A world distracted

As an owner in a virtual world venture, I am tasked with not only predicting the future directions of virtual world consumers and virtual reality, but also to make decisions that we hope will be able to help guide the course of things to come. These times will be seen as the infancy or pre-infancy of a new mega industry. The exact date and time the VR renaissance will finally come, I do not know. For me, the technology to provide an immersive and provocative experience is already here, but for the general population current technology may not be enough. Only time will tell.

I am about half way through Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash, and while it is a very entertaining novel, it definitely doesn’t seem to be predicting the best possible outcome for the future of mankind. I am left wondering if the real world that he describes wasn’t the result of the creation of the metaverse. In Show Crash, it seems that the real world was neglected and left to degenerate to the point where no real order exists. The world is governed by incorporated factions that dole out reward and punishment as they see fit. Did humankind get so wrapped up in the metaverse that they forgot about the real world and left it to the highest bidder? Could we be so blind?

Or was it the other way around? Maybe the state of the world he describes led to the popularity of the metaverse. People left with no way out a horrible existence chose instead to bury themselves deep in an alternate reality that they could have more control over. Maybe when it came down to it, this irrational, imaginary, and impossible world became more real, more feeling, and more acceptable to them than the real one. We see this already with both virtual environments and games. Sometimes they provide a sanctuary from an unbearable burden, a temporary relief from pain and suffering.

But they can do so much more.

My drive to simulate all I see comes from an admiration and a love of the natural world around me. I want to be able to stare at my computer screen and be reminded of the wind through the trees, the call of the birds in the sky, and the waves lapping at the boats in the harbor. But through all of my work I force myself to remember that the real world is the one that needs our time and talents the most. For every innovation we should always try to find the way that it fits into the puzzle of making the world a better place. We can not lose ourselves to distraction and allow the most important world to fall apart around us.

If we notice the world is getting to be a place we want to escape from, the answer is not to escape, but to do our best to fix what we see going wrong around us. Those of us designing games and simulations have a responsibility to do our best to extend them and come up with ways to fix problems with reality, not just create the perfect distractions from them. Use your environments to bring people together to accomplish their real life goals and solve some problem they all may have in common.

In games and VR, we all get to be heroes, save a friend, rescue the princess, and even save the world. The real world needs to see those qualities from us as well. The real world needs more heroes.

5 thoughts on “A world distracted

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  1. An interesting read, and I’m sure many have asked the same moral questions re the risks of too much immersion in a virtual environment. As you’d know there are many people for whom virtual reality is their only form of social interaction due to physical or social impairment etc, but for others, I agree it is often a case of escapism to a world over which you have greater control. I’d also add though, that VW’s are one of the healthier forms of addiction compared to some. It reminds me of something a tenant said to me once many years ago. “It’s cheaper than booze, drugs, or hookers, and a hell of a lot safer”. 🙂

    1. Agreed.

      Simulation, games, and VR are not inherently good or bad.

      A virtual world provides a safe ground for exploring all parts of your humanity. The more realistic and interactive they get, the further into ourselves we’ll be able to travel. However, as we travel deeper, it will be more and more important to keep reality in the back of our mind throughout the journey. Even if it isn’t being used as an escape, the compelling nature of self discovery can be blinding.

  2. Agreed– virtual worlds (when used for creative, educational pursuits) enhance our physical lives and help us appreciate the wonder surrounding us on planet earth. Just read this post a year late…which is a long time in digital culture…but it is still relevant.

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