No human beings throughout history have had it better than those alive today in the 21st century. Despite enjoying the highest standard of living, certain hard-to-please individuals would rather spend their days in another place and time. Advances in technology grant them the chance to do so, at least virtually. Preferring a fake existence to a real one, though, is unbalanced.
Meta, the company is formerly known as Facebook, launched its Horizon World virtual reality platform earlier this month. With nothing more than a VR headset and a Facebook account, users can be ushered into a virtual realm where their avatars interact with up to 20 others. “Script blocks” contain the coding that creates virtual objects and defines their interactions, and the engagement becomes more complex as blocks are chained together.
It is often captivating to be part of a creative process: Platform users are already complaining that some flights of fancy have taken an ominous turn. A test user lamented recently that she was sexually harassed during her immersion in virtual reality. “Not only was I groped last night, but there were other people there who supported this behavior which made me feel isolated in the Plaza,” wrote the individual quoted in The Verge.
It’s disturbing that some participants in virtual reality enjoy practicing creepy behavior that would land them behind bars in the real world. It is also cringe-worthy that some cannot distinguish between their real selves and their make-believe ones.
Sadly, the intellectual set is reinforcing the delusion rather than remedying it. “I think people should keep in mind that sexual harassment has never had to be a physical thing,” Ohio State University professor Jesse Fox told MIT Technology Review. “It can be verbal, and yes, it can be a virtual experience as well.”
No one is actually strolling along Horizon World’s “Plaza,” nor are they actually being “harassed.” Unlike real life, virtual reality isn’t real: Users opt to join a group fantasy in which their avatars engage with other make-believe characters. They are also free to shut out the uncouth. And no one can stop a participant from hitting the “off” button. No matter their choice, a VR user who complains of being “groped” has made the mistake of believing that make-believe is real.
Sadly, trend-seekers are feeding the popularity of various solipsisms holding that the perceived world might be nothing more than a figment of the imagination. Even the world-changing Tesla founder Elon Musk has mused about the statistical probability that “reality” might be nothing more than a computer simulation.
To be sure, life’s woes can be ample reason for the urge to slip into fantasy temporarily. Virtual-reality addicts who want to get real should remember the self that cries “ouch” when pinched is not an avatar, but the actual one. Helping others whose woes are worse is the key to staying real, and liking it.