Christ & Virtual Reality

Virtual reality is no longer a distant possibility.  It is something that will soon be accessible on many fronts.  Google is launching “virtual reality field trips” with the idea that students can be transported to a place like the Great Wall of China without ever having to physically go there.  The idea is that a person can “feel like they’ve actually visited the landmark.”  This is amazing.  I am thinking I can save a ton on future vacations by sitting in my coach and strapping on VR.  Netflix is also jumping into this technology.  Soon you will be able to watch a movie from a different venue.  You can watch a Seinfeld episode from the actual coach in Jerry’s apartment simply by selecting that option on your VR device.  And, CNN just announced that you can watch the upcoming Democratic Debate from the front row seat by means of virtual reality.

When I think about these technological advances, it blows me away.  Everything is moving so quickly.  As soon as you buy a device it is obsolete.  Yet, I am wondering how this technology is going to impact our life.  No longer is there a sense of shared community by going to these events or trips together.  It is simply about the experience, not the relationship.  Also, it is reducing the event to a mental visual.  But, what about the smells and physical touches of a trip that is so powerful?  Is it really the same to hold someone’s hand in virtual reality as opposed to in real life?  As I think about this new entertainment opportunity, several concerns pop in my head.

What is the end result of taking fantasy to a new level?  Virtual reality makes fantasy all the more real.  You can be inside of a violent war movie rather than detached from it.  What about hanging onto the side of a plane with Tom Cruise in the latest Mission Impossible movie?  And we haven’t even talked about the darker side of sexual experiences in the privacy of one’s headset.  Technology is amoral.  There is nothing inherently good or bad about it.  It can be used for good or for evil.  As I think about virtual reality, I am reminded of Paul’s words in Philippians 4:8, “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”  This is a powerful reminder for us as virtual reality becomes more accessible.  What experiences should we be pursuing?  How does spiritual transformation relate to mental visuals?

Process matters!  The Holy Spirit speaks to us in the decision-making of life.  As we make plans to go on vacation, see a movie, or engage in some experience, the small steps leading up to these events are times where God speaks to us.  Yet, in our rapid, experience-now society, these steps are being snuffed out.  A person will soon be able to strap on a headset in less than a minute and be transported somewhere else.  If we are not careful, we will become deaf to the sanctifying work of Christ in the everyday.

Virtual reality is not reality!  What happens when we like the virtual more than the reality?  The fantasy is not my life.  I don’t live in Jerry’s apartment; I live in my home.  Virtual reality certainly runs the risk of not simply providing an experience for someone but an escape.  A person will be able to run from life rather than confront it.  Faithfulness in the mundane moments will lead to pursuits of ongoing excitement and emotional highs.  What impact will this have on our emotional satisfaction and healthiness in marriage?

Don’t get me wrong.  I think there is great benefit to virtual reality.  It provides children that are less advantaged the opportunity to experience parts of the world otherwise unavailable to them.  It allows a handicapped person to sense freedom for a moment from his or her handicap.  As this technology becomes more accessible, I think it is prudent to approach it as we would any other activity:  through the lens of Christ, for His glory and our good.

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