What values does VR bring to the table?

 According to David J. Chalmers, “virtual reality is truly real”. Therefore, VR brings user value just like how the real world does. While researching on this topic, I came across a recent publication on the New Yorker called “Are We Already Living in Virtual Reality?” by Joshua Rothman that helped me better understand the beneficial values Chalmers was hinting at. In this blog, I will take a closer look at the values that VR contributes and its future possibilities.

Value 1: Introduces new experiences

Chalmers asks “if I climb a virtual mountain, is that less of an accomplishment than closing a non-virtual mountain?” I agree the experience is valuable in its own way. Maybe not in the same way as climbing a real mountain would feel because the reality is you are not on top of the mountain and chances are your body doesn’t experience identical effects. But that doesn’t mean the virtual reality version isn’t a fun one. Like Chalmers mentioned in the virtual environment, we might have more possibilities going from reading a book to building a house.

Rothman added a few more experiences. One being experiencing near-death experiences in virtual reality. From Slater’s lab study of virtual death, it turns out that many users that go through such experiences would “emerge with new ideas about the meaning of life”. When I read this, it reminded me the feeling I would have when I wake up from a near-death nightmare. Even though I have never had such experiences in VR, I would imagine it to be something similar to those nightmare afterthoughts.

Another case I thought was worth mentioning is at the very end of Rothman’s article as he quotes Metzinger’s experience of how “I was sitting in a room in VR. There was a crackling fire, a big mirror. And they hadn’t switched the avatar on. And I looked down, and there was nobody. The chair was empty. I liked that!” Disembodiment seemed to be brought up as a value in current VR. But as Chalmers addresses this concern, he says the body is “probably not an essential and permanent problem” (28). Metzinger enjoyed the fact that he didn’t have a body and brought a new experience, therefore, it brought value.

Value 2: “I know” to “I am”

Have you ever thought what it is like to be an African American? Or a male? We want to understand the struggles different races and genders are going through but we can’t. The fact is if you are not American American, it is hard to experience similar scenarios because our bodies have limits. But, virtual reality can change that. Rothman describes how virtual embodiment can convince you to be someone else. The male player puts on the headset. In the virtual world, the player becomes a female in an abusive relationship. Thereafter, the player experiences cases of sexism and danger. The study showed that men then went through the virtual experiment can better identify fear expressions on women’s faces. In this case, VR serves to create social value. It can help us better connect people with differences. In the end, the conversation isn’t “I know” it’s  “I am”.

Conclusion

VR is truly real. And it can be improved to serve value if we program it to.

Sources:

David Chalmers, “The Virtual and the Real”.

Rothman, Joshua. “Are We Already Living in Virtual Reality?” The New Yorker, 4 Apr. 2018, www.newyorker.com/magazine/2018/04/02/are-we-already-living-in-virtual-reality.