The recent advent of VR technologies has led to an increased psychological dependence amongst individuals on such technologies.
We live in a world of excess. Today, digital media has provided us with new tools that allow people to act in ways-good and bad, that have never been as numerous or accessible in the past. Though it has made our lives easier, it has also made it much more complicated than before. In order to facilitate multitasking, we have designed and produced several digital instruments which include laptops, wireless internet, iPods, iPads, Kindles, BlackBerries, iPhones, Bluetooth headsets, touchscreens and so on, thereby changing even our leisure time into work time.
History reveals that newer technological achievements create new human needs that later lead to increased consumer demand. Such demand leads to the development of even better technologies and creating even greater perceived needs. This cycle can lead to a seemingly vital but sometimes vicious circle, especially for technophiles.
For instance, if we rewind ourselves to 15-20 years back, we would find that there was no major need for smartphones or tablets, apart from primary functions like calling. However, imagining a life without smartphones seems to be more difficult than ever before. Today, people are surrounded by increasingly compelling virtual technologies- high-definition displays, sound systems, virtual cameras, multimedia communication devices, and so on, which could engage them in a similar loop, unless we find ways to curb it.
Virtual Reality Addictions
As per American Psychiatric Association, an addiction is defined as compulsive use of a substance despite its harmful consequences. The concept of addiction has long been tied solely to substances like nicotine, cocaine, heroin etc., but recent advent of VR technologies has led to an increased psychological dependence amongst individuals on such technologies, thereby creating the same impact as substance addiction. Major mental health problems associated with VR addiction include anxiety, attention deficit disorder, depression, autism etc. In fact, a research study estimates that approximately 5-10% of the total internet users and about 30 million adults in the United States are internet-addicted.
Below we list four addictions in which virtual technologies having a seemingly huge impact on our daily lives.
1. Social Networking
The use of VR in social networking has allowed users to create their own avatars, meet others and interact with them. A popular virtual platform called ‘Second life’ owned by the US-based Linden Lab allows people to do so. In fact, the game also possesses a virtual currency called ‘Linden dollars’ which has a US Dollar exchange rate and allows users to carry on the activities listed above.
While ‘Second Life’ addiction has been on rising for a long time, what is worrisome is its potential use for various illegal activities prohibited in the real world. As we shall later see, VR platforms like ‘Second Life’ are being used by people to indulge in activities that they are unable to do so in the real world. Further, given that everyone’s movements can be tracked, rendered, saved, and replayed in virtual reality, one can relive an experience or even change the past. All these can have disastrous consequences on the quality of life in future and must be closely monitored to prevent abuse.
The use of online gambling sites as substitutes to traditional offline wagering is on a steep rise and is likely to overtake casinos and other physical gambling facilities in future. Virtual gambling allows gamblers to play poker and other casino games with much greater ease and from the comfort of their homes. They can bet on anything, including sports, elections, races etc.
Amongst these online gamblers, young adults constitute a disproportionately large segment and have a high tendency to take risks. Further, virtual reality has also taken the concept of glamour in gambling to new levels. While actual casino environments have physical limits, virtual ones can present any scene imaginable. One could gamble in the underwater, in the Great Barrier Reef and even on the moon. Given an arsenal of virtual tools, VR has proven to be a great motivator for the gambling industry.
3. Virtual Gaming
Games have provided ways to interact in virtual worlds for as long as any of us can remember. Initially, the use of board games such as Monopoly, Risk and Ludo used to act as great stress busters. Technologically, board games gave way to home console and computer video games, such as Pong, Tetris, Pac-Man, sports-based simulation games, and then on to online interactive games: e.g., The Sims, World of Warcraft, and EverQuest. Today, virtual games like Farmville have more than 80 million registered users and is increasing day-by-day.
Research indicates that exposure to media violence can cause children to behave more aggressively and affects them as ‘adult’ years later. Similarly, as the use of VR gaming takes flight, VR users could experience similar symptoms which could affect their overall development in later years.
4. Virtual Pornography
Throughout human history, virtual depictions of attractive people, whether the product of internal mental processes like dreams and daydreams or the product of media technology (stories, painting, sculpture, audio, etc.), have been good business for their creators. The Internet has made such depictions so widely available that it is impossible to catalog them all. Virtual pornography is an emerging area wherein VR users can involve themselves in new types of sexual experiences which is immersive and more satisfying.
In fact, ‘teledildonics’ is an emerging field that incorporates haptic devices (those capable of transmitting virtual touch), into virtual sexual experiences. The increasing addiction to virtual pornography and 3D imaging tools could lead to an array of mental health conditions amongst users at an early age.
Though virtual reality promises several promising developments in future, there are always two sides of the same coin. Use of VR in promoting above-mentioned addictions must therefore be observed closely, so as to prevent its misuse and overcome its benefits.