Virtual Reality, It Won't Make You Fat
Yesterday, I played Call of Duty for three hours. It's a game of unusual intensity, a game which induces symptoms of adrenal excitation: shaky hands, constricted pupils, a mild sort of focused euphoria--all symptoms which are oddly physical for an activity, rightly, associated with soda-and-corn-chips style lassitude. And after logging off Xbox live, I experienced something very 21st century: the sort of twitchy, depressing hangover (gameover?) familiar to anyone who's consumed bad-yet-addicting games for a few too many hours. It's a sort of internal malaise, the absolutely appropriate feeling that you've been cheated by your lizard brain, tricked into spending entirely too much time learning skills of zero utility. But that's just the psychological effect. There's an even more terrifying physical one: while we are playing Call of Duty, while we are entranced by its valueless digital medallions, our viscera are slowly turning into lard.
Which is odd because in most respects Call of Duty multiplayer is much more like a physical sport than traditional sedentary entertainment: it has simple, relatively arbitrary goals, zero narrative, and a point system. But unlike our more traditional non-violent substitutes for war (e.g., American football, Everywhere-else football and that odd Canadian sport played by the more-inhibited figure skaters) it provides the participant with nothing in the way of physical activity. So what we're left with is a networked ‘sport' which retains all the boorish machismo of competitive athletics yet provides less metabolic stimulation than a Storage Wars marathon. It's a very odd syndrome of our times, isn't it: one of the most avidly played sports in America provides zero exercise?
And this is too bad because this nation's children are on the verge of popping like balloons, leaving a mess of fetid adipose, the disposal of which will be financed with your hard-earned tax dollars! Clearly, we need a solution. Lucky, we have one; it comes in the form of a nineties buzzword: virtual reality. Virtual reality. Virtual reality. It's got a good ring too it, does it not? Bringing on (as it does) memories of half-read Gibson novels and the dazzling acting chops of the immortal Keanu Charles Reeves.
And what's great about virtual reality is it's actually becoming practical. That is, one of the biggest obstacles of implementing recreational VR systems has been overcome: cheap, high-resolution motion capture. See kiddies, before the Kinetic hit the scene, motion capture required a very silly suit with an even sillier price tag (see below). Now things have changed. Motion capture is dirt cheap. Light, high-resolution head-mounted displays aren't too pricey either. For the first time since the mid-nineties, Virtual reality, true recreational virtual reality, is visible on horizon. And unlike in the mid-nineties, all the technology is available relatively cheaply today, needing only investment and refinement.
As for an exact date, in a February interview at bloggingheads.com, Jaron Lanier (computer scientist, "resident genius" at Microsoft, and coiner of the term "Virtual Reality") said he thought of 2020 as a probable date for the adoption of embodied VR. What does "embodied VR" mean? It means there's a one-to-one correlation between the movements of one's body in the real, physical world and one's avatar's counterparts in the computer-constructed reality.
So perhaps the age of obesity is only a passing phase, perhaps 2020's videogame addicts will be ultra-fit super troupers with hypertrophied calves, muscles built from hours of running in their local Arcade's human-hamster-ball style Omni-directional treadmills. Perhaps, then, we will even be able to add weight loss to the list of Call of Duty's symptoms, making it a a sport which--unlike pool, poker and golf--will keep our streets free from the rotting lipids of over-inflated children.