Vice’s mini-documentary on the digital love industry is mind blowing to say the least. Taking place in L.A. at the VRLA (Virtual Reality Los Angeles) convention, the San Fernando Valley, a.k.a “Porn Valley,” and Amsterdam, the documentary explores how new tech is being applied in the sex industry (to blow more than your mind)—from designing fully customizable sex avatars, using Oculus Rift, and google glass to create virtual reality pornography, and technologically enhanced marital aids for long distance relationships—and the reactions of tech experts, sex therapists, and adult industry workers to fears associated with the new digital. Fears include, not being able to differentiate reality from fantasy, in this case VR world and decay of society because of the depravity.
The first fear has some merit, I suppose. Opponents argue since the VR world will at one point be so indistinguishable from reality—that’s the end goal at least: make something which resembles The Matrix—people will not become absorbed in their fantasy worlds. The sex expert in the documentary disagrees, however, claiming people with healthy mental states will be able to differentiate fantasy from reality just as people do now. I’m inclined to agree. People already use media to “escape” their realities. Some people immerse themselves in video game worlds or books even, but there’s no outcry against those media. In regards to these fears, imagination seems to be the main culprit. The media one uses only aids in the imagination process and the source of the problem comes back to the individual. If anything VR headsets will enhance those media that are already falsely blamed. There’s no way that the Oculus Rift or Google Glass headset can recreate the scent of lover’s sweat or the sensation of skin-on-skin contact, at least for now.
VR causing societal decay seems a worthier cause for concern. As the designers explained, at some point, any fantasy can become reality with VR. So what’s to stop some deranged individual from enacting some sick, rape fantasy or snuff film? And at that point, does it matter? After all they’re not actually harming a person, just a simulation, right? Would allowing this simulated behavior affect how they act in reality? Is it better they do it in VR than reality? These are questions we will need to answer as the technology progresses; at least we have time to think.