Like many people these days, a friend and I were recently discussing Oculus Rift.
“I really want to try out Oculus Rift,” he said.
“Yeah, me too,” I replied.
“Yeah, I just want to use it to play video games.”
“I mean, it’s not like it can be used for any moral purpose, right? It’s basically just another form of entertainment.”
That stopped me. Is that really the main purpose of Oculus Rift and virtual reality in general—to entertain? Sure, using VR to play video games seems like a really cool way to spend an afternoon, but it would be disappointing if the years of rumors and expectations surrounding VR culminated in nothing more than a glorified Game Cube.
Perhaps in all its ingenuity
, it felt like the Oculus Rift could bring its users into the future, as well—an optimistic future that’s more moral, kind, and accessible. And there are other people who believe so. For instance, many articles speculate that virtual reality could be the ultimate empathy machine
. If, instead of merely hearing about struggling people in communities distant from your own, you saw those people, it seems likely you would feel with them more. The closer you feel to the plight of others, the more likely you will feel compelled to do something to change it.
For instance, the Columbia Vegan Society recently used Oculus Rift to incite compassion for animals on campus. They set up shop in front of the library and asked passerby to try on the devices. People who did were transported to a slaughterhouse, with an intimate view of the frequently disturbing process that transpires there in an effort to make them feel for the animals and revolt against the practice.
Of course, there have also been plenty of proposals and studies on the potential educational benefits of VR. One that I stumbled upon recently suggests that VR programs
can help improve the social impairments of children on the autism spectrum. This includes emotion recognition, social attribution, and attention.
Another interesting educational use of VR was given a test-run at Case Western Reserve Medical School. Instead of relying solely on cadavers to learn human anatomy, students used VR devices
to explore the human body in new and innovative ways.
Finally, NASA recently released a VR app
that allows users to intimately experience the icy plains of Pluto with the video footage shot by its spacecraft New Horizons last year. I’ll never be able to set foot on Pluto, but it may still be possible to experience the wonder of doing so by viewing the footage in Oculus Rift.
With all the potential uses of VR and Oculus Rift, I can’t be the only one eager to experience for its ability to educate, spur compassion and empathy, and bring us to worlds never before visited. Although I may join my friend for a few hours of first-person Final Fantasy someday, for now, some of Oculus Rift’s other potentialities give me more reason to be excited for the future of technology.