The Impacts of Virtual Reality in Mass Media

Experiencing a virtual reality may be closer than we expected. In March 2014, Facebook acquired the tech company Oculus VR in exchange for US$2 billion in Facebook stock and cash. This week Facebook announced current plans and production updates on the Oculus Rift, a video gaming headset that will revolutionize the world of video games.

The $350 set of wireless goggle headgear features HD technology, multiple sensors and cameras to detect motion and an OLED display. In combination, these will allow users to see a 3D image projected before their eyes that creates a seemingly legitimate alternate reality. As of now, Oculus and Facebook are using the technology to enhance video gaming experiences, including in Facebook’s apps for gaming and possibly those for entertainment in the near future. In late 2014, The Guardian reported that The Who plans to launch an app coinciding with their commemorative 50th anniversary album and tour that is set to kick off in April. The app will take viewers on a musical journey with graphics and scenes from The Who’s decades of stardom and will show song lyrics in the images.

In terms of technological advancements, this announcement is huge. Alternate realities have never been so accessible and looked so real until now. Because Facebook is the parent company behind this endeavor, if successful, these technologies could even be incorporated into the social media site as a visual form of communication in addition to the site’s text messaging and webcam options. Not only can the Oculus Rift transform gaming and entertainment viewing, but it could have immense implications on human connections and interactions. So many have criticized the “Internet Age” for hindering social relationships because we have transformed into a society that once relied on one-to-one human interactions, which foster developing personal relationships and communication skills, to today’s more popular forms of communicating many-to-many via social media websites that provide forums for open discussion or information dispersion, but weakens our interpersonal connections and social viability when we’re no longer hiding behind a computer screen. If Facebook takes this technology to the social side of its operation, it has the capacity to revolutionize the current state of our interactions to promote more quality communication between people far and wide in an apparently real setting as if they were face to face.

On the other hand, studies have shown that violent video game use can lead to an increase in aggressive behavior. Children that are often exposed to violent video games are more likely to react hostilely when faced with confrontation. Though studies do not imply a correlation between violent video game use and active violence, they do show this correlation between violent games and aggression. I fear that with the introduction of the Rift in the gaming world, the virtual reality of “being on the inside” the game will have a larger psychological effect on users playing violent games. Because there can be these consequences when viewing on a 2D screen and having reality in the periphery, surely feeling even more involved in the violent storyline will have further implications for negative attitudes. When this line between fantasy and reality becomes blurred to almost nothingness, the gaming world may face more serious issues regarding content and subsequent behaviors, especially amongst children and teens. I can only imagine the intensity of feeling as though I just shot someone in front of me or beat a stranger to a pulp.

Technology can bring the most glorious advancements when placed in the right hands and bring great misfortune if mishandled. The technologies used to make the Oculus Rift could mean bringing communication and social skills full circle and back to having strong personal relationships even over long distances, but if it solely survives in the gaming world, it has the potential to contribute to more evils than good.

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