Belfast Telegraph

Now it's time to get real about dangers of the virtual world

By Robert McNeill

Whatever happened to virtual reality? Remember when they - and you know who I mean, though I'm fuzzy on the details myself - promised us we could put helmets on our heids and escape to a better world? Well, that turned out to be a crock, didn't it?

The nearest we got is these awful games, where geek-style punters play the part of muscular oafs running jerkily hither and - in some versions - yon, against unreal flat backgrounds that look worse than early 20th century cartoons. It's called progress. You wouldn't understand.

It's amazing to me that the Government doesn't ban these things. True, I'd ban nearly everything, but surely even wimpish liberals can see the need to stop this bizarre leisure activity.

No one can be surprised that bottle-blond aryanist murderer Anders Breivik spent 12 hours a day "gaming" before he went out and massacred folk.

What's that you say? There's no proven link between playing violent games all day and committing actual violence?

Well, maybe not, but indubitably it warps the mind. And if you say that's poppycock, then there's no proven link between your brain and your mouth, so shurrup.

If you submit your mind to violent fantasy, violent fantasy will exist in your mind. D'you follow?

If you follow me into a gaming shop, you'll hardly find one game that isn't about brutal fantasist violence.

True, I think I saw one about architecture but, then, look at the miseries inflicted on the world by that peculiar profession, which arguably ought also to be banned.

Still, if kept out of the heads of evil fantasists, architecture has the potential of being a force for good. Same with gaming and virtual reality.

They could encompass gardening and bird-watching, for example.

These are just as exciting as calling yourself Thorspittle, donning a steel helmet and rushing forth to hew the crania of trolls and dragons.

Virtual reality as such, particularly the personal sort provided by means of a helmet, was meant to transport us via the imagination to Utopia.

And, yes, I'm aware of the Scottish Star Trek spoof in which Utopia turns out to be a dingy bar where you can smash bottles off punters' heads all day and never get hurt.

My crux or point is that we were told 10 years ago that we'd all get these helmets and could stoat about happily in worlds of our own.

And what has happened, readers?

Correct: nowt. We're still stoating aboot with our own heads, helpless against the encroachments of grim reality.

But what's this on the horizon, hotfoot from Switzerland, Land of the Switzer people?

It's Lifeclipper, and it promises to link the unreal and real worlds. And the result? A "living dream". Hmm, sounds fascinating.

The first thing you have to do is go to St Johann's Park, Basel, and put a helmet on.

With your bonce ensconced, you explore the real park, via cameras, but find that it has been augmented by computer-generated illusions of glowing grass, peculiar wildlife and ghostly skies.

I'm not sure I buy into the idea of massive haddocks floating through the air, nor yet of big heids appearing in the clouds.

It's not exactly what we're looking for.

But, hey, it's a start and more proof that, whatever the future brings, it's going to involve wearing a helmet.

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