of you. Panic ensues, but your team gathers itself to begin the rescue process. As bodies are slowly retrieved, it becomes clear that there are no survivors. As Chelsea Conaboy writes, “For someone who has never lived it, experiencing this scene from the War in Afghanistan via VR is unnerving.
For those who have, it just might be healing. Increasingly, therapists are using VR systems in conjunction with a form of talk therapy to treat veterans with symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, tailoring the scenes to patients’ memories to help them relive and process difficult emotions. ” With the emergence of VR, and the advancements that have occurred with regard to its capability and its accessibility, conversations about its influence are unavoidable. Virtual Reality (VR) has been omnipresent throughout modern literature, film, etc, and Ernest Cline’s novel, Ready Player One, epitomizes the controversial nature of VR.
The story explores the successes of, Mr. James Halliday, one of the greatest games creators of all time. During his career, Halliday created a VR world, called OASIS, which serves as an immersive alternate educational experience for high school students. In the wake of Halliday’s recent passing, it becomes evident that his fortune has been left behind, hidden within the OASIS to be discovered via treasure hunt. The novel follows the story of Wade Watts, as he works to find Halliday’s fortune while simultaneously fulfilling his secondary education all within the OASIS.
Ultimately, the consequential effect that Halliday’s OASIS imposes upon people has both positive and negative influences, however, the novel presents extreme positives and extreme negatives. Yet, in taking a more in depth look at the real world effects that VR might have on society, such as the use of VR for veterans, the advancement of the book’s plot do not necessarily align with the potentials of the VR, proving that VR is a crucial innovation that must be withstood by society.
VR is unique in that it presents an unprecedented opportunity for an individual to be wherever, whenever, and and whoever he or she pleases. For example, with no link to his true identity, Wade Watts acts as Parzival, a student of OASIS’ educational system who aspires to be just like James Halliday. And while many would say that the disconnect between Wade’s true persona and his OASIS persona allows him to forgo his responsibilities, the truth of the matter is that Parzival and the OASIS serve as an alternate version of reality– a major theme throughout the novel.
The OASIS is so realistic that it becomes hard to tell the difference between what is real and what is artificial. In addition, being Parzival forces Wade to experience a second perspective on human-human interaction. In the real world, VR has multiple positive effects for the human psyche. With the extreme increase of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder after the increase in awareness for veterans, VR developers have been working hand in hand with psychologists to develop treatment for these patients.
This treatment takes advantage of the immersive characteristic of VR to implement “Exposure Therapy” for these veterans. Juxtaposing this view, however, is the notion that VR users become desensitized to what is real life, and what is VR. For instance, when Parzival signs in to the OASIS, his mind escapes the realities of real life– instead, he becomes consumed with the day-to-day of being Parzival; that is, attending class, and striving to fulfill his goal of becoming James Halliday’s predecessor. Thus, VR becomes this slippery slope.
There is s sense of freedom– where Parzival is an anonymous being who, as Mark Zuckerberg has put it, “[can] have breakfast at the Louvre and have a lunchtime spelunk through Thailand’s water caves. ” This demonstrates the vast possibilities that VR can provide, but at the same token, speaks to the risk of evolving into virtual beings, where escapism is of the utmost of priorities and the actual world becomes obsolete. With this idea in mind, and considering the potential positive real world externalities that VR can provide, we must consider the idea of the veteran once more.
Typically, the patient does not have resources or available healthcare for personalized VR treatment, so firms are working to make online personalities that can help give this treatment in a less personalized environment and help patients cope with more generic psychological treatment. This allows for a much more focused treatment with tools available to the patient that suits their needs the most. A clear link can be drawn amongst these two scenarios. For instance, although Ready Player One’s plot focuses on the individual and their progression to become someone (or something! else, i. e. Wade becoming Parzival.
The Veterans, however, rely on meeting an individual who is best suited to treat them based off of their personality. While the best doctor may be out there, the best doctor may not be the best individual to treat said veteran. Halliday is seen as a God amongst the Geeks in the eyes of the OASIS’ users, for three primary reasons. Firstly, his track record in game design– the talent he exhibited throughout all of his games and the extent of the detail within each game was reason enough to merit this reputation.
Secondly, the nature in which he created the game and left the people who idolized him– he left the OASIS as an opportunity for people to find themselves or to discover the person they always desired to be. It was the worlds he created, and the fortune he left behind, that drove them to work to become great at game design. The inspiration to go after his fortune left the gamers with something to believe in, and thus (whether intended or not) with a moral code to abide by.
While Halliday appears to have inspired a group, the students in the OASIS have also isolated themselves from the rest of their peers. Watts has seem to have found his desired identity– Parzival. With that, however, comes his “dismissal” from society. For the majority of each day, Watts checks into the OASIS, and in doing so he finds himself in the locked away, in the stacks, which is literally a huge stack of Recreational Vehicles “stacked” on top of one another, filled with users of the OASIS.
Additionally, despite being so densely concentrated within the stacks, the OASIS’ users hardly ever find themselves interacting in “real” life. Rather, they only face anonymous interaction separated by two computers and a highly intricate gaming system. This brings us back to a point made earlier on– that Parzival and other OASIS users experience a unique human-human interaction. This isn’t necessarily true. In fact, every interaction that occurs within the OASIS is actually less-real than any type of interaction that happens in the real world.
By being separated by a computer and the software that runs the game, there are barriers created between each user. These buffers severely detract from the goal of creating a completely lifelike and coherent experience. As well, we must consider the fact that Parzival isn’t actually who he appears to be– in fact, Wade Watts is arguably nothing like Parzival. But many argue that such human-computer interactions have been occurring for decades. For example, online and interactive gaming, or television and entertainment are both forms of virtual interactions amongst humans and computers.
Yet, there is one defining factor that differentiates VR from other immersive tech experiences. “VR implies a unified total space, a consolidated world without external distraction, striving to be a consummate harmonious whole. ” (Jones, 2016) This defining characteristic is what differentiates VR from other experience-based technologies and thus the stigma that VR will serve as a medium for people to check-out. But the storyline presented in the novel isn’t necessarily realistic. Rather, we find that the use of VR is far more tempered.
For example, as it sits today, VR is a luxury– a device only accessed by those who have expendable income. As VR develops and becomes integrated within fields such as medicine and entertainment, naturally it’s usage will become far more moderate. For example, with a singular moment in mind, such as the landmine detonation presented earlier — a degree of personalization that no other form of medicine can really exercise. The phycologists and developers work to create the experience to help the patient cope with the terrifying event that has plagued their psyche.
Furthermore, if the patient does not have the resources or available healthcare for personalized VR treatment, other firms are working to make online personalities that can help give this treatment in a less personalized environment and help them cope with more generic psychological treatment by referring the patient to the tools available to the person that suits their needs the most. The relationship amongst VR and veterans is just one example as to what we can expect over the next 15 years.
And while VR is a popular topic amongst modern media outlets, its widespread interest is derived from the public’s desire to interact with the technology far more divergent from Cline’s point of view than it may be similar. A common misconception about VR is that is for gamers only, however further research proves that much of the conversation is focused around bringing society forward in a responsible fashion. In fact, it’s not as sexy as it sound. The Golden State Warriors, 2014-2015 NBA Champions’ home arena is sponsored by Oracle– a company focused on the development of both VR hardware and software.
Although the company has found great relative success and sponsors and wildly popular team, it is amongst the lowest earning companies that sponsor an NBA arena. Simultaneously, it has failed to surpass its own revenue earnings each of that past 2 years, thus leading to negative growth (MarketWatch, 2016). A few conclusions may be drawn from this research, such as the fact that VR isn’t as big as we may have thought, or that much of the company’s focus is pointed towards development– not current sales. All-to-say, VR is on the brink of having a major influence on how we operate, but take people’s opinions on the matter with a grain of salt