While I’ve only used it once, the virtual reality revolution in gaming seems like an anti-civilization time bomb. The people who tend to use it will be young men with high openness to experience and intelligence. The more immersive it becomes, the less frequently men with those traits will reproduce, etc. I quipped in college that sex robots would be supremely dangerous for that very reason. Too much television may already have had some negative effects on American culture.
In the mean time, scientists may have found this problem with VR:
In Mehta’s studies, he and his colleagues built special setups with tiny treadmills that the animals could run on while exploring a virtual room. The rats appeared to behave normally in the setup, but when the researchers looked at the animals’ brains, they “found really surprising stuff,” Mehta said.
For example, in the hippocampus, a brain region involved in mapping an individual’s location in space (as well as many other functions, including memory, learning and dreaming), 60 percent of neurons simply “shut down” while the animals were in virtual reality, Mehta found.
And it gets worse. Many of the neurons that don’t shut down show abnormal patterns of activity. In the real world, these neurons create a map of space, but in the virtual world, “the map of space is totally destroyed,” Mehta said.
Mehta suspects that the part of the brain involved in keeping track of an animal’s location is so fine-tuned that it “expects” everything to be in sync. “I believe that’s why these neurons are shutting down” in virtual reality, he said.
But is it bad for the animals that the hippocampus shuts down in virtual reality? “We don’t know the long-term consequences,” Mehta said.
“When millions of us are using virtual reality 6 to 7 hours a day,” he said, “we may want to look [into] it, given that it’s such a big change.”
Now, there was a great deal of scaremongering amongst pundits in recent history over violence and sexism in video games leading to violence. Research has shown this link to be false. It could be the case the virtual reality is similarly innocuous in the final analysis. I’m not opposed to video games, nor to virtual reality. They’re less time consuming for casual users than sports television and probably less emotionally distressing.