If you have a life outside of gaming, sustainable health practices or even a single friend, then your understanding of VR is probably limited. You might have seen the videos of parents trying on the headsets, becoming too immersed in the simulation, falling over and eating shit. If you haven’t seen the videos you should check them out, as they’re pretty entertaining. These people aren’t falling because what they’re seeing is so harsh that they become disoriented and dizzy; these people are falling because what they are seeing is so realistic that they actually believe they’ve stepped outside the reality they’ve come to know. My own experiences with virtual reality have been different. As someone who loves these games, I’ve experienced the full range of emotions while playing them. I’ve played so much, in fact, that VR has influenced my perception of other media and even facets of life. For instance, I’ve logged so many hours playing horror-style video games in virtual reality that scary things in the real world no longer scare me. An ex-lover recently called me and told me she was pregnant—I didn’t even flinch! I saw a three-headed-goblin decapitate a Jack Russell Terrier and I didn’t bat an eye. On a more serious note, I no longer find horror movies scary. My girlfriend is not a gamer by any measure, but she’s an avid horror movie fan. She kept talking about this movie Midsommar, and how it scarred her so heavily that, upon hearing its title, she becomes visibly panicked. I watched the movie having just come off playing Resident Evil 7 in VR.
RE7 is a notoriously difficult game to get through not only because of the challenge, but also because it’s so disturbing. Seeing things in two dimensions, I found myself laughing at the campiness of Midsommar. After you’ve had a possessed hillbilly farmer spoon-feeding you intestines and chasing you around his kitchen in real time, a jump scare just isn’t going to cut it. It's much more exhilarating to have to physically turn your back from danger than to watch danger unfold.
I would say the peak of my Virtual Reality practice happened at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, a convenient time to spend all day with a screen wrapped around your face. During the pandemic, VR acted as a form of escapism that appealed to a majority of my senses. Physically drawing a bow aimed at a lurking zombie while intense music plays was so enthralling, it’s almost as if you could also smell the rot coming off the beast.
The problem with virtual reality is that it can be a hard thing to walk away from once you’ve already begun the immersion. It can be a comfortable state of being, almost like what you are experiencing in VR is less scary than real life.
Most of the games I was playing during the first few months of lockdown were super violent horror games so, ironically, it was like coming out of one horrific reality into another. Both, though, were equally as alienating. In these horror VR games, I was running away from a scary character or something else frightening, but it took the pandemic to realize the act of going into VR is, for me, an act of running away from real world issues and my own everyday problems. Society today, and my generation specifically, has been so entrenched in the limitlessness of technology that we have become desensitized to it.
I would say the societal fear of virtual reality is justified. However, this same fear had been propounded about heavy metal. Before that, it was long hair on men, and before that it was probably line dancing or something. Regardless, the anti-social nature of VR, gaming and new technologies in general have already shown to adversely effect some communities. As I said before, I do love VR. I love technology and I love video games. But, like a patriot, I think it’s important to acknowledge the harm caused by the thing you love.
In Japan, there exists a collection of people known as Hikikomori, which translates to “pulling inward, being confined.” They are a group of adults who have shut themselves off from the world, refusing to spend time outside of their bedrooms, subjecting themselves only to inside activities like videogames and the internet. This community blossomed in the midst of the technological advancement our society has found itself in. They have very few friends (only existing on the internet), no sexual contact of any kind, and nothing to outwardly hurt them.
Now tell me, does this lifestyle really sound so bad?
Art by Dizzy Starfie