Tuesday, 18 October 2016

Guest Blog: Virtual reality isn’t just for gamers (or porn)

Virtual reality is often portrayed as a reclusive activity — you immerse yourself in an alternative world and shut out the ‘real’ one. But innovative applications of virtual reality are starting to show how effective it can be as a tool to enhance people’s lives rather than just escape from them.

Virtual reality for social good

Doctor Sonya Kim is a virtual reality entrepreneur who is exploring the possibilities of the technology for older people. She hopes that VR may help to relieve problems such as loneliness, chronic pain, and dementia.

“There are over 100 clinical research papers that are already published that show proven positive clinical outcomes using VR in managing chronic pain, anxiety and depression.” Dr Kim explains. However most virtual reality games involve complex puzzles, not to mention a wide range of physical movement. Many of Dr Kim’s clients are in wheelchairs, or are unable to move quickly around a virtual environment. So she came up with Aloha VR — it’s a simple, scenic environment which users can explore, with text prompts that are designed to make them feel welcome and comfortable, as well as offer reminders to do things such as take their medication, or get in touch with family and friends. Dr Kim’s use of virtual reality is less to do with entertainment and more to do with maintaining good mental and physical health, and she’s seeing positive results, as users respond to the prompts and use their virtual experience to help improve their real-world lives.
And it’s not just patients who are benefitting from the virtual reality experience — Embodied Labs has come up with a virtual reality programme called ‘We Are Alfred’, which allows young medical students to experience life as an elderly person with sight and hearing problems. Students play out a range of different scenarios which are ‘seen’ and ‘heard’ through Alfred’s senses — allowing them an insight into how their patients experience the world, and hopefully making it easier to work with them through treatment.

What can virtual reality do for your life?

Virtual reality technology is still in fairly early stages: if you want to experience virtual reality for yourself, decent hardware costs upwards of £1000. But as the technology comes down in price, expect to see more applications of virtual reality outside the gaming space. In the future, VR could help enhance other areas of your life — including your sex life.

When people think of VR and sex, the most obvious go-to answer is porn. And it’s true that many of the mainstream porn studios such as are busy creating plenty of virtual reality content — often films which put you right in the picture, shooting from ‘your’ point of view to try and give a realistic impression that you’re the star of the show. But there are far more potential applications.
CamSoda is a company which has combined virtual reality with teledildonics: intelligent sex toys that connect to each other over long distances. On their platform, users will be able to connect their sex toy to another person’s (with their permission, of course), don a virtual reality headset, and have virtual sex over the internet.

In practice it may look quite strange to start with: a helmet covering their head and a sex toy covering their genitals. But the connection they are having will be a real, intimate exchange between two people. If it takes off, and again if the tech comes down in price, the sight of someone having sex with their partner over a long distance might not seem so strange after all.
Along similar lines, virtual reality could also take some of the risk out of anonymous encounters. Some people have speculated that VR could be used in future to ‘augment’ crowds — meaning those who can’t attend an event could instead be there virtually. This technique could be applied to dating too — to enable people to have realistic virtual ‘dates’ before they choose to meet in person, or even to facilitate anonymous virtual sex — without the associated dangers of meeting in real life.

Can sex help to drive innovation in VR?

There is a surprising amount of crossover between technology as it’s used in caring professions and sex: in both areas advances in technology can help put people in others’ shoes, and give them experiences that they may not be able to have in the ‘real’ world. ‘We Are Alfred’ gave medical students the opportunity to see the world through the eyes of their patients, and virtual reality could allow us to explore sex through different bodies — experiencing how other people have sex, and potentially giving us a valuable insight into other genders’ experiences.
As well as technology teaching us more about our sexuality, there are plenty of instances where sex drives tech innovation too. Sadly the often-told story about porn killing the beta-max tape is a myth, but as Eric Buchman points out in Digital Trends, porn has had a huge impact on other technological changes. For example developments in e-commerce, because people needed to pay for porn safely, as well as uptake of broadband and improvements in download speed.
So what can virtual reality bring to our lives? Well, alongside simple entertainment in the form of games and movies (both X-rated and family friendly), virtual reality can also bring us closer together. Whether that’s facilitating sexual encounters over a long distance, helping us to keep in contact with loved ones, or giving us the chance to walk in someone else’s shoes. And the great news is that the cost of virtual reality is coming down rapidly, meaning we’ll see more experiments and innovative uses of this tech in the next few years.
Are you ready to make the most of it?

Stephanie Alys
Co-Founder and Chief Pleasure Officer (CPO)MysteryVibe

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