Death Through Immersion

I was both fascinated and appalled last weekend when I read about the South Korean couple who let their own three month old child starve to death whilst they were obsessed with rearing a ‘virtual child’ in the SecondLife-style game Pruis online.

This was covered in a number of newspapers but a couple of good articles are the Telegraph and BBC News

I haven’t heard of anything exactly like this occurring before although there have been cases of individuals letting a child die in favour of some addiction (internet or otherwise). Perhaps someone can correct me and show that it’s more common than I imagine – and that would be even more disturbing.

I’m currently part of the supervisory team of Jo Iacovides who is doing a PhD in the area of engagement and informal learning (through games). We regularly have discussions about the level of immersion and the increasing depth of reward and interaction required by gamers. Heavy Rain for example takes gaming in a different direction. I read a good article in the Independent interviewing David Cage the creator of Heavy Rain. He’s quite weird and I’m not sure I totally agree with his future of gaming but you can’t deny that he is pushing boundaries.

I do start to wonder though about how far immersive gaming is taking us and where it will lead. There are already immersion suits for gamers and anyone who has tried the 3D Gaming experience will know that it does lead to a deeper sense of ‘being there’ – couple that with a richer set of ‘rules’ and characters with humanistic characteristics then add a sense of responsibility and reward – Now we start getting to towards the truely scarey SciFi Virtual Reality future as predicted by  Tad Williams “Otherworld” series or “Better Than Life”, “Matrix” et al.

When games and the virtual world gets to be more interesting and rewarding than the real world then VR will just be another type of psychoactive drug, a wonderful one in which people have a greater level of environmental choice than with a hallucinogenic and this will make it very powerful and dangerous. If you think I’m being fantastical here then read this Virtual World article  from 2008 and judge for yourself. I believe this Korean couple had a number of other things outside the game which influenced their behaviour but none the less it continues to make me uncomfortable.

We truly live in interesting times however I hope we’re going to be responsible about what we create for the next generation.

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Total Immersion?

I’m reading several books at the moment, mostly sci-fi including some classics. It always amazes me how writers try to predict the future and when you reach that future how it varies for their predictions. I’m reading “The Sleeper Awakes” by H.G. Wells, written in 1899 it predicted a future that we would consider with hindsight to be very conservative in terms of technology advancement, however I can see in those days the theories he was suggesting would have sounded utterly fantastic.

Anyhow where does this take me? well I was also reading recently the Otherland series of books by Tad Williams, which explores a world of total VR immersion and where virtual cities and inhabitants live out lives almost completely hooked up. I’m not a fan of his style of writing but the ideas he comes up with are great around the kinds of clustering and methods of interaction and VR indetity and immersion and the blurring of the boundary between virtual and ‘real’. Some of the themes are shared by others and the idea of being in VR of large periods of time and becoming unaware of this are not new…but now reality is getting closer to fantasy and Secondlife is an example where virtual communities, and the virtual world including gangsters et al are also encroaching on real life….the other day I read a story from the BBC which takes this a stage closer..the gaming headset that allows gamers to use thoughts to drive their gaming simulation. So how far are we away from the world described by Tad Williams? – I say about three years. That is assuming that I’m inhabiting reality and this isn’t just a another VR construct….that way madness lies!