VR: I’m frankly surprised they admitted this out loud

Wagner James Au, who would know, has what in a better world would be an incendiary piece in the latest Wired. Au’s piece lays it all right out there, regarding the meaning and purpose of virtual reality.

As VR’s leading developers straight-up admit in the piece, its function is to camouflage the inequities and insults of an unjust world, by offering the masses high-fidelity simulations of the things their betters get to experience for real. Here’s the money quote, no pun intended: “[S]ome fraction of the desirable experiences of the wealthy can be synthesized and replicated for a much broader range of people.” (That’s John Carmack speaking, for future reference.)

I always want to extend to those I disagree with some presumption of good will. I don’t think it’s either healthy or productive or pleasant for the people around me to spend my days in a permanent chokehold of high dudgeon. And I always want to leave some room for the possibility that someone might have been misunderstood or misquoted. But Au is a veteran reporter on this topic; I think it’s fair to describe his familiarity with the terrain, and the players, as “comprehensive.” So I rather doubt he’s mischaracterized Carmack’s sentiments, or those of Oculus Rift founder Palmer Luckey. And what those sentiments amount to is outright barbarism — is nothing less than moral depravity.

The idea that all we can do is accede to a world of permanent, vertiginous inequity — inequity so entrenched and so unchallengeable that the best thing we can do with our technology is use it as a palliative and a pacifier — well, this is everything I’m committed to working against. Thankfully there are others who are also doing that work, who understand the struggle as the struggle. Thankfully, I think most of us still understand Carmack’s stated ambition as vile. We do, right?

I’ll have more to say about the uses of VR (and its cousin augmented reality, or AR) shortly.

4 responses to “VR: I’m frankly surprised they admitted this out loud”

  1. Tod Robbins says :

    Thank you for this, Adam. I just happened to see this tweet and it perfectly reflected what you’ve honed in on: https://twitter.com/voidvr/status/702982653008412672

  2. sgoumaz says :

    Thanks for that. I think that there’s something “natural” going on: while that unjust, barbaric world we’ve created reveals itself as such more and more everyday, and more and more of us notice (and start looking beyond towards something different), its inequity and violence are more and more shamelessly outspoken. From there the proponents of VR-as-palliative may be playing their part in something like a swan song (not sure this comes across properly in English, I can’t find a better image). Just passing thoughts to help perhaps with not demonising the messengers (not that you’re doing that, but it’s a short step I’m always tempted to make).

  3. AG says :

    I hope you’re correct, about the “swan song” part.

    And more broadly, it isn’t like I don’t understand the desires bound up in what we’re talking about: it’s surely a million times easier to code a sensurround immersiverse of faked-up yachts and Cristal than it is to fix the broken world. Justice work is protracted, and boring. It brings you into contact with people who won’t be satisfied, who can’t be placated, who may well resent your presence or even your very existence. By comparison, code even at its least tractable may provide a set of challenges that are more comfortable, while talking about your accomplishments in code to peers equipped to appreciate them is almost certainly more rewarding.

    Let’s stipulate all that. What’s being proposed here is still monstrous. And while I don’t want to single out individuals for condemnation when there are clearly structural effects at work, those individuals are still accountable for the things they say and do, just as you and I are.

  4. kimanthekithika says :

    Photoshop Glasses, 2009, is where I first saw the cited conception of VR (then AR), introduced: https://youtu.be/0NigCCVkFWk. When I first saw the Oculus device I knew that we’d just entered that world.

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