When we think about virtual engagement, our minds may be drawn to several different activities. We’re thinking about the ability to virtually chat with friends on social media or keep up with family members through video chats.
It seems more and more platforms have been developed to allow us to socially engage with others regardless of where they are in the world. Like telemedicine with testosterone replacement therapy options, legal Zoom consultations, online classrooms, and more. Yet when we look at these examples closely, it isn’t entirely fair to call them “virtual” engagement because after all, people are still sharing physical space (and often real-life experiences) when interacting this way.
Authentic virtual engagement
When considering authentic virtual engagement, we need only look at the recent developments in gaming technology. Thanks to advancements in computer processing power and graphics technologies like virtual reality (VR), we can now interact with each other in a fully immersive, simulated environment.
Virtual gaming is nothing new. The first computer game was created way back in 1952 by MIT researchers trying to figure out if computers could help calculate missile trajectories. However, it wasn’t until 1972 that Steve Colley created Spacewar!, considered the first actual video game by several sources. And of course, throughout the next 40 years or so, games have continued to evolve beyond even that early imagination, taking advantage of technology whenever possible to make the user experience better and more realistic.
The newest innovation has been VR. While gamers are often thought of as being on the cutting edge of technology adoption, they are early adopters. We’ve seen this with the introduction of 3D technology into movies, for example. Despite how impressive it is, 3D movies still haven’t become mainstream. But it’s only a matter of time until people are clamoring to see them in theatres because they want to be fully immersed in the experience.
VR works very similarly; modern VR systems utilize three-dimensional images displayed on two screens (one for each eye) placed close together inside an enclosed helmet or visor, which completely covers your view. Users might also wear headphones to hear sounds that correspond with these visual images, and controllers that simulate hand movement allow you to interact with objects within the game itself. You can navigate through the world simply by moving your head up down, left to right, in much the same way you would move in real life.
As VR technology has progressed over the years, it’s become more immersive than ever before. These technologies have led to an incredible experience for gamers, allowing them to escape into a realistic and interactive world yet still wholly fictional. Now that we’re able to virtually engage with each other – speak with friends, meet people from around the world, play games together – it begs the question: what impact might this have on our reality?
While there are many positives associated with virtual engagement (such as staying connected despite the physical distance), it’s essential to consider the potential negatives.
What happens when a person becomes too involved in a virtual world? What if they forget their own identity and neglect relationships with people who are physically present? Or what about those whose physical bodies aren’t functional but whose minds work just fine; do we have an obligation to those individuals for whom digital is the only reality they can experience? If we’re able, should we allow such people the choice of living more fulfilling lives through virtual engagement instead? All of these are difficult questions for which there are, as yet, no easy answers.
Introducing this new technology is still young; most experts guess that it will be another 10 – 100 years before VR reaches its full potential. What can we expect in the coming decades? It’s hard to say for sure, but virtual engagement might look very different than it does now.