Today the last story in a series about the holodeck and technologies promising us a realistic virtual reality. With the invention of more realistic virtual reality interfaces we will also find that new problems will arise.
When the virtual world cannot be discriminated from the real one addiction will become a big problem. In Star Trek holodeck addiction was indeed a mental illness. They did however underestimated the problem it will become. In Star Trek they argued that because holodeck isn’t real, people wouldn’t want to spend all their time on it. The problem when a virtual reality system becomes as real as a holodeck is that we cannot distinguish any more between real and fantasy. Though we will know on a cognitive level that it isn’t real all of our senses will tell us otherwise. And to make a long story short, we don’t care about our cognitive objections when it feels so real. Gaming addiction is already a problem with a small percentage of gamers and we don’t even have that realistic virtual reality environments, best you can do now is wear 3D goggles.
You need to remember that a holodeck provides everything you cannot do in the real world and provides the perfect escape. Get bullied at school? Be a super hero! Can’t get a girl? Have twenty! Don’t have an interesting job? How about captain of a star ship? Who wants to come out unless they have to? Would you?
Another potential problem is PTSD or post traumatic stress disorder. PTSD is a mental illness caused by a traumatic event. Many soldiers suffer from PTSD when they come back from a war zone. Seen as shooters are one of the most popular games we might see an increase in people who suffer from PTSD. It might be that shooters become less popular or get more cartoony to offset the realism so people can’t suffer from PTSD. Some protection might lie in the fact that we know it is entertainment but if it becomes to real that won’t help any more.
A realistic virtual reality will mean that people will form relationships with virtual characters. While I will explored the implications of this in this post I do want to talk about sex addiction here. When people start to neglect other parts of their life so that they can have sex or masturbate not even for pleasure any more they can be a sex addict. Though different from a drug addiction the effects can still be devastating with the loss of job, partner, family and friends. A holodeck could be a risk for people who are already at risk for a (sex)addiction since it can supply an endless amount of virtual partners in any number of sexual fantasies.
The addictiveness of the holodeck will have undoubtedly an effect on productiveness of employees who are yearning to get back to their fantasy lives. Other forms of entertainment will suffer as well although these might be incorporated in their fantasy worlds.
There is an upside as well though. We will see less loneliness. A virtual partner and friend is just as good as a real one. We just want other people to notice us, that they are virtual is a distinction our mind does not make. this will also lead to less depression and anxiety. We are invincible in our own fantasies and can take on the world. Our virtual training will help us prepare for the real world outside.
And; even if all else fails there is always a virtual psychologist at hand to help you with your problems.