sound blog

The moral dilema

As the Lead Writer/Audio Director for BunnyGun, I have been given a unique opportunity to combine my love for music with my love for video games.  BunnyGun was founded a few years ago with the mission to develop the best virtual reality games in the market. When i was approached by the founder of BunnyGun, Nate Haskins, to do sound and music, i jumped at the opportunity. At the time I hadn’t heard of Oculus, or the Rift, the only interaction I had ever had with virtual reality was the demo of the virtual boy at the local Block Buster, and the huge headset that you had to pay extra to use at Exilarama, both of which were more than 20 years ago. But as soon as I put on the Oculus DK1 headset, my life changed forever. Virtual reality was no longer a gimmick, but an actual experience, with endless possibilities. Like an old car that hadn’t been started in 20 years, my imagination once dormant, fired up and soon kicked into overdrive. I began to imagine all the ways VR could shape our world, not just in the video game industry but also in applications that could save lives. Doctors will no longer have to rely on just cadavers to study surgical procedures. Bomb squad technicians can train in a safe VR setting with out the risk of blowing themselves up. Soldiers can train and rehearse missions before ever stepping onto the battlefield. Seemingly overnight VR has made our world smaller: with the click of mouse, one can experience the beauty and awe of the Pyramids of Giza, Leaning Tower of Pisa, and the Grand Canyon, with out ever leaving their living room. Even the simple act of going to the movies will be changed. With VR we will experience important moments in history, not as a member of an audience, but as an active participant, reliving the moments that transformed our planet. VR is the next TV, the next internet, the next light bulb, it will revolutionize the way we live and interact with each others.

However, as the technology and development progresses many questions have been raised, not just in application of the technology, but how we as civilized people will react to it. Take Grand Theft Auto V, and the torture scene where Trevor uses several tools to torture a witness. For me the most disturbing choice I made was to pull out the guy’s teeth. A tooth icon pops up on the screen complete with a  gum line, as the player wiggles the joystick the tooth is pulled out as the character is screaming in pain.  I was somewhat affected by this action (if you weren’t, you’re a heartless bastard with no emotion).  Now imagine yourself in VR: reaching into the guy’s mouth with a pair of rusty pliers, and pulling out his teeth as if it were in real life. When I played that scene I was almost ashamed, the feeling is hard to explain, but it elicited an emotional response that I still remember… but if played in VR, would that emotional response be more intense? I believe that there is an emotional disconnect in the choices we make in the digital realm.  How many times have we picked up a lady of the night in any GTA game, used her services and then killed her to get our money back, or went on an epic killing spree ending with our tanks blowing up? Would doing that be different in VR? Could you strangle a character in VR knowing that a real person was on the other end, and what if the game called for it?  It’s sometimes easy for us to forget that the things we say and do online can affect other people in real life.  I read an article (I forget by who or where) but it talked about women in a virtual world or chat room being sexually assaulted. Women have complained that while in a virtual setting they have been groped and grabbed in a sexual manner. The argument being made, was since it’s in a virtual world, is it considered assault in the normal sense? I argue that if I grab a woman in a sexual manner, and the victim perceives it as assault, then it is assault.

All new technologies that have ever come to fruition come with pros and cons, the internet was created to make war more effective, but united the world, nuclear fusion/fission, created the H-bomb, but also created clean energy, electricity lights the world, and can kill you.  VR can bring out the worst in people, but it can also bring out the best. I think of all of the good VR can do, and for me the Pros far out weigh the cons. I imagine a world where I can interact with people from different parts of the world, and experience their culture with out the expense of having to travel there. I imagine a world where students can relive MLK’s ” I have a Dream” speech, or know what its like to walk in the moccasins of an Indian from long ago. I imagine a world where young students can walk in the footsteps of their favorite dinosaurs, all while learning (with out them even knowing they are learning)    VR has the potential to unite the people of the world in a way that was never imagined before. I was once asked my opinion about where this technology is going, and the best example I could come up with was the  book Ready Player One. In the story, civilization has practically collapsed, and most of humanity lives, works, and plays in the OASIS, basically a VR compatible internet service complete with haptic gloves, and even fully body rigs. In the not so distant future, reality will be harder to distinguish from the virtual, we will see, hear, feel, and maybe even taste and smell our way through a virtual world.

Author Info

Rob Smith

Rob Smith, Audio Director of BunnyGun Games.