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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Planning blight and JFDI

I was watching the gadget show the other night with Nikki and they showed a remote controlled Hummer (£37,000 car) that they were able to race around a real dirt course. The research is done by Cranfield and Nikki turned to me and said Cranfield are always doing good stuff like that why don’t you guys do good research. I of course said that we did. She said that what we should be doing for example is making a VR suit for disabled people to interact directly with their brain a nd allow them to explore VR worlds as if they had no disabilities. (read the Otherworld books by Tad Williams for the concept). I said hmm. Yes we could do that. She also said that we should rig up a system to suspend people from so that they could act out the actions conducted in a virtual world and get the total immersion experience (again Otherworld). I said Hmm. Yes we could do that.

I spoke to Patrick about this yesterday. I’m not sure about the whole VR thing but it would be good to do some work exploring hacks we could do with the Wii mote for example, by doing some ‘mashing’ of various technologies. I’ve always been a fan of this type of string and glue approach to developing stuff. He was talking about colleagues that have built the equivalent of Microsoft Surface for under £100 by using a table, projector, tracing paper and a good bit of software. I was saying how of late there is a level of project amanagement to everything we do that makes delivery take long and be less satisfying that the agile approach that we used to adopt (i.e. a clever academci and a clever devloper working together doing seat of the pants iterative prototyping). We are doing that with Social:learn so I’m doing some direct comparison and I can see how much better that approach can be with the right people and a good set of support tools. (we use Skype, Pidgin/Jabber for IM, Twitter and a Wiki to help share development stuff). Patrick said it was time we created the JDFI. “Just F*ing Do it” group. I really think we must escape to bonds of planning blight that can occur during a restructuring process and instead JFDI. That’s my main objective this year.

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!

What my horizon scanning tells me…

(1) There is a continuation of the merging of formal and informal learning. Increasing use of less formal learning systems to provide the scaffolding.

(2) Further integration of social and community based forms of information sharing to enhance knowedge, becoming core elements of enterprise content.

(3) Augmented reality, holograms, gaming and VR as methods to extend the reach of what people can do in business, at home and on the move.