This is our digital irony. You have a physical human wearing a contraption which allows them to see in stereo thus giving the perception of 3D who is tracked by cameras in a defined space. This is done in order to place them into a digital space where they are then able to see themselves or otherwise be embodied as a digital presence which they are seeing with their physical selves. To describe this to the uninitiated it would sound like the ultimate feedback loop. So we want to place ourselves physically into the realm of digital possibilities but to do so requires a fair amount of hardware, software and equipment. What we actually become is our cyber selves in physical form interacting with a universe in digital form. In the digital we become unlimited, equipped with superpowers that do not exist in the physical world. We can break natural laws and explore the boundless potential of the unknown. We can extend our morality and thus we can kill without repercussion or consequence, we can become, in effect, a God. Any expression of dissatisfaction with our physical circumstances can be altered. We can have the body we always wanted, the possessions we craved, we can have it all, we can live the dream. Lazarus can indeed arise from the dead and walk. Yet it is ironic because indeed we are still bounded by the space and by the rules of the game or software that controls the virtual world in which we enter. We are free yet harnessed within a physical area that allows the software to position us and with the accoutrements of VR such as a headset which isolates us from the physical world. Without these things we cannot be part of this new world and thus exchange one set of constraints for another in order to be ‘free’.
In order to escape we enslave ourselves further, succumbing to the lure of entrapment that lurks in the depths of our virtual spaces. Like the sirens calling us in we are enticed into beautiful perfect digital worlds where nothing is defective or decays and where if something dies you can simply regenerate it or respawn. Like some Karma simulation we can live one thousand lives in a day and each time return with greater knowledge to meet the challenges we face inside our virtual utopia. Even before immersive headsets arrived we had already been immersed and beguiled by the possibility of another life and even called it ‘second life’. From the very first paddle ball game we were hooked upon the idea of entering this new digital universe. As realism took hold and VR edged ever closer the lines between what is recognisably physical and what is digital began to blur. This is exemplified in the films of the today where the CGI is seamless and no longer makes us stare in wonderment. The medium has become accepted and we have walked freely into this new world of digital mergence. We accept the irony of bounding ourselves with technology in order to experience something that is beyond our normal perceptions. We have drunk from the chalice of the holy grail to become part of this new world where everything is possible. We have striven to bind ourselves ever closer to cyberspace and the removal of the physical encumbrances of the world we inhabit. We are seemingly unconscious to the irony that it requires hectares of physical computer hardware on server farms and millions of miles of wiring all powered by electricity just in order to give life to our cyber existence.
Cyberspace is open to all that can access it and let them in. Identity is no longer a crisis, it’s an opportunity for change in the most innovative forms. You can be anything or anyone and have the body of a supermodel or an athlete. You can be a gazelle or a lion or any mythical creature you care to conjure up. In Ready Player One (Cline, 2011), the accessibility of the virtual world or ‘Oasis’ as it is called in the book, is assured to anyone that has a headset and a pair of haptic gloves. The hero and just about everyone on earth lives in cyberspace with the physical earth dropping away into neglect, although it does not go into detail as to how everything is kept running since the story focuses wholly upon the digital adventure and the ultimate battle for control of the cyber world and everyone in it. The point being though that according to the book humanity prefers a digital universe to the physical universe. It becomes like some vast matrix which unlike The Matrix (The Wachowskis, 1999) is not controlled by machines. Although we have not reached those dizzy heights of mergence it’s nevertheless a potential future but it’s not the only future. In these fictional depictions the possibilities are endless within the rules of the cyber world. Which again brings a second irony that having given us unlimited freedom in cyberspace we once again accept the boundaries and rules of the game and thus move from one physical constriction to a digital one. In Ready Player One to walk somewhere requires the same time and effort as in the physical world so already physical constraints of time are imposed. But nevertheless the attractiveness of being something you are not or something you would like to be is magnetic for many. It’s an escape from whatever existence you have to something you cannot normally have. You can be a King and have a kingdom with untold simulated riches. The irony of it is that when you remove your headset you will still be that ordinary guy or girl who goes to work in an ordinary life, just like 99% of the people on this planet. Karl Marx wrote that religion is “the opium of the people” (Marx, 1844). Perhaps in Virtual Reality we have a new opiate for the masses or some might argue even a new religion.
Note – All reproductions and excerpts of any content on this blog must include a reference and citation to the original author and preferably a link to the original piece.
Cline, E. (2011). Ready player one. New York: Crown Publishers.
Marx, Karl. 1844. A Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right, Deutsch-Französische Jahrbücher, February.
Wachowski, L., & Wachowski, L. (1999). The Matrix. Retrieved from http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0133093/