I am going to write my last blog of the semester about a technology that is in its infancy, Virtual Reality. There are two different types: IVR (Immersive Virtual Reality) and AVR (Augmented Virtual Reality). IVR allows users to be completely immersed within a computer generated realm, where all human sensory systems can be stimulated, even taste and smell. AVR, also called Mixed Virtual Reality, enhances the real environment with computer generated 3D images. Full immersion is described as diminished awareness of your physical state of being in which one becomes emotionally involved with an artificial environment.
The following are ways in which Virtual Reality is currently being utilized: military training, medical surgical training, equipment operations training, education, design prototypes, architectural prototypes, human ergonomic studies, assistance for handicapped, treatment of phobias, cognitive therapy, post traumatic stress disorder, crime scene reconstruction, scientific replications, entertainment, and many more.
The applications are fairly widespread throughout many different industries; however, because of the costly equipment, home use for entertainment is still very uncommon. There are varying degrees of immersion, and some feel that 3D videogames are included within this category of virtual reality. Current videogames, even highly interactive games like Nintendo’s Wii or Microsoft’s Xbox, do not compare to true IVR. With IVR, the real world disappears, and the users enter into another realm of reality. It is almost like entering another dimension of the Universe, as the movie Avatar depicts. AVR is closer to your Wii, but still, true Virtual Reality, AVR, actually modifies your real life environment, and IVR replaces your environment. IVR or AVR isn’t something you watch on a monitor. The user would typically wear some type of head gear or goggles, gloves or some other gear to control the action within the environment. Imagine playing Wii, but being right inside the images you see on the television monitor. These images surround you, they are not just in front of you.
There was some discussion in class forums as to whether Virtual Reality was damaging to a person’s psychological health, that if VR becomes too widely available, or is used for entertainment purposes, then it would be a waste of time, or people will want to abandon their real life in exchange for a Virtual World, and could be dangerous for society. I have not been able to find studies substantiating this suggestion. I found many different studies that have researched different forms of VR and whether the software/equipment was successful in teaching, training, providing therapy or whatever the stated objectives. There have been theories suggested that VR can cause repetitive stress injury (carpal tunnel), immersion injury (disorientation or confusion between real and virtual environments), transmittable disease (from multiple users of one device), cybersickness (variation of motion sickness, eyestrain), neural effects (effects of electromagnetic fields, flicker vertigo or seizures), psychological effects (claustrophobia, other phobias), and after-effects, (such as illusory sensations of climbing or flying, disrupted motor control), which can be described as a feeling you might feel if you spun around for several seconds, and when you stop, you feel as if you are still spinning. These theories have never been formally researched; –not as far as I could find, anyway.
There was some controversy when the movie Avatar was released. Moviegoers reported feeling depressed and some even suicidal after viewing the beautiful and surreal world of Pandora. These reports were not the product of any study conducted, but the discovery of many posts from viewers on a fan website claiming depression and suicidal thoughts after viewing the movie. The news reports were the result of the media unearthing mounting internet conversation and blowing it out of proportion. I saw the movie, and I thought it was incredible. I left feeling really happy that I got to see it, with a little bit of a headache from eye strain.
I think VR has great potential in the above fields, especially for training simulations, education, and different types of therapy. The arrival of the entertainment aspect has not yet occurred, but I excitedly await the introduction of an affordable IVR home unit. I think it will be here by, oh, maybe 2015……. I think we are far from the land of Avatar. It is doubtful that we can ever take Virtual Reality as far as converting ourselves into a new body, but we can always dream. You never know.