Since the mid to late 20th century, we have been fascinated with the idea of immersing ourselves in an alternate reality. There are dozens of pop-culture references pointing to this fascination like the Matrix, Tron, and The Lawnmower man.
It started roughly around the 1950s where virtual reality took the form of Sensorama, a crude yet brilliant design that allowed users sit in an arcade-like machine that simulated a multisensory experience to which Morton Heilig dubbed “experience theater.”
Then, later in the 1980s and 90s, virtual reality hit a boom. Big video game companies like Atari and Nintendo began capitalizing on the idea of immersing their users in polygon graphic worlds and eye straining screens. The result was anything short of awesome, with age-old classic devices like the Power Glove, Sega VR, and Virtual Boy. They were part of a growing phenomenon, a virtual revolution.
But things became silent as the fad came to a standstill. Much like the Nintendo Wii, people began seeing VR tech as gimmicky and overbearing. That is, until the launch of Oculus Rift.
Now we’re seeing another virtual revolution, but this time VR is crossing into interesting territory. Recently, it has been used to train surgeons where students and practitioners can hone their skills through joysticks and surgical tools while seeing their patients through VR lenses.
There’s also a growing demand for virtual reality in theme parks and arcades. The Void being the most popular reality theme park in recent months, boasting entirely interactive spaces where users navigate through moving podiums, heat lamps and fog machines. They’re calling it hyper reality, a solution to the long-time problem of sensory deprivation.
Virtual reality is growing exponentially, especially as technology continues to develop at such a fast pace. We’re always finding helpful and entertaining uses for the device, one of them being the ability to capture and relive memories.
The Daily Beast recently did an interesting piece on this, where Google VR vice president Clay Bavor suggested to the world a method of virtual reality recording, essentially capturing a moment in real-time and then “reliving” it afterwards.
“I’ve recorded similar things too, little fleeting moments,” said Bavor. “Sitting with my grandmother in her home. Having breakfast with my son. Here’s the thing: A few years from now, when my grandmother is gone, I’ll be able to sit with her.”
It’s a beautiful sentiment, having the ability to turn the clock back and see your loved ones like you once did. It’s very reminiscent of Mass Effect 3’s Kasumi, a video game character who constantly relived past moments with her former lover.
But stories like this pose interesting ethical questions. Such as will this virtual reality revolution, this constant obsession with immersion in another world, become too much for us to handle? Will we end up confining ourselves in past memories, like prisoners in our own minds?
As a society we sometimes find it difficult to take our eyes off our screens, imagine having to leave an incredibly lush paradise only to return to the seemingly boring “normality” of this world.
Regardless of these fears, virtual reality is still an incredible leap forward in the world of human technology. This new revolution is constantly changing the way we interact with media and information. It’s ushering in advancements that we never thought possible, pushing the limits of our imagination and allowing us to explore the endless fun of escaping reality.
Of course, with the introduction of any technology there is a social cost. But I think people will make the compromise when they’re flying through Rio, zipping past buildings and teetering above the stratosphere. At least I know I will.