This week’s SCIOPS is a guest post. Correspondent XC8374JF8490, aka “Rivet,” has some interesting thoughts on the future of virtual reality, and was kind enough to write them down for the newsletter. Regular programming will return next week. Without further ado…

V

irtual Reality is a thing.

Since the mid 90’s it’s been pretending it’s a thing

you could slap on some goggles and look around at some crude polygons and attempt to interface with them using a crude interface. Now, it’s actually a thing with

an astounding

literary merit

that can help us collectively usher future generations into a world that they want to live in by prototyping the stories we want to live.

Recently, I was struck by something I stumbled across while surfing through the audio-waves

– t

he idea of the ethereal media-space. I found myself listening to a man

(who I am assured sounds like Jaron Lanier )

talk

over the radio

about

the atrocity of

killing zombies

, with assault-style weapons,

in virtual-space and

the beauty of

confronting

bigotry through experiential

racism.

The idea

posed

, simplified, was that in virtual-space, we get to transcend the third and second person

narrative

. We go straight to the first person

pretty much right through the fourth wall and into the body

and the mind

. This allows for an empathetic value that I can’t draw parallels to from elsewhere

in literature or the media

. H

e-who-might be-Lanier

gave an example that struck me:

Imagine. You’re a white person.

For many of you, readers, this will be easy to imagine.

You put on a VR set, and you’re dropped into a not-too unfamiliar world. You look around, and there are trees and city streets. There are folk around you wearing their Sunday best. Folk in this simulation aren’t quite acting right. You can’t quite suss it out. It’s not until you look down at your virtual

self

that you realize that you have dark, black skin

over your callous and well-worked hands

. Imagine the first time your white ass gets called “Nigger”

– hard R and all –

in an open crowd

of your once-peers

.

I won’t bore you with gnarly details of where simulation can go. It’s not GTA. You don’t have infinite lives.

End simulation.

Game over.

In VR, it’s not a character written onto the pages. You can side with

a

racist culture of a book, pointing and laughing to your friends

, downloading and spreading the memetic-virus the book may have been challenging

. In VR, if you don’t like the simulation you’re in you can lash out against it, from within

the point of view you’re confined

to. Or, you can take it off because you’re

simply

done with it.

With VR, we don’t show folk how to do things. We have them play them out. We have them build muscle

memory. We train folk. Repetition of menial tasks in a sterile environment

like

sportsball

pass

ing

drills or

rehearsing the hardest part  of a song

in your

comfy

living room.

Video games have been simulating combat for quite some time. It’s left mouse click to fire, R for reload. I learned how to operate a handgun from watching the animations on Counter Strike a few thousand times. When one of those weapons was put in front of me, I figure

d

out how to

generally

operate it

within a minute

.

I hadn’t practiced the motions of loading, aiming and firing. I never had to rely on my own muscle memory to reload quickly while under fire. I pressed R, and a simulated

weapons

expert went through the rote action deftly. In a real combat situation I would die

, Glock in hand

.

We

a

re going to start seeing a lot of guns in VR,

so

it seems.

They’re there already with plans for more.

If you leave your 7-year-old in a simulation to practice, they will. So, my thinking is

:

let’s do th

is

. It’s already going to happen.

Let’s do this.

I don’t want to get in its way.

It won’t do much to stop VR to hide in the woods and act like a lud

d

ite. Trust me. I tried that.

What I do want is to foster a future I believe in

one where we aren’t simply well-practiced, tactically-trained gun-fanatics.

You ever do hard sci-fi?

Hang with me here.

You know

not just laser guns going “pew pew” because the author said so? You ever do the sci-fi where someone knew the unknowns and made a world where those known unknowns where already know? You ever do the sci-fi where culture and economics are at a place where they can happily mass produce technology based on those now-known, known-unknowns?

I’m talking about sci-fi with space suits. You ever use one of those

space suits

? Yeah. Me neither. If you put one in my hands and pointed me at an airlock, I would get

very

nervous

and very

fast. This is where VR gets even cooler for me. Instead of guns in war zones, I want the simulations where folk get

to level-up and

e

nd up with the

muscle

memory of putting on a device that will allow them to walk into an oxygen-deprived and low-pressure wasteland

to

build a solar array

s

, repair a communications relay, and walk their

ferret

.

I want kids that already know how to use specialt

ized

tools to work on systems that don’t exist

yet. I want to put the non-existent hyper-spanners into kids’ hands so they can fix plasma-conduit on the spaceship that they built with their friends

,

by hand. I want a VR

hackers’ lab

where folk can redesign those non-existent tools to work optimally in a zero-g environment.

Tired of falling off your spaceship in a seemingly-endless void while you’re doing repairs? Let’s add electro-magnets to our feet. Sick of space junk sticking to your magnets? Wire a switch to your wrist-top interface. Can’t be bothered to stop welding so you can adjust your magnets? Change the system to actuate a relay with a quick voice command.

Don’t want to play space? Let’s practice building walls that keep zombies out of the garden we’ve been planting

— we’ve only got three bullets and they won’t fight the hoard

. Let’s learn to sea-stead

— see what happens when we botch the knot

. Let’s see what systems will get us through nuclear winter the longest

— scored by who lives the kushest life and

take the most bio-diversity with us. Let’s build a cabin in the woods by felling our own trees and eat from our own forage without dropping a 200-foot Doug Fir on ourselves, eating the wrong mushroom, or dying of dysentery.

The point that VR offers a narrative that speaks to the core. We have a tool that will train the kids who are in line to inherit the Earth (and beyond). The Empire is building i

t

.

The Empire

will bring an all-encompassing, blinding whiteness with it that will wash out

a

culture

of skill and resilience and art and color

.

The Empire

will drive

VR

into our future generations

skills

ets

to operate AR-15s and drone fighters and be happy to be rewarded with points to spend on more interesting guns and armor.

We have a tool of extreme literary value. We need to tell the stories that will make a vibrant future. We have a tool that will be played with and

that will

drill skills into

our

children. We need to

tell

stories that are more interesting than “killing brown people in far away lands”. We are presented with an opportunity to produce the most evocative ar

t — that can arm us with the tools to better arm ourselves.

I’d rather

the most powerful media known so far

not be fed to us by a subsidiary of

the

Hegemony from Ender’s Game.

Thanks,

Rivet


Correction from last week’s letter: I linked to an adblocker called Ublock, but as correspondent VNSOF348489 pointed out, this is a fork from the much better adblocker called Ublock Origin. I use Origin myself – this was just a case of lazy linking. Get Ublock Origin for your preferred browser here.

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Thanks,

Max