How many kids have walked through your yard looking for a Pokémon? Were you surprised to discover that after all these years of living in your home, they’ve been hiding in your dining room all this time? (Who knew?!)
The Pokémon Go app has swept the world since its release last week, overtaking Twitter in the U.S. in terms of daily users. Kids and their parents now roam neighborhoods searching for the elusive Greninja, Mew or Pikachu, creating teams, and then training their Pokémon for battle. Friends of mine who aren’t even very active, are now taking daily, hour-long “walks” with their kids as they use the app together.
These are great thing, but a few bizarre and scary stories have emerged.
A Wyoming teenager was searching for a Pokémon near a river when she discovered a dead body floating nearby. A group of four Missouri teens were lured to a CVS parking lot to join another supposed team of searchers when they were mugged at gunpoint. And, you can only imagine the number of people using the app while driving.
Overall, the app seems fun and, if used wisely, pretty harmless.
But, Pokémon Go has caused me to ask a big question.
What is the brain impact of this more intense mixing of the digital world with the real world?
Anecdotally, I’ve often noticed a difference in behavior in my own children after they’ve spent too many hours watching YouTube Kids or playing Minecraft. It’s almost as if the extended pixel stimulation puts them out of sync with real people, making them a bit shorter in their responses and decreasing their patience with the people around them. I have no science to prove there’s a connection, but it’s made me wonder if there’s a cause and effect at play.
What we do know is that certain doctors and researchers are pointing to the real possibility that a screen-based pornography addiction hijacks the brain’s rewards system into bonding with pixels instead of people. Since 2012, scientist Gary Wilson has postulated that an Internet porn addiction increases the frequency of erectile dysfunction.
All of these impacts come from using “boring,” two-dimensional screens. Does this point to a potentially greater brain impact from digital experiences that seem more real? Let’s looks at two “realities” that are changing how people interact with technology.
The Pokémon Go app uses augmented reality (AR) during gameplay. AR is not new–many have used it in GPS devices without knowing what it was–but it has been a relatively unknown term to the masses until Pokémon Go. This technology superimposes a digital image over a real image from your camera, in order to create a composite, “mixed” view.
For Pokémon Go, this means seeing a Pokémon standing in your living room, through the camera view on your smartphone. It means seeing a map of your neighborhood, and there’s a Pokémon behind your neighbor’s house.
Interestingly, the term “augmented reality” implies that reality alone isn’t good enough and an overlay of technology makes it greater in some way. In other words, that beautiful sunset is made even more magnificent by an emoji of a bird on the screen while taking a picture.
Regardless of how you feel about it, does AR start to create confusion in the malleable adolescent brain? Is there harm in believing that an augmented reality is better than just “reality”?
Because AR hasn’t been used in mass until now, we just don’t know enough to be able to answer these questions.
I remember watching the movie Minority Report and the scene where Tom Cruise walks into a virtual reality “shop,” where users could pay for any type of virtual reality experience.
I don’t feel like we’re very far away from this kind of experience.
Virtual reality (VR) artificially creates sensory experience, transporting the user to a situation that feels very real through the use of hardware worn over your eyes that blocks out the real world. There are endless, good applications for virtual reality, including transporting students to the Lourve during a history lesson, or allowing them to walk through the Grand Canyon during a geology class. Medical professionals will have the ability to practice difficult surgeries before ever stepping foot in an actual operating room. The applications for armed forces and training pilots and soldiers are obvious. Elderly, bed-ridden friends can be transported to any destination that their frail body will no longer allow them to visit. Graduating seniors and their parents can take a campus tour without ever leaving their home.
But, if nothing else, advances in technology continue to teach us that anything that can be used for good also has a very dark side.
Gamers and Porn Stars
In 2014, Facebook paid $2 billion for Oculus, which manufactures the well-known virtual reality Rift headset. In October 2016, Sony will release PlayStation VR, known by the codename Project Morpheus. Rumors are flying that Xbox could be releasing its own VR console in 2017 currently named Project Scorpio.
Not surprisingly, the porn industry has quickly boarded the virtual reality train. Pornhub is the largest pornography distributor in the world, with over 3 million videos, and over 60 million daily visitors. In March 2016, it launched a free virtual reality channel, the first in the porn industry, where viewers are invited to a growing library of free 360-degree trailers.
Through Pornhub, smartphone users are treated to virtual reality videos optimized for both Android and iOS, playable through most virtual reality headsets such as Oculus Rift, Samsung Gear VR, and Google Cardboard.
The creators of virtual reality porn are extremely educated on not only what their viewers want, but also what they truly need. And, they are creating VR porn to meet these needs.
One VR porn creator spoke about the emphasis virtual reality porn puts on creating an emotional connection with the viewer through actual conversation. She said the “closeness” of VR porn makes fostering emotional intimacy easy. Further, she noted the desire for companionship is a big part of the adult industry that’s often overlooked, and that VR porn provides companionship that 2-D screens just can’t compete with.
Closeness. Intimacy. Conversation. Companionship. These are needs that are imprinted on every human soul.
Our brains are wired to reward experiences that satisfy these needs. Remember, neurons that fire together eventually wire together. And, as a result, virtual reality pornography has the potential to trigger a deadly cocktail of neurological activity that distorts the brain in new and scary ways.
For now, it feels like we are standing on the cliff of what could be a monumental shift in how we interact with technology. It seems a cruel irony that the digital world may become more detrimental to humans as a result of making it more like the real world.
What do we do right now? Well, not much, other than having fun with our kids while hunting Pokémon in our parks and neighborhoods. For right now, that seems like a wonderful reality to experience.
Though certainly not identical, there are some definite parallels between console/PC gaming and pornography:
* They both provide a temporary escape/relief from the pain and failure (perceived or real) of real life.
* They can be addicting both through drawing you into their world (detailed open world games such as GTA Online) and using up many hours of real-world time.
* Porn can exist _within_ the confines of gaming–most often easily avoided when you know where it is, and thankfully–so far–some game manufacturers are careful to limit how much exists in-game.
I personally have gravitated to gaming not only because I grew up with it, but (ironically) as an added means of avoiding pornography. But it admittedly requires diligence to keep an eye on the whys and the whats, and the time it absorbs.
FWIW, there’s a fairly good article that talks about some of this, entitled “Playing Games for all the Wrong Reasons”–from a gamer’s own perspective:
With the rise and progression of technology, i’ve always suspected that one day they will make droids to replace real men and real women for real sex. They already make “sex dolls” and some of them look pretty real. And in the near future I think these dolls will be able to perform whatever sexual act a person wants. Ofcourse these dolls won’t have any need of their own so they will always b ready to serve. And since they’ll b robots, they’ll never get tired. They’ll always be in the mood, they’ll never say no to sex. Some of the sex dolls that are out there today are very pretty. Much prettier than the average woman. And with the popularity of pornography, many men are more concerned with finding a woman who is “porn worthy” (meaning physically attractive and youthful, since porn erotizies youth) over a woman of virtue. I believe at some point men will begin to prefer these robot dolls for sex over a real flesh and blood woman. Heck! There’s already men who prefer the virtual world of pornography over real sex w their wife. If that’s already happening, why wouldn’t men prefer a doll who has sex, whenever, however and wherever they please? I think they’ll even begin to have an unhealthy bond to the doll. The sad thing is that the doll, even if it talks and seems realistic, will only be a figment of what their own imagination desires. It won’t b a real person w a real soul and real emotions. But nonetheless, the dolls will probably replace real women. Especially bc kids r becoming hooked on porn at a younger and younger age and eventually develop a sense of entitlement that says..”I deserve sex however and whenever I want!” If this is the case, then it’s easy to see how they’d begin to prefer a doll who gives sex however and whenever they want, over a real person. Anyway, that’s just a thought. Our culture is so preoccupied with sex that we miss the whole point of sex which is supposed to be an intimate oneness. A sacred union. An act of worship between husband and wife. They don’t teach that in sex ed…and porn warps this truth. I agree w the writer of this article. Technology probably is more detrimental to us.
Unfortunately, I think you’re right, Lydia. Many things that were science fiction are now happening in real life, and it’s not slowing down…scenarios like “Westworld” could quite easily happen in the near future.
I remember seeing an article about how our world is becoming a virtual reality over actual reality, where everything we do is becoming more and more fake. Families used to sit around and play music, now we sit around and listen to music. People used to play sports now we sit around and watch sports. Instead of experiencing life to its fullest, we are watching others experience it and only creating the feeling of experiencing it- which cannot fully recreate the actual experience only the feeling.
I see this happening all around us. Pornography is one example. Sex in its proper boundaries, which is within marriage, doesn’t happen as much anymore. When men and women, even married couples, can create a cheap imitation that is easy and requires nothing of themselves, why bother with the real thing? Our virtual world is taking so much space up in our lives we don’t actually have to live life, we can just have a virtual life.
By the way, that article was written in the early 1990’s.
All this added to the fact that ‘real’ women are becoming increasingly self centered and fake – they go out to attract attention to their looks and sexiness instead of nurturing their characters – so they become no better than the dolls
Did you ever see the movie Lars and the Real Girl?
It’s about a guy who falls in love with a realistic sex doll. The other people who live in the town play along with his belief that the doll is actually a person, partially because they feel bad for him and partially because they’re worried about his mental health (which obviously isn’t great).