We are getting closer and closer to virtual reality. Some companies such as Google and Oculus have already produced virtual reality headsets and others are on the way such as the Sony PlayStation VR. These systems offer only the headset component of virtual reality. We have yet to develop two-way communication to and from the brain so that VR so that stimuli can be sent directly to the brain and so that players can interface with the VR system by sending the appropriate physical signals that are translated into virtual ones. However, the introduction of these initial systems will likely generate the support and refine existing technologies to bring us closer to that point.
I recently started watching an anime called Sword Art Online and I have to say that I am fascinated with it. The series chronicles various players in a virtual reality massively multiplayer online game (VRMMO) while discussing a variety of important topics such the psychology, ethics, social costs and benefits, relationships and gender. While VR has been discussed in science fiction for quite some time now, I found that the questions raised by the series were more relevant to today’s technological and social landscape.
Here are some of the questions that were raised in the series or ones that I asked myself as I watched the series:
1. How “real” are in-game relationships and in-game experiences as compared to real life?
2. When games present an immature culture, lacking in societal norms, how ethical is it to exploit the differences between real-world and in-game expectations?
3. Are the actions taken by persons in a video game indicative of their character or heart condition?
4. What are the consequences of exploring repressed or recessive character traits by allowing them to become dominant in an in-game persona?
5. At what point does protecting your privacy online cross the line and become dishonesty or misrepresentation?
6. Can gaming be used as a healthy tool for emotional recovery from a traumatic incident?
7. Will virtual reality blur the lines between fantasy and reality? What about augmented reality? (Google Glass, Microsoft HoloLense)
8. Are advertisements that influence your thoughts and desires directly through a video game simply a more advanced way to appealing to human psychology and physiology or are they ethically wrong?
9. What are the social consequences of virtual research and simulation involving human subjects? What are the consequences for researchers conducting virtual research or simulation on non-human subjects?
10. Is a game just “a game”?
11. What are the economic consequences of integrating game economies with real economies through real money exchange rates? Should in-game markets that utilize real money exchanges be subject to oversight and by whom?
12. Should there be a standard for in-game rights and legal recourse for those who violate those rights? Legal issues might include in-game property rights, defamation of character/game persona/avatar, the sale of virtual assets, transference of virtual assets or online personas upon death.
13. Does the immediate gratification of a video game reduce a person’s motivation for self-development in the real world?