Light Novel Kindling: Is a VRMMO Future a Good Thing?

Infinite Dendrogram, our current light novel club selection, begins with a current state of affairs in that world and the fictional chronicling of how VRMMO (Virtual Reality Massively Multiplayer Online) games and in particular, the titular VRMMO, developed:

July 15, 2043. On this date, the VRMMO Infinite Dendrogram was released around the world. It had been nearly half a century since man had first dreamt of a VRMMO…

The year 2043 is pretty far into the future, but that might be an accurate date for such a product. It’s sad in a way—we might be dreaming dreams of playing in “true” VR environments now, but this novel predicts it to still be 25 years away from reality! Those of you in college probably have the time to sink into such a game now—you don’t want to wait that long until a time when you’re too busy to play Infinite Dendogram or GGO. If prescient, VRMMOs would be made for my grandchildren, not me!

Indeed, although current virtual reality is helpful and entertaining, the VR of our dreams (as explained in this video, which also mentions Serial Experiments Lain among several other anime—thanks @stardf29 for pointing me to it!) is still a ways off. I recently used Oculus Drift for the first time, and was pretty amazed by what it can do. It felt immersive. I even got a touch of dizziness during one simulation in which I “fell” rapidly from the sky to earth. But the system still didn’t quite give me an experience where I felt that the VR world is every bit as real as real life.

Maybe it’s a good thing we’re not there yet. While some series, like Sword Art Online, just touch on the possible negatives (sometimes fantastical) of advanced VR, other works really get into the crux of it. Ready Player One is a recent example. Though subtly, and more in the film than in the book, RPO causes us to wonder if running away into a virtual world, even one where you can be physically active and socially fulfilled, is a bad thing. If you could be everything you want and avoid everything you don’t, why wouldn’t you grasp that with both hands? Why wouldn’t you spend every minute you could in that world?

The answer we’re always provided to that is that the real world is better because, well, it’s real. To be honest, that was a fine answer for me as a kid. It fits right in with the themes Spielberg indoctrinated me with as a child. But as I’ve aged and become more willing to question that which I grew up believing, I have to wonder, isn’t it okay to live for pleasure, to live for one’s self? I don’t think anyone is thinking that we’re greenlighting the drug-fueled society of Brave New World—we’re just taking the “good” and leaving behind the “bad.”

That’s said, if you’re a reader of this blog, you can imagine where I really come out on that issue, but I’m eager to hear your thoughts on it. Are we headed toward something that’s ultimately bad for us? Or will virtual reality lead to fulfillment in our lives?

Again, that world is still a while away, but it’s as good a time as any to think about it. In fact, the more we analyze now, the better we’ll be prepared when it actually comes. In that sense, maybe it’s better than truly immersive VR isn’t here yet—I think I’m perfectly fine waiting until about 2043. After all, VR may be ready for my grandchildren’s generation, but the it’ll actually be me who’ll probably spend more time playing it. I’ll be retired.

Let us know your thoughts on a VRMMO future in the comments below, and be sure to read volume one of Infinite Dendrogram and join us September 21st for our light novel club discussion!

featured art by シワスタカシ (reprinted w/permission)


3 thoughts on “Light Novel Kindling: Is a VRMMO Future a Good Thing?

  1. As a #technologyskepticLOL, my first doubt is whether the fully immersive VRMMORPGs of fiction will ever be real (any more than Star Trek’s holodeck will ever exist – more on this is a moment). I can’t say it’s impossible, but the idea sounds fanciful enough to trigger my skepticism. That said, the concept can make for some good stories. But whether we’re “headed toward something that’s ultimately bad for us” will depend in part what technology actually materializes in the future.

    I think it’s also interesting to consider the way fiction portrays technology more generally. Anyone who’s spent any amount of time watching the ’90s Star Trek shows (TNG, DS9, VOY) is familiar with the way any time that setting’s equivalent of VR, the holodeck, appeared, the show was almost guaranteed to involve some sort of dangerous glitch with the technology. It’s not just Star Trek though: a lot of the anime that spring to mind when thinking about VRMMORPGs present that technology as having a very dark or sinister edge (you mentioned SAO, where a cruel monster traps thousands of people in VR). Shichisei no Subaru is a show from this season that involves a VRMMORPG being used for some very dark schemes. Out anime, The Matrix was another dark story of VR. And if we look beyond VR, what about other forms of technology? It’s not unusual to see fictional surveillance tech put to oppressive uses. AI is constantly become sapient and deciding to kill humans (Terminator). Technology results in colossal weapons of mass destruction that somehow never seem to get used for good purposes (the Death Star of Stars Wars). Advanced technology is the default means for effecting mind control in non-fantasy settings. Technology turns humans into useless slobs (WALL-E) or has other dire physical consequences for people or the environment. Technology breeds arrogance and begets monsters – as Jurassic Park observed, “Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should.” We can even find this all the way back in 1818 (exactly one century ago), when Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus” was first published. Now, obviously not all fiction focuses on a dark side to science and tech, but clearly there’s a widespread streak of pessimism about technology in our fiction.

    It seems to me like people often find it easier to recognize the dangers of fictional technology than of real-life, already existent tech. After all, it’s one of the wonders of modern science that we can perform summary executions of infants within the womb. Or, instead of terminating pregnancy, consider the application of science to causing pregnancy! With IVF, a bunch of embryos are whipped up in a lab, and then while one is put back inside the woman, the rest of these live human beings (humans in their earliest, smallest, most helpless form, yes, but human life nonetheless) are frozen and imprisoned in a freezer. I seriously don’t understand how that doesn’t horrify more people. I give these examples to suggest that how discerning we are about future technology will probably reflect how discerning we are about what science has already given us.

    Okay, so after rambling about fiction and science, what about immersive VR? A huge part of human life involves learning to accept the world as it is. There is so much that is beyond my individual control, so much I cannot possibly change or influence, and if I don’t learn to accept that fact and differentiate what I can control (my own actions) from what I can’t (everything else), I’ll drive myself mad. Christians might naturally link this thought the importance of trusting or having faith in God – we are not in control, but we know the one is, and we must trust his love and wisdom. If something like the RPO version of VR lets people not only escape real life and its troubles, but escape permanently, and not only escape permanently, but actively replace a life where we don’t have control with a world where we do have immense control…that has the potential for trouble.

  2. Great article! I would love to have an VRMMO future too! It’s probably not going to happen anytime soon, obviously. Or honestly, it may never happen. In fact, God intended for us to have a life fully dedicated to Him.

    My brother has an Oculus Rift too; he lets me play it. His fav game is Beat Saber (especially because of how easily he got to download a MOD for it). We also thought the movie Ready Player One was pretty good. 🙂

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