Virtual Worlds

When I was a child my dad would boot up our old Nintendo, prop me onto his lap and place the iconic rectangular controller in my hand. The game was, of course, Super Mario Bros. and helping him guide Mario through endless turtles, mushrooms, and flying fish provided some of the fondest childhood memories I have. There was nothing better than the feeling I got when a mushroom was flattened beneath Mario’s feet or tasting victory after firing off a hundred fireballs to defeat an evil dragon.

It wasn’t until my teenage years when he revealed to me that my controller, which I still have in my possession and has my name etched on the bottom, was never plugged in. It didn’t matter though. It still felt like it was and a kid is happy enough to be spending time with his father. Plus, those days are responsible for a source of happiness I still utilize to this day: video games.

Every time the bright colors of the land in which Mario dwelled filled our tubed-television (before flat-screens and HD) I became so immersed that it felt like I was actually there. As video games and televisions evolved, the immersion increased and virtual worlds have become more realistic; it has become easier and easier to get lost in worlds outside of our own. Now, in the year 2017, we have the capability to battle Darth Vader in our living rooms or climb Mount Everest while sitting on the couch. And while technology continues to develop, experiences like these will become more than just a fantasy, immersing us further than we could imagine.

There’s been many debates about experiencing the so-called “real world” vs. virtual worlds (“virtual” includes anything from movies to video games to apps on cellphones). Personal and social definitions aside, I’m here to argue why virtual worlds might end up being better for us in the future.

While there hasn’t been enough advancement in technology to have the wind blow in my face and the feeling of a shaking cart and questionable straps around my chest when zooming down a rollercoaster, the basic experience is there and will continue to get more realistic with time. Certainly there is nothing out there (yet) to replace the touch of a human or many of the other tangible, physical experiences we have, but what if that changes? What if the experience becomes so realistic we cannot tell the difference?

The real world has its benefits: social connections, fresh air, the taste of food, hugging our parents, etc. But if those experiences could be simulated to the point our brains wouldn’t be able to tell the difference, would we have a need for the real world any more?

The real world is expensive, dangerous, and unpredictable. It is far cheaper, safer, and controlled to be in a computer-simulated environment. If I really wanted to see Mount Everest it’d cost me a small fortune and possibly my life, but if I did it in VR I’d never have to leave the comfort and safety of my home while saving a big chunk of change in the process. People could attend virtual schools, sit in virtual movie theatres, and attend virtual concerts, never having to hop on a treacherous road or feel threatened by others around them.

Also, in this world, I am simply me: a man who gets up and goes to work everyday, pays bills, and has fun occasionally. In the virtual world I can be a dragon slayer, a World War II hero, or a cartoon rabbit where the fate of the universe lies on my shoulders. The best part about immersing myself in VR worlds is that I can die an infinite number of times but still come back to complete by purpose…an impossibility in this world unless you believe in ghosts.

Lastly, there are practical uses for virtual worlds–doctors can practice on virtual patients, those with mental illnesses can help fight their afflictions in real-world scenarios, learning tools can be created where students can explore other countries or outer space by putting on a pair of glasses, people can view/visit travel destinations before booking a vacation, and the military can use it for any number of practice scenarios (please see this red link for more practical uses for VR).

Of course, some of these arguments only stand a chance if the technology advances tremendously. In its current state, a virtual world cannot hold up to real-life experiences. For instance, my father would never have planted me in front of him and I never would’ve enjoyed those experiences. But, if VR could simulate the touch and love of a father…

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