Jessie Martens

Virtual Reality May Cause Sociopathic Tendencies

Photo courtesy of Optics Gamer
Photo courtesy of Optics Gamer

by Jessie Martens

As a kid, I remember going into a second-hand store with my mom and finding a virtual-reality baseball game. I put on the headset and found myself emerged in a baseball stadium. Though the technology was still nascent, I could pretend to hit the ball and could even run to the bases. Still, it was the coolest thing in that whole store. I ran to find my mom to ask her if we could get one, but when we returned someone else already had it. From that moment on, I was totally into the whole idea of virtual reality.

Robert Hernandez, a  journalism associate professor from USC recently said, “Whether you dismiss it as hype or not, the truth is virtual reality technology is coming, and it is coming faster than you think,” in an interview for Fast Company.

This is the moment I had been waiting for. As soon as there was a trial for the oculus rift here on MSU’s campus, I was there checking it out. Yes, it is as cool as it sounds. In one of my classes, we even got to experience the Google cardboard glasses. With those, you place your phone in an opening on the box, and boom! You’re experiencing virtual reality. Incorporating this new way of story-telling into journalism isn’t scary to me, it’s amazing.

Imagine being able to be fully engaged in the world around you. Not only is this very innovative, but I think it would be a great tool to help the community better understand a reported event. Unfortunately, virtual reality isn’t fully developed yet. I began to wonder what could be the possible challenges of such a concept and what concerns may be out there, so I did a little research.

HowStuffWorks posed some very interesting concerns. The first, basic one, is that they need better tracking systems and the fact that it takes so much time to build these virtual worlds. Now this is interesting, because people want the news fast. With the way the internet and mobile media has been moving forward, as we looked at Pew Research Center, I can imagine this being a challenge for people who want to know what’s going on that minute.

Another thing HowStuffWorks said was that, “some psychologists are concerned with the immersion in virtual environments could psychologically affect a user.” They believe that the user could become desensitized and could breed a new generation of sociopaths. Since there are a lot of stories about cyber addiction and people neglecting their real lives for their cyber ones, some psychologists are concerned this could be worse.

Now I see their point, these are things I would not have thought about. Is this really that big of a concern? Are that many people going to become sociopaths and immerse themselves into this fake online world and forget about the real one? Well, I sure hope not.

I was picturing being able to use this innovation to take a lunch trip to Paris, and then have dinner in Rome. But does this take away from the excitement of the real world? If you are so set in being satisfied by virtually traveling to another place then it makes sense that you would constantly be using this reality to distract you from the real world.

In an interview for the Atlantic,  Jim Blascovich, a psychology professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and Jeremy Bailensen of Stanford University’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab, examined the consequences of a VR-centric future. In their 2011 book Infinite Reality, they noted that as virtual-reality platforms become mainstream and affordable, the pull of spending more time in virtual reality may prove hard to resist.  “We did predict this might happen,” Blascovich said. “The proliferation of affordable [virtual reality] will dramatically increase the size of the population for whom more highly immersive perceptual and psychological experiences are available.”

There seems to be a lot of negatives pointed out, but I think that there are so many more benefits to virtual reality. I think it can help in schools, with children who aren’t interested in learning. They can also use this to discuss different places in the world while learning about them because of the cost of actually traveling to that world.

So many people criticized the use of cell phones and the Internet before it became mainstream. While I agree the constant use of it may be distracting for most, it is life-changing innovation in technology. I don’t doubt that there will continue to be innovations in the virtual reality world. While I’m not sure exactly what that means for us, I do know the little girl in me who tried that virtual reality baseball game would say to whole-heartedly go for it.

What’s the worst that could happen?


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