Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Suspension of Disbelief

As referenced in the beginning of Chapter 15, immersion into the virtual world in any culture, has always been dependent on the "suspension of disbelief".  Whether it was watching a Greek tragedy involving actors portraying gods using movable sets, fire and sound effects, or Jedi knights levitating x-wing fighters out of a swamp in a hollywood studio, seeking mind immersion and reality escape has long been pursued throughout time, for both good, and bad. And it may seem that time has progressed relatively slowly.
When the first computer-aided HMD was revealed to the world in 1968, it took until the early 90's for this application to VR immersion for performance to be explored. With the introduction of HMD's, the suspension of disbelief is becoming less and less necessary.  The progression of pursuit towards a total-body immersion and complete transformation into a new physical form is the goal.  The desire to build new dimensions of "belief" where time and space fall away and convincing is no longer needed will no doubt drive the technology.  This is where the HMD and now the Oculus, is most useful.
While we have less and less patience with "underdeveloped" technology or technology that seems to lag behind a world more connected and immersed with an online design, I think the Oculus Rift has progressed enough to see the possibility of becoming a mainstream piece of hardware.  Certainly with the recent publicity of new Oculus VR short film Lost making it's premier at the Sundance festival this week, even a Hollywood director and production company has been convinced that Oculus VR (just recently bought by Facebook for $2 billion) is quickly becoming a financially viable tool for the masses.
And they are apparently not the only ones convinced.  Google now has their lemonade-stand looking Google Cardboard to use with your mobile device, Samsung has a Oculus-like Gear, and  Microsoft's HaloLens claims to be the next PC by removing the monitor so you can enter your computer; something crudely imagined 30 years ago in TRON.  But with all of this diving into VR, we are still tethered into immersion, not freed by it.  I think if we were to write the zeitgeist's goal for VR it would to free humans through immersion by turning us into untethered and digitized superheroes sliding effortlessly between our biologically-immersed world and our virtual one.
I used to think that the immersion was an escape to flee the unsatisfactory malaise of first-world problems.  Can't get laid in this life?  Try Second Life and a fleshlight. Want to murder the bullies of this world?  Grand-Theft Auto them to death without repercussion.  But physical and mental ailments abound and perhaps VR immersion tools can help a Vietnam or Iraq War veteran who lost the use of his legs or his sanity, to help them feel moments of virtual normality.
No doubt though, the virtual porn industry will be marching in the same parade (albeit at the back) in hopes that the mainstream will only see the creative and positive humanitarian force for good it can become.  Perhaps the real suspension of disbelief may be that we are rushing to immerse ourselves as philanthropes and not not greedy misanthropes.

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