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Virtual Reality- New Heights, New Depths

Clockwise- Avatar viewers, Call of Duty video game,Virtual Marriages, Sex robots

There’s Avatar, the movie. Call of Duty-Modern Warfare, the video game. In the past few days we’ve read of sex robots and 3D porn and Japanese guys who marry computer game characters. I sense a trend. Interactivity and virtual immersion are reaching new heights and depths.

Alternative realities- virtual worlds- have always held appeal in modern culture but recent technological advances are now providing experiences with unprecedented detail and texture. Some folks are beginning to get it all seriously mixed up with the real world, but I guess that’s the point. Like everything in life, moderation is strongly advised.

Avatar & Depression

If you have seen it, and few humans haven’t, you know the James Cameron epic breaks new ground as a truly immersive viewing experience. It’s the first time 3D is used to transport rather than just serve as a cheesy visual effect. The world of Pandora and the gentle, greenest blue people in the universe, the 10-foot tall Na’vi, live in an ecological nirvana whose world has become so real to some people, that it’s creating actual emotional problems and issues. It may be 2% of the population, but there are reports of people getting so carried away by this strange and beautiful alternative world, that they have begun experiencing something near clinical depression upon reentry to earth. Jo Piazza chronicles it on CNN.com. From one of the depressed on an Avatar web site forum:

When I woke up this morning after watching Avatar for the first time yesterday, the world seemed … gray. It was like my whole life, everything I’ve done and worked for, lost its meaning.

He later tells Piazza:

One can say my depression was twofold: I was depressed because I really wanted to live in Pandora, which seemed like such a perfect place, but I was also depressed and disgusted with the sight of our world, what we have done to Earth. I so much wanted to escape reality.

Representing sanity is Dr. Stephan Quentzel, psychiatrist and Medical Director for the Louis Armstrong Center for Music and Medicine at Beth Israel Medical Center in New York:

Virtual life is not real life and it never will be, but this is the pinnacle of what we can build in a virtual presentation so far. It has taken the best of our technology to create this virtual world and real life will never be as utopian as it seems onscreen. It makes real life seem more imperfect.

Call of Duty-Modern Warfare

It’s the new video game rage and it’s quite impressive for its amazingly realistic visual images. I will admit to having received an XBOX 360 for Christmas (for Netflix and DVD’s- I swear!). This coincided with a visit from my son, Charlie, who is a veteran of the 1st person shooter genre and happened to have brought along a rented copy of the latest version of the Call of Duty series.

It’s an intricate story line involving much warfare and blood and guts and some questionable scenarios, including being put in a position to have to join a terrorist group attacking civilians at an airport (you can opt out if you choose). But matters of good taste and basic morality aside, it’s not just a visual experience- it is REALLY interactive.

As I am the world’s single worst video war gamer in history, with a propensity for accidentally throwing hand grenades at just the wrong time, my son and I settled on a cooperative multi-player mode in which I was in charge of a predator drone trying to get my kid to safety past dozens of bad guys with itchy trigger fingers.

As I cycle through three sets of armaments, I have an aerial view of the battlefield with a night-scope effect. When I let go a missile at a group of bad guys, the split screen shows Charlie simultaneously hunkered down awaiting the air support. As the weapon hits its target from above, my kid- from ground level, sees a tire blown off a truck from the missile I just fired, whizzing past his head. This is the video game anti-Avatar. No Nirvana here, but nonetheless- total immersion. When you walk away from the game you have to take a few minutes to readjust your senses.

Weirdos

Of course, all advances in technology eventually digress into some extreme form. The porn industry is famous for adapting to new technologies. Avatar has begat scads of 3-D porn as evidenced at the recent AVN Adult Entertainment Expo in Las Vegas. Such is life and I make no judgments.

I will, however, be judgmental about the guy whose New Jersey company has just come out with a sex robot-girl named Roxxxie  that sells for about $7,000 including the attached lap-top. It also debuted at the porn convention in Vegas. The innovation here is that she has certain locations on her body that elicit a verbal response. In the most benign of these, you can touch her hand and she says, “I love holding hands with you.”

Says creator/engineer, Douglas Hines, “Sex only goes so far — then you want to be able to talk to the person.” Thus the name of his company, True Companion LLC. By the way, Roxxxy snores. At this point, it might be best to just go out and get a real girlfriend.

Finally, there is the bizarre case of SAL9000, as he calls himself; a young Japanese man who recently married a virtual female character from a popular Nintendo DS computer relationship game called Love Plus. Broadcast live on a major Japanese web site, it is reported SAL9000 turned to this alternative marriage after many previous failed romances with girlfriends from other animated games.

Figures are rather scarce on the success rate of these virtual relationships, but if they approximate real life, I suppose there’s a 50/50 chance SAL9000 will hook up with Roxxxy a few years down the road. Or perhaps they will have a virtual threesome.

On the plus side, we know for certain he won’t be reproducing himself.

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