Documenting the Coming Singularity

Monday, June 18, 2007

Even Rudimentary Virtual Reality is Engrossing

I finally took the plunge into Second Life, and I have to tell you, it was hard to come back. Not really; I managed to quit the program without too much trouble, but I do miss the flying part.

I was persuaded to get my Second Life identity started by this article. Wade Roush, writing for Technology Review, talks about how "The World Wide Web will soon be absorbed into the World Wide Sim: an immersive, 3-D visual environment that combines elements of social virtual worlds such as Second Life and mapping applications such as Google Earth."

It's not there yet, but my point in this article is simply that even as rudimentary as Second Life is at this moment, it's still an engrossing, and somewhat freeing, experience. The learning curve is fairly steep, but as you master the various possibilities available, you find yourself living in a world that you might wish was real. I mean, come on, you can fly!

I wrote an article a few months ago that I titled Going All-Virtual: The Desire to Leave Reality Behind. In it I discussed the possibility that, as VR becomes fully immersive, many people will come to prefer it to the real world. What I have understood today is that even though it's far from fully immersive now, it is incredibly enjoyable. Why is this so? Here are some of my common sense speculations:

First, it's different. From your current life. Many, if not most, people enjoy taking a break from their routines, from the typical day to day stuff of their normal lives. That's what recreation is all about. VR takes you to a different life. You can be a different person, with a different job, in a different place, with different friends, and on and on it goes.

Second, it's malleable. It can be manipulated and changed far more easily than real reality. Ray Kurzweil envisages an entirely new field of work opening up for talented people to design VR environments that the rest of us can enjoy and experiment with.

Third, it's limited only by my imagination. I often have dreams in which I fly. Flying in Second Life is remarkably similar to what I experience in my dreams. The ability to rise into the air to get a better view of my surroundings, and then moving above earth-bound obstacles to go wherever I want, is intoxicating. How much more so when I the landscape beneath me is as well-defined as real reality and I can feel the wind in my face and hear it whistling past my ears?

I'm sure there are many other enjoyable aspects to VR that I haven't touched on here. Suffice it to say, VR is going to entice us more and more. So stay tuned.

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